Ergonomic design seeks to reduce strain and repetition and create a tool that works in accordance with the human body. And, while a new design may be ideal, a cumulative approach can make a guitar more ergonomic.
When looking at a guitar from the perspective of ergonomics, there are several key factors to consider – weight, balance and playing effort. Playing a lighter guitar is an easy way to reduce strain on the body. A heavier instrument will not only increase strain on the body but increase tension in the body. Increased tension can contribute to Repetitive Strain Injury. After all, tight muscles are easier to injure. Instrument balance is also important. A guitar that balances well is easier to play since you are expending less energy trying to keep it in position. Less effort means less strain and less tension. Finally, reducing playing effort is another way to reduce the potential of Repetitive Strain Injury.
With a focus toward the instrument, let’s look at some things we can do to improve an existing guitar in terms of weight, balance and playing effort.
This is the hardest one of all. There aren’t many ways of reducing the weight of an existing guitar design. However, we can choose to play lighter guitars. A guitar does not need to be a back breaker in order to sound good. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. One of the most popular guitars, the Gibson Les Paul, is quite heavy. One way to mitigate this is by switching to a more ergonomic strap such as the Dare Guitar Strap. It attaches to the guitar in a conventional fashion but goes over both shoulders to more evenly distribute the weight of the guitar.
Balance can also be a tough thing on an existing design. However, one thing a guitarist can experiment with is moving the placement of the strap pins to alter balance. Also, an ergonomic strap, as mentioned under the “Weight” section, can also improve balance.
There are several things that can be done to reduce playing effort. The easiest? Change your strings. Hands that are already under strain do not need additional strain. Give your fingers a break and reduce your string gauges. Consider placing a capo a couple of frets up on your neck and retuning to concert pitch. This effectively shortens the scale of the neck which reduces string tension. Of course, you lose the use of a couple of frets in the process. Finally, with a Fender style bolt on guitar, it is possible to go with a shorter scale neck which reduces tension on the strings. Warmoth Guitars carries short scale necks which are compatible with Fender guitars.
With just a few changes, it seems clear that we can make significant strides toward protecting ourselves and our ability to make music – in my case, to make noise…