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Sitting or Standing, The Best Way to Play Your Guitar

Updated on September 4, 2011
Is Slash's strap too low? Is Shawn's too high? The answer might surprise you...
Is Slash's strap too low? Is Shawn's too high? The answer might surprise you...
Typical sitting position for a classical guitarist
Typical sitting position for a classical guitarist

Unless You are a Classical Guitarist You Will Have to Decide on the Best Way to Hold Your Guitar.

Classical guitarists have it good. Aside from all the grueling technical stuff that is consistently required of them, when it comes to sitting down there is no debate. The rules are clear:

  • The guitar rests on the left leg.
  • The left foot rests on a footstool.
  • Under no circumstance can the guitarist stand + play.

This is the way it's been for quite a while in that circle, and the way it will continue to be. But it's not so simple for the rest of us axe-slingers...

(This hub, by the way, is a good source of info regarding the Classical guitar, its history, and some of it major players)

Typical sitting position for flamenco guitarists.
Typical sitting position for flamenco guitarists.
Legendary folk guitarist, John Fahey.
Legendary folk guitarist, John Fahey.
Tommy Emm' in action.
Tommy Emm' in action.
The late JL wearin' it high.
The late JL wearin' it high.

Non-Classical Acoustic Guitar Playing Positions

Flamenco guitar shares many of the same techniques as Classical, but features a more casual sitting position. Unlike Classical players, flamenco guitar players rest their instrument on the right leg which is often crossed as shown in the picture at right. No footstool is used. By the way, the guitars are slightly different from Classical guitars. Flamenco World is a good site for more information on this exciting style of guitar playing.

Folk guitar, Acoustic Blues guitar, and Acoustic Bluegrass guitar all use instruments with steel strings, unlike Classical and flamenco. Players in these styles sit or stand, depending on their preferences. When seated, the guitar is typically placed on the right leg. The leg is not crossed and no footstool is used. When standing, an acoustic guitar strap is needed (this is different than an electric guitar strap). The height of the strap is adjusted accordingly. This hub does a great job at describing / explaining different types of guitar straps.

At right is virtuoso acoustic guitar living-legend, Tommy Emmanuel. Tommy's preferred height for his axe is not-to-high, not-too-low. And whoa, he can coax amazingly dazzling sounds out of that thing.

Like John Lennon did, some players prefer to wear their acoustic guitars high. Maybe this guitar (see image slightly below at right) got 'high with a little help from a friend'.... Needless to say, any higher and you're stepping into the realm of the impractical.

To further confound matters, it isn't unusual to see a player of one of these styles rest his or her instrument on the lap (check out this video). But for the sake of focus those considerations are beyond the scope of this article.

Electric Guitar Playing Positions

We've taken a look at the common ways people play the acoustic guitar, whether sitting or standing. Now it's time to look at the electric guitar. Today there are many, many types of electric guitars, not to mention electric-acoustic ones (guitars that can be played acoustically--without an electronic aid--yet have the necessary components to be played through an amplifier if desired).

There are archtops, such as a D'angelico, solid-body electrics, such as a Fender Stratocaster, and semi-hollow body electrics, such as a Gibson 335. Aside from having obvious differences in sound, these instrument-types vary greatly in shape and weight; two aspects of a guitar that will greatly influence how you hold it.

Player-wise, the late, great Joe pass and Jim Hall are two Jazz guitarists who made their names on archtops. Today's Jazzers still use them--they are the best for that music--or semi-hollow bodies. Because of their large size and weight, archtops are often played while seated.

The most common type of electric guitar is the solid-body. Chances are, if you have a guitar hero (or heroine) and his or her main instrument is not an acoustic, they play a solid-body. Solid-bodies vary greatly in terms of, yes, shape and weight...everything from a Gibson SG (small + light) to an Explorer by the same company (big, oddly-shaped, and heavy). Then there's the Rickenbacker, Broadcaster, Mustang, Les Paul, Flying V, etc., etc. And these are just some of the classic solid-bodies.

Late, great pioneer Shred guitarist, Randy Rhoads, rockin' it low.
Late, great pioneer Shred guitarist, Randy Rhoads, rockin' it low.
Jazz Fusion virtuoso and living legend, Allan Holdsworth. He raised the standard as well as the strap height.
Jazz Fusion virtuoso and living legend, Allan Holdsworth. He raised the standard as well as the strap height.

Swing Low, Sweet Solid-Body

Hard Rock guitarist Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) was known to wear his Gibson Les Paul low. Way low. So did Ace Frehley and the late, great Randy Rhoads. Today, the gentlemen known as Slash carries the torch. It is not in my favor that I just named three super-talented players given my next statement, but playing that low makes it, well, hard to play. I mean, you really must have a thing for that down-low look. Obviously those guys, and many more, do.

Higher Means Faster...Enter the Shred Zone.

Today, it is common to see heavy metal and fusion guitar players donning their axes in much the same way as John Lennon wore his acoustic guitar. The Page-swagger is not for them. They wear it high and without shame. One person perhaps largely responsible for this trend is guitarist extraordinaire, Allan Holdsworth, shown to the right. To facilitate his very demanding technical approach to the guitar, Allan wears his instruments higher than normal. He has influenced many of the world's top electric guitarists. Naturally, a lot of his apprentices have imitated how he holds the guitar. Lane went the 'extra mile' in this regard.

One of the down sides of having a high guitar is that the neck is too close to be quickly visible as a whole. In other words it takes longer (I find) to look around the fretboard. But then that all depends on how much you need to look. There are guitarists who don't need to look at the neck at all.

Not too much room between that top horn (of the gtr) and his chin...
Not too much room between that top horn (of the gtr) and his chin...
Him and that V do go good together.
Him and that V do go good together.

(Guitar-meets-chin, continued)

This sub-section couldn't end without the mention of Rusty Cooley, who has been an underground hero for quite some time. A Lane devotee (and Lane was a Holdsworth devotee), RC must be the Lennon of Metal Shred, guitar height-wise. Any higher for that guitar and the flames from the fretboard will singe his nose. All jokes (and skulls) aside, his playing might just floor you...just check out any of his videos (or his band, Outworld) on YouTube.

'Shredders' Aren't the First Ones to Swing That Axe High

For all of the swagger of their genre, Bluesmen have no problem wearing the axe high to accomplish their musical magic (or should I say 'mojo'?). The image at right shows a towering Albert King donning his precious Flying V.

The Middle of the Road (I Should Say Torso)

For time's sake I'll simply list some 'midway' players, guitar height-wise, then get to the point of this article.

Middle strap-height allows for some swagger while you can 'get technical' without having to put your foot on a monitor (like George Lynch) or do some other awkward thing. Although my preference is probably clear (middle) I'm presenting all approaches in order to educate rather than persuade.

OK, So What's YOUR Ideal Guitar Position?

The above examples were hopefully enough for you to get an idea of what's going on in guitardom regarding players and how they wield their axes. The point is that there are many legitimate ways to hold the guitar.

Specifically, sitting doesn't offer many options: many Shredders (and some Fusion players) sit with the guitar on the left leg like a Classical guitarist. Everyone else pretty much wears it on their right.

After seeing the options, what works best for YOU is the answer.
After seeing the options, what works best for YOU is the answer.

How to stand with the guitar, then, is the real question.

Height isn't the only consideration; there's the angle--or tilt--of the neck (when Slash plays fast, for example, he tilts the guitar neck up so that it's close to full-vertical); as well as its rotation (is it more on your right or left side?). Tilt and rotation are nearly non-considerations when sitting.

So, the answer to the dilemma is simple: your ideal guitar position is going to come from experimentation.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying different playing positions, sitting or standing:

  • How does my body feel (not just my hands / wrists)?
  • Are difficult chords more difficult, the same, or easier to play?
  • Are scales more difficult, the same, or easier?
  • Are difficult passages--or show-off stuff--harder, the same, or easier to do in this new position?
  • How does my back feel? Could I play like this for a while without getting uncomfortable?

Now THAT'S a beaut!
Now THAT'S a beaut!

What About Left-Handed Players?

Thus far this article has been dedicated to right-handed playing. No slight to left-handers, however. The same considerations apply, just in reverse...well, kind of. First of all, left-handed players--contrary to what some still believe--don't simply turn a 'righty' guitar around; a completely new instrument is required.

Now, there are those who play the guitar 'upside down', Jimi Hendrix being the most famous example. But that was out of necessity which then became habit. You will encounter other, less famous axe-slingers doing the same thing, which works quite well for them. But if you are a lefty who is new to the guitar I suggest getting a lefty guitar, it's that simple.

Well, that's it...hope you find your ideal playing position. When you do, let me know about it: what were you doing that has been improved and what, exactly, was the improvement.



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    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 5 years ago

      You might check out the Shearer strap designed by the late great Aaron Shearer.

    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 5 years ago

      Shawn Lane! One of the greats! I am so used to siting down that it takes me awhile to get use to standing. Lower back problems keep me from standing for long periods.

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 6 years ago

      GtrLvr, thanks 4 your comment.

      Alternating btwn sitting / standing is good for your circulation, esp if you play a lot. Btw don't know if you play Classical gtr but I just found out that there is a strap for it. It was designed by Aaron Shearer.

    • GuitarLover profile image

      GuitarLover 6 years ago from UK

      Excellent hub. I must admit I find it much harder to play standing up, so I just sit down, whatever type of guitar I'm playing. I should be less lazy and practice standing up too!