Important Elements For An Ergonomic Guitar

Steinberger-Klein-Electric-Guitar-Gibson.jpgWhile waiting to start my Klein based electric guitar build, I started to think about the possibility of an “original design” down the road. While far from exhaustive, my study of the Klein guitar template and my reading about ergonomics has led me to consider the following as critical elements in an ergonomic design:

1. A proper neck angle in the sitting position – One of the first things that you come across in classical guitar position is that the neck is angled up which helps to free the left hand and reduces the degree of wrist flexion necessary for fretting. The Klein, due to its design, comfortably sits with its neck at an appropriate upward angle with little effort by the guitarist. Two key factors are the design of its lower bout and the offset bottom of the guitar which tucks itself against the right thigh.

2. Adequate right arm support – In order to reduce stress in the shoulder area, which in turn propagates throughout the arm, the right arm needs support. The Klein, with its extended bout, does an excellent job of this.

3. Lightweight design – Weight is always a factor. It contributes to stress throughout the body and is of even greater issue when standing. The Klein guitar while not especially heavy is not especially light either although this can be improved in a few ways. One way is to make a thinner body. In my case, I’ll be working with a body blank that is .5″ thinner than the standard body blank. The other way is to use light weight woods. I decided on alder for a few reasons. Besides being appropriate for the single coil sound I like, it is reasonably light, easy to work with, and consistent in weight. Swamp ash, my other choice, is inconsistent in weight – body blanks may vary significantly. I wanted a result that would be easy to recreate.

4. Balanced design – A balanced design requires less effort on the part of the guitarist and less effort means less stress. The Klein guitar achieves this through its design not least of which is the use of a headless design. Rather than use a conventional headstock with its associated weight, the Klein opts for the headless design which moves the weight of the tuners to a more central position down by the body.

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13 Responses to “Important Elements For An Ergonomic Guitar”

  1. I myself am building a part Klein part Ovation guitar. Body blank is sawn out. Now comes the chore of figuring out how to lighten it up and retain good tone.
    Don

    1. buceriasdon – I’d love to hear more about the guitar you are making.

  2. Hi! Me again! :smile:

    One thing I’ve found – slightly peculiar – about Klein and always wondered why it was not incorporated , was the omitting of slightly slanting the neck in pararell to the body. Most acoustic guitars, strats, les pauls and so on has their neck tilted. This work like this (exaggeregated) , if you put your guitar on the floor, flat on its BACK , just the “headed” end should touch the floor, and raise the body a bit. And just the back of the body should touch the floor. Leaving a slight gap underneath the rest of the guitar.

    A sort of wedged design. Many have noted “ergonomics” for this, but I am not sure.

    But the Klein has not this, the neck points straight out. I wondered if this is just ballyhoo or it makes some ergonomic sense?

    1. I know exactly what you’re talking about and I do think it would make a contribution to ergonomics by bringing the neck back toward the guitarist. This would be particularly helpful when the hand is on the lower frets where the arm is furthest from the body. Anything that you can do to bring the arm into a more stable position by moving it back toward the body is a help.

  3. Regarding important ergonomic design of guitars, when it comes to lightweight design, I think this:
    The more BALANCED an instrument it is, the more heavier it can be. If it is well balanced, the weight seems less of a problem. But, weight is perceived differently by different people.

    Here comes my most personal opinion, about “playability” and ergonomics of a lightweight guitar, bass or any instrument. It’s a bit long winded, but anyway, so have patience. It’s made from my own real experiences and nothing else. I start with a comparison with a piano first.

    ————————-

    A piano player is actually removed from his/her instrument. The player doesn’t WEAR the instrument. Because of the weight of course. The piano is so heavy so it does not move from exaggerated playing or large movements of hands playing chords. The player has just to move the body and hands towards where the octaves are. The piano – or keys – does not move in any direction from playing loud and hard, fast or whatever.

    I’ve heard this from fellow keyboardists having to deal with digital pianos made of plastic when gigging. The want it held with screw clamps, in a vice, or anything tied to the stand in order NOT to move, regardless of it is by stage vibrations or whatever. They prefer somewhat heavier ones from a PLAYING point of view. From “humping-the-case” point of view, they want as light as possible of course!

    —————————-

    I have tried the “Pat Metheny” method of playing guitar once. He has occassionaly guitars attached to modifed snare drums stands of heavy duty. Of course, he use it only to be able to swap guitars instantly as, when he plays these, he already has another guitar strapped on to his body! Absolutely not for heavy purposes, or ergonomics.

    When trying out a guitar mounted on such a stand, I needed no strap and I could adjust the height perfectly to my liking. Also, the weight, shape of the guitar became totally irrelevant. What I felt was that the guitar did not move at all. Just like the piano player. I did not have to adjust my playing for a split second, on the other hand, notes started to fly on the spot like they never have done before! I could play faster, and move up and down the neck faster because the target, the strings and frets did not move along with body movement. Especially doing heavy blues bends combined with a wide vibrato. The guitar did not wiggle at all back and forth, or up and down, and thus the vibratos and bendings became far more controllable! If I have had this on a strap I had to have held back a bit with my bending and vibratos. Also, I needed “less view” of the frets and didn’t have to bend over with my head and arc my back to see what my fingers was really doing.

    These “wiggling” movements transfer more likely on a lightweight guitar than a heavy one, when held with a strap to the body.

    It’s a natural thing for the elbows and the rest of the body to try to keep the guitar as still as possible and then you use muscles in arms and body – especially shoulders – to make your guitar “be still”. Think of a heavy headed machine head (like on a six stringed bass) You have to help with the fretting arm to keep it up so it doesn’t fall over at the head side!

    CONCLUSION: if one detach the instrument FROM the human body altogether, you’ll save a lot of thinking and designing troubles regarding ergonomics! Already there, detaching it from the human body, you’re starting to gain HUGE benefits from both ergonomics and playing points of view. A pianist can do this, a drummer can do this, an organist and so on. They do not WEAR their instruments. Also, second conclusion, lightweight guitars does not necessarily automatically means improved PLAYING ergonomics in all instances, far from it, really.

    Think of it: What are the real PLAYING benefits from wearing a guitar or ANY instrument really, besides that you can DANCE or move around WITH IT, which are for show offs only, and Madonna style shows. At long sessions in studios this is totally irrelevant.

    Drawbacks for guitar stand playing is that you probably get into trouble of putting your pedal board anywhere! 😮 but I think that can be designed as well, built into the design of the stand. And you basically can just STAND UP playing your instrument, but that can be designed as well with the stand.

    But that’s my five cents on ergonomic lightweight guitars, they seem to be more sensitive to the lever principle that takes place when playing intensely.

    Headless basses have even more of this “wiggling” trouble when trying to funkify ones playing. Intense thumbs slaps and pops, seems to wiggle the instrument and it’s neck a lot more, than with headed and heavier instruments.

    All I can say is that try this for yourself for a while, just attaching the guitar or bass to a table top or strapping it down in any kind of way without damaging it. It must be rigid, and not wiggle or move at all from your PLAYING only. Not the slightest. Removing the strap from your shoulders, and instrument from your body. See how your playing turns out, and especially the following:

    How much time did you need to adjust or get comfortable with this ?

    With me, it took absolutely no time, quite the opposite really, and had enormous trouble getting back to the usual “wearing” of the guitar. The effect it had on me, was that if I could help it, and had it my way, I wouldn’t go back! If guitars are supposed to be resting on a stand anyway when not using them, they might as well end up staying in those stands IN PLAYING POSITION! 😀 😆

    But I ended up buying a Klein instead… 😉
    But A weak substitute for that, it was!

    Phew!

    /Mats

    1. Mats – That’s some comment/post! 😀 The idea of fixing the position of the guitar for ergonomics actually dates back some time and has been explored by classical guitarists for many of the reasons you indicate. With the instrument isolated, the guitarist is able to focus on technique without the problems of supporting the instrument and as you noted, the instrument’s shape can be practically anything.

      The idea has merit. There is no doubt about that. However, I don’t see many guitarists giving up one of the great attractions of the guitar – its mobility. A guitar can be picked up at any time and taken elsewhere. Try that with a piano. 😉 Nonetheless, I’ll be featuring something along these lines shortly…

  4. Well I mean, we need to address these things TOO, when strapping the guitar on. Today, there are alternative straps, and there was the Steinberger PLATE that was shaped around the human body and stuck with a pin in the middle of the guitar body. If there would be a wearable system that at least fixed the guitar in some way or another, and spread the weight too, that would be swell.

    It is very little that needs in order to make a guitar stay. It should not be moving from playing only. The fingers can’t lift that much, but enough to knock the neck out of position. Or not to wiggle when doing vibratos.

    I will stay out of here for a while, because, I have to let other people in with their thoughts and ideas. I’m sure there are great ideas out there. Just so it doesn’t turn out a debate between just you and me Robert. 😆

    1. The wearable system is intriguing. I’ve thought about that as well. Do you recall the ZZ Top videos where they spun the guitars around? That’s the Whitman Spins strap which is actually still around. It pivots around the center of gravity of the guitar and thus requires modification of the so its not ideal for many guitarists. However, it could work nicely in a custom built design. The only thing it’s missing is a means to fix the position of the guitar.

      As far as comments, keep them coming!

  5. I just wonder if anyone has considered if there’s a relationship between building ergonomic guitars and the GOLDEN RATIO? Or Golden Section as it’s called sometimes. You know, in art, they don’t put the main object exactly in the middle of the picture but slightly askew to mathematical proportions. It’s symmetry calculations to make it more pleasing to the eye. Is there anyone out there who have done calculations on – say – a Klein? I have the plan, and it’s a rectangle and I can tell you that the bodys position is very close to a “golden ratio”. I do not know if this is deliberate or not.

    If there’s someone into math out there it would be intriguing to know if there’s a relationship at all. All I’ve heard is the ratio of 1,618 or something, just like the pi ratio 3,14.

    Although my first name implies something, I can’t do the Maths… :-)

  6. What about the picking hand? I have put up a bunch of pictures on my blog of an amazing invention that I can’t remember the name of and that I have no idea if it is still around – ergonomically shaped picks that make your guitar sound awesome and allow your picking hand to have a natural position. I actually found them on my second pick from Google, they are called Dugain and can be found at Dugain Picks.

    Thoughts?

    1. I think its very important as well and I covered a particular brand of ergonomic guitar picks after playing with them for several months:

      Big Rock Guitar Picks

      And thanks for your link!

  7. i am interested in building A compleatly ‘egronomicaly friendly’ guitar stand and was wondering what requirements it would have to satisfy in order to be successfull! obviously it would have to be lightwieght and simple to use. Also becuse we come in many shapes and sizes, the height would need to be adjustable. What else would it need to do? Any thoughts?

    1. @Chris – Is this a guitar stand to hold the guitar while its being played?