How to hold an electric guitar

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to grab your guitar and start playing.

And, especially when you’re a beginner, it’s natural to want to skip straight to the mechanics of learning and playing your favorite songs, without considering how poor posture and ergonomics could harm technique and slow skill development.

If this happens over and over, you might develop some bad habits that hurt your performance.

Let’s look at some common issues caused by bad guitar posture:

  • Does your back or neck hurt from holding your guitar?
  • Are you not able to achieve the kind of speed and accuracy you want?
  • Do your arms or hands gradually go numb or tingle?
  • Is it hard to find a comfortable sitting position?
  • Does the guitar feel too heavy or too big in your arms?
  • Does your concentration break because you constantly reposition your guitar?

Let’s attack each of these problem spots so you can get back to playing.

Stand up!

Now, if you’re like most guitar players, you’ll tend do most of your practice sessions sitting down.

Don’t be like most guitar players. Stand up when you play! As the late, great Dimebag Darrel once said, you don’t go to war sitting down.

Most electric guitars are not intended to be played in a sitting position. It can be challenging to find a comfortable way to sit with an electric guitar that doesn’t strain your body or legs in some way.

Next let’s consider your general body posture.

Hold your back straight and keep your shoulders up. Don’t force it — your body should be loose and relaxed. Slouching while you play guitar is a sure way to end up with a sore neck or shoulders.

Your feet should be shoulder width apart, and your non-dominant foot should be pushed slightly forward. This will give you a strong and balanced stance.

Strap in

Of course you won’t get far by trying to play an electric like an acoustic — by wedging it between your elbow and body.

You’ll want a comfortable guitar strap that supports your guitar and doesn’t bite into your neck. Depending on how fancy you want to get, you can opt for a strap that has additional shoulder padding.

Adjust the length of the strap so the guitar hangs in a comfortable position. You may need to test out a few different lengths before you settle on one that feels right.

Choose a height for your guitar that minimizes how much you bend your arms, neck and back. A low swinging guitar might look impressive on stage as you thrash in time to unrelenting metal, but the soreness afterwards just isn’t worth it.

Likewise, your guitar in a too-high position might make it easier to see the fretboard and strings, but can lead to awkward elbow or wrist angles that slow you down.

Mind your arms and hands

Being able to properly hold your guitar is crucial for developing accuracy and speed in both your fretting and picking hands.

The wrist of your fretting hand should be relaxed and slightly bent, but no more. A sharp bend in the wrist will not only lead to poor fret hand form, but can also cause pain and even injury in time.

You can generally avoid awkward wrist angles by adjusting your guitar strap to a comfortable position.

Hold the guitar’s neck with your thumb resting comfortably on the back of the neck. The exact placement depends on how large your hands are.

If you have big hands, your thumb will tend to rest more towards the top edge of the neck. Smaller hands will a find a comfortable position at the center of the neck.

Of tones and wood

The guitar’s tonewood — the wood from which the body is made — is an often overlooked aspect of how a guitar should be held. A heavy guitar will require a different posture than a light guitar, or may require a strap with additional padding.

If you find your axe to be too heavy no matter how you position it, consider swapping it for a guitar made from a lighter body tonewood. For example, a mahogany body guitar will be significantly heavier than alder.

More Resources

Head over to our Fundamentals collection for more resources on developing good guitar posture.

Here are a few of our favorites:

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