Straps and Strap Height: Playing While Looking Cool

Jimmy Page probably sold more LPs than Les himself.

We’ve all seen it: Les Paul down by the knees, swaggering across the stage. This is an image that’s burned into our brain, and probably the reason why many guitarists picked the guitar over the trombone in the first place. But if we want to play in front of people, this means to most rock, jazz, blues and country guitarists, that we have to stand up. Even if we sit down when playing an electric guitar, we still can benefit from the right strap, as well as the right strap height for us.

The Strap

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a strap, but there’s certainly nothing wrong in realizing that it’s as much a fashion statement as functional equipment. The most common material is leather, and it’s generally the most expensive as well. It can be decorated with all sorts of tooling, and, like all straps, fall between two and four inches wide. Leather matches the wood of the guitar well, and only looks better with age. It comes in many colors since it can be dyed, and can be padded. It is comfortable across the skin (since it is skin, anyway) too. The downside to leather straps is that sometimes they’re not short enough for shorter players, like me. Unless I put additional holes or get the strap altered, most commercially available straps are way too big for me to use. They also can only be adjusted in increments, which, if the right height occurs between two of them, there is compromise. Leather stretches over time too, so it will have to be made shorter eventually.

Nylon is another common choice, and comes in almost any color and print available. Also available in many widths, it resists stretching over time.

A nylon strap with attached strap locks. A great idea.

These are the most inexpensive straps, too. One problem with nylon, however, is that the edge of it can cut into the shoulder and neck a bit, and some players don’t like the way it feels. I am one of those players, so nylon doesn’t work for me, but I know many players who have never had a problem with it.

Canvas is another choice. It’s soft, and while not as nice-feeling as a good leather strap, it’s thicker than nylon, and doesn’t cut into the skin as much. It’s harder to find canvas straps in bold prints, so usually black, white, tan, blue and red are the choices. Like nylon, it uses a buckle, so it’s infinitely adjustable so it can be exactly the right height. Personally, I use a basic black canvas strap for all of my guitars. Fairly inexpensive, and usually obtainable in any shop, the basic black disappears on stage instead of being a statement.

Yes, there are other materials too – I’ve seen hemp, bamboo, even boat anchor! But let’s not forget, the strap’s main function on a guitar is to keep the guitar where you want it. This brings me to my approach to strap height. Yes, it is a subject that will elicit all sorts of opinions. Too low, and your wrists are all bent, but you look so cool. Too high and you play fusion, look like a dork and play along to backing tracks to the amazement of a YouTube audience, but never to any actual people with a real band.

Play with a Strap All of the Time

Yes, my approach is simple and works for me. The guitar sits in the same place on my body whether standing or sitting. The weight of the guitar is never on my knee. With smaller guitars, like Les Pauls, it is difficult to sit with it on your knee unless your leg is raised (I do this when not using a strap). I know, it sits on your knee just fine, right? Yes, but you have to bend your back to meet it. This puts your back in a C shape, which, after a few years, will really hurt. Keeping the weight of the guitar on my back at all times allows me to sit with a straight back in any chair, and take my hands off of the instrument without it falling. I can stand up and it will be at the same height. This is the real function of my strap.

Robert Fripp always sits down, even when playing the some of the most intense rock ever written.

Why? Because I want the angles of the right and left wrist to be consistent no matter what chair I sit in, or if I stand. I don’t want to learn one way to play something sitting, and struggle to play the same thing standing. All of that muscle memory is important to me, so the guitar needs to be in the same place all the time. If the guitar is too heavy to always be across my back, I get another guitar. The tools conform to me, not the other way around.

Strap Locks

Get them for every guitar you own. As a kid, those leather ends of a strap stretched open sending my ‘82 Strat into the corner of the table. Some sort of strap lock system should be on every guitar sold (why, oh why isn’t this the case?), and is the first mod on any guitar I buy. You can even get rubber washers from the hardware store, or get fancy ones that attach to the strap. Straps will fall off of the guitar without some sort of strap lock system, so protect your investment.

And so…

So where do you wear your strap? High, low or in between? Do you use it all the time or just when standing? Do you model your strap height off of a favorite player or do you do whatever works for you? Let me know in the comment section below, and hopefully your playing and your back will appreciate some consideration when choosing the proper height.

 

 

 

Dave Eichenberger

About Dave Eichenberger

Guitarist Dave Eichenberger composes ambient music using guitar technology and looping, yet still has time to record and perform with international jazzy soul artist Julie Black. Follow him @Zoobiedood on Twitter.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/tehanallang Tehan Allang

    I used to wear my strap real low like Johnny Ramone…however it wasn’t very practical later on…Now I wear it SUPER high like Yannis Phillipakis of Foals…It works so much better for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tehanallang Tehan Allang

    The kind of music you play kind of dictates how you wear your guitar as well…Within the genre I play (Indie rock/pop) any height’s fine. Wear a guitar up on your chest in a hardcore punk act and you’re going to get a lot of weird stares.

  • Orpheo

    My guitars hang as low as Slash’, but thats a coincidence. It plays just nicer for me unless it is a fender style guitar, I have to admit. Those go a bit higher. My straps always have 2 holes in them. One for the les paul height and one for a fender height . Works like a charm.

  • michael

    http://store.guitarfetish.com/Slick-Straps_c_314.html
    Earl Slick Straps ..These are excellent !

  • Zonker

    I play a Tele, kinda a blues guy. Its all about the wrist to me, if they aren’t right, neither is the strap. So I’d say about half way between Jimmy and the dork! TC

  • Perry

    I’m a bassist and my strap height depends on the music I’m playing and the technique used to play it. If I’m playing finger style I wear my bass a little bit higher because I’m not very tall and my hand are relatively small. But when I’m playing with a pick I make sure that my bass is just low enough for me to reach the g-string with the pick. I don’t find it very comfortable to wear my bas higher when I’m playing with a pick because my arm gets very tired very quick. And I almost always practice standing up.

  • GuitarFondler

    Up until I was 18 (10 years of playing) I held my guitar as low as I could possibly have it. I soon realised that my back and wrists couldn’t stand under that pressure. If I give any advise for people starting out, ESPECIALLY kids that still have growing to do, have the strap high enough so your wrist isn’t bent too much and that you’re not bending in awkward positions. As cool as it looks to have your guitar down low it can really ruin you for the future, I have sciatica in my back and arthritis in my wrists and I’m only 25. You can still have it low enough to look cool and not damage yourself.

  • Richard Irons

    When I sit down, I can’t get the guitar low enough to be comfortable playing fast. I do a lot of sitting practice but when something’s really hard I have to stand up. I also have different heights for a Strat and a Les Paul. I wonder why that is?

  • Encinos

    I hang it way low like Slash, and by the way my guitars are all les pauls. When I pick the high E string, my right hand is totally straight. I don’t sit much so I don’t really like to hang the guitar in front of my stomach or chest.

    Pro: Looks cool and everyone look at you like idiots when you shred without getting it high on the neck.

    Con: Long time to get used to (I spent like a month before I could play what I had been able to play sitting) and restricted stage acts (You can’t really swing it around because you’ve got to watch out for your dick and you definitely can’t have it swinging around the neck like what Yngwie like to do), stretching, tapping and playing at high frets (Try them then you’ll know).

    P.S. Go get yourself some straplocks before you hang it that low.

  • RaiZu

    I leave it the way it works best for me. Not low like you see others but rather low just so I pick more with my wrist than my forearm. And I can easily tilt the guitar up when I wanna do a solo

  • Jeff D

    somewhere in the middle, and i agree with what you said about keeping it the same for sitting or standing, it does make a difference when you learn something in one position and then try to do it in another, it screws me up esp for lead stuff on the high
    frets

  • John McChavs

    I would like to wear it low, because it looks really good. But I am human : I can’t play as low as Slash. I just used to play “as low as possible”, which was a bit higher that Slash. But your idea is quite good : have it a way that is as confortable as when one is sitting. Well, I don’t look like a fusion dork, but it’s close ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Berryman/1599526872 Mark Berryman

    I wear my bass in the middle and always use a strap. At first I didn’t use the strap sitting down but read a few times it was a good idea and started doing it. Now my bass is always in the same position.

  • JimBob

    I wear my guitars about waist high, actually just a touch lower. I tried something like John Petrucci but it wasn’t comfortable for me. Everything is a strat style so switching guitars is not a problem. When i used to have a Les Paul it did hang differently. Only one oddball guitar in the herd. An 80′s Carvin V220 that weighs as much as 2 Les Pauls and rides higher than my others. It actually plays well that way. If I hung a guitar like Slash or Fuczynski I never felt comfortable. I also don’t play like either one of them. As far as sitting goes, I usually don’t play sitting even while practicing, so it’s only a minor irritant when I do. it usually takes a minute or two to get used to the 2 inch difference but I am usually standing again before long.

  • Fredrik Andersson

    I mostly stand up cause it feels better to play. It´s hard to sit and play with a Rhoads but if i use the Explorer i can sit down but i don´t.

  • black70bird

    I use a strap only when I stand, which isn’t very often. I tried a little lower than John P and found my wrist fatigues quickly, so will try a little higher and see if I can use it both sitting and standing.

  • Gunga Din

    The shittier the poser , the lower the guitar.

  • Sammy

    I compare myself to Tom Morello sometimes when it comes to strap height. People will tell me, “why do you place it high compared to other guitarists?” “im like another tom morello, I’m a perfectionist that would rather play the notes right than mess up and pretend im the best in the world.”

  • Zeuskush

    Top of the guitar even with my waist man

  • DrB

    I sling it low or high…..I prefer low, then I raise the neck to me to play. Keep it low play it high and turn it up!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=748325866 Patrick Emry

    i try to get the guitar where my hands are at a proper posture im 37 years old and i want to keep my body in good shape to play guitar as long as i live

  • Joel Schroer

    With me being in my 40′s and have been focusing on my playing, I have found that it is easier for me to mimic my guitar position between sitting and standing. Doing so has helped me progress farther and faster as it “takes a variable out of the equation”. So not only am I a “Southpaw”, but also a “high-guy”! LOL! PLAY ON! :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1225641358 Ben Ferguson

    Medium-low; I like the bridge roughly in front of my hip. I’ve tried playing with the guitar higher, but I instantly feel restricted with it so tight and within a few minutes my arms and wrists hurt horribly. I guess playing that high works well for Steve Vai or John Petrucci, but not for me.

  • http://twitter.com/joey89924 joey

    most commercially available straps are way too big for me to use.
    SSM2164

  • Bobbert

    I keep it low enough so I can relax my arms and not hurt my wrists. Too high tenses my arms, too low kills my wrists.

  • Dr Z

    Over the years my guitars have moved up and down some, roughly so the guitar is the same sitting or standing. Electrics drop a little when standing over sitting, but so I can still reach the lowest control knob on a Les Paul style with my arm hanging comfortably. No awkward stretching, bent wrists or anything like that. Good tone is about touch and control.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevieod Steve Matsukawa

    Hanging your guitar low does not mean a thing. It all comes down to how good of a guitar player you are and not how ‘cool’ you look ‘playing’. If you can play seriously good guitar with it hung between your knees, fine. But if you can’t even play “Three Blind Mice’, then you probably may need to reconsider a few things, guitar hang height among them.

    Poseurs need to wear their guitars low, it is the hottest lick they have in their chop library.

  • MaadDaawg

    I have a separate strap for each guitar I own, and yes, they all have strap locks. Like others, my strat rides higher than my Gibson’s do, not sure why other than the Strat seems more playable up higher. Might also be something to do with how the straps connect to the back on the Gibson’s and to the top front on the Strat, the locks seem to push the Gibson’s out farther than the Strat making it easier to move around as needed. Not sure, just a theory.

  • Rasmus

    I do it oldschool Chris broderick style, meaning pretty high, because sweep picking and advanced tapping gets alot harder if you have the guitar lower doing to the amount of wrist bending.
    I play super-strats only, which can look great wearing them pretty high. It is all about posture – it your posture is adapted to high guitars, then it will look even better than having your guitar knee high
    Also i dont wanna look like some crap guitars with a hat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daveeichenberger Dave Eichenberger

    There are so many ways to approach this, and this method works for me. The main thing is to make playing while standing as comfortable as practicing while sitting. No need to learn how to play both standing or sitting, that is too much work!

  • Max

    I like my guitar pretty low because I have really really long arm and a short upperbody. Btw. my arms go to my knees. So Jimmy Page for me.

    • Max

      And when someone asks me, why I have it so low i tell them that I want the audience not to see the ass of the hot chick that kisses me while soloing. I want them to focus on the solo and not to get a booner