Many players are unsure how they should be holding the guitar. Others simply haven’t given it much thought. Bad habits will hold back your playing, make it unnecessarily difficult for them to play the guitar, or will cause awkwardness or discomfort, and can even contribute to strain and injury. Good habits will improve your playing, and make playing guitar more comfortable and allow you to practice longer.
Most electric guitars can be played sitting down and standing up. In a rehearsal or a show, playing standing up will be much more common (and is much more rock and roll).
Standing up with a solidbody electric guitar for hours on end can be tiring and become uncomfortable though, especially if your guitar is particularly heavy.
For this reason, most electric guitar players will learn the guitar by practicing sitting down at least some of the time. Some guitars, such as the Gibson Flying V, are awkward to play in a seated position.
When playing seated is important to sit up straight. You don’t want to be too hunched over the guitar – you will need to be just a little forward to see your fingering. The guitar should be almost parallel to your back.
I see a lot of young players with the guitar at a 45 degree angle or worse on their lap, and I don’t think they realise how much harder their fretting hand has to work when the guitar is held like that.
The neck of the guitar should either be pointing slightly upwards – the exact angle is a matter of personal preference, but you should find the point where your fretting hand is the most relaxed.
Some players will, as they play, slowly lower the neck so that it ends up pointing downwards; this is a bad habit and if you do it then you should try to be aware of it so that you can correct it.
Playing standing up has fewer issues. The main things to be aware of are the angle of the neck and the overall height of the guitar.
The most common problem for electric guitarists is that they simply have the guitar too low. This might look kinda cool, but you’re just making the thing much more difficult to play, and possibly putting yourself at much greater risk of some kind of RSI or other playing-related strain or injury.
Even if you don’t strain something, your access to the upper frets is severely limited by the fact that they’re simply too far down to be convenient for your fretting hand.
And let’s face it, with a guitar much lower than your pelvis, you’ll actually look a little silly anyway. Ideally, the bridge of the guitar should be no lower than your waist.
You can have it higher if that feels more comfortable, but once you start getting up around the ribs you will be holding a lot of unnecessary tension in the arm and in your picking hand.
You should be aware that different guitars will need to have their strap length adjusted seperately to be at the best height.
If you adjust your strap to be the optimal height on one guitar, and then take it off and put it on a different guitar, the guitar can then be at a considerably different height because the strap buttons will be at a slightly different height on the body, and because the width between them will vary.
You should also be aware that different guitars will “feel” a different height just because of the differing body shapes, with differing body widths at different points.
When you adjust the guitar’s height, you should be paying attention to where the string and the bridge of the guitar is in relation to your body, because that is where you will actually be picking.
The neck of the guitar should again be pointing slightly upwards. You don’t want to have to be using your fretting hand to actually hold the neck in place – much better if the only work your hand is doing is just what is needed to fret the notes you want to play.
Do remember that comfort is very important when playing the guitar. If you are not comfortable, your hands will be working a lot harder than they really need to, and this will limit your technique, make playing less enjoyable and might also possibly make strain or injury more likely. Please be comfortable when learning the electric guitar.
Teja Gerken, a fingerstyle guitarist with a unique blend of folk, classical, jazz, and world music, has made significant contributions to the guitar world. Known for albums like ‘On My Way’ and ‘Postcards’, and as a co-founder of Peghead Nation, he brings his expertise from intimate venues to global stages. At Fretterverse, Gerken offers deep insights into diverse fingerstyle techniques and musical fusion.