Strap Length: The Endless Obsession

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Progfan44, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. It seems I've seen more varying opinions on this than I have anything else in regards to bass playing. I'm notorious for wearing my strap almost uncomfortably high, mostly due to the "thumbs up" slap technique I started using when I picked up double thumbing about a year ago. But I still see more and more guys playing with their straps set ball height or lower, which lead me to wonder if there was any actual benefit to wearing the strap lower. I saw a video from Paul Gilbert a while ago (linked below) in which he explains why he believes low set strap height to be superior. Other guys (notably T.M Stevens) also say they like having a straight right arm while playing, and set their straps extremely low because of it. I've tried playing with a lower strap but every time I do I can't play even close to as well as I can with it high and my left wrist starts hurting almost immediately after. So, with all this in mind, I guess my question is this. Do you think certain strap heights will make certain things easier/more difficult, or do you think it all depends on the personal preference of the player?

    Thanks in advance!
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
  2. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    The above would be my view on it. We are all different so there is no one size fits all. Having said that, the one thing to consider is the potential physical problems that may be encountered at a later time, by wearing the bass too high or too low.

    Too high, and the plucking hand wrist is severely bent, which in time could cause carpel tunnel problems.
    Too low, and the same situation arises for the fretting hand.

    The ideal compromise is to have the main body of the bass at about belt buckle height.
    Jah Wobble Fan likes this.
  3. One thing I NEVER hear people discuss regarding strap height is arm length/height proportion. Some people are short with a big wingspan, some people are tall with a small wingspan. Some people are right in the middle with the wingspan about the same as height. I was born with long gangly arms. 5ft10 with a 6ft4 span. If I walk with a relaxed slump I look like some kind of simian freak.
    Anyone out there that does boxing realises really quickly how that relation between height and reach is really important and I think it's similarly important when it comes to bass playing. This relationship can cause problems with the standard 'strap height set to seated position' mainly because it causes problems in the seated position itself.
    Obviously the best compromise position is always going to be somewhere between the two extremes but as fearceol says, there's note one size fits all. You need to set the bass to the height that suits YOU. Changing the strap just a little bit can make a really big difference in the feel of how the bass sits and all the angles that go with your hands-on-wood. I find that my ideal seated position is with the bass on my left leg and the neck raised. That allows my right arm to straighten a little more and gives me a better stretch in the left hand without any bending over of the wrist. Once I have that position nailed, then I set the strap to mimic that position. But I know that I'm a bit of a weirdo when it comes to my arms so I wouldn't try to tell anyone that my positioning is correct. It just works for me.
  4. Shabz


    Jun 20, 2014
    Finger style bass I like it quite low so the right wrist is straight
    My bass has quite a thin neck so the left hand is also comfortable. If it was wider or I played a chordy style/high on the fretboard I might need it higher to keep the left wrist straight

    With guitar its more problematic because of wider neck and barre chord hand position, and I prefer it higher for picking too. I've never been a gigging guitarist so ive played mostly sitting but I think I would have to wear it higher than bass to be comfortable.

    If you just change it without thinking about your technique you'll be unlikely to find it comfortable, for instance remember you can angle the guitar upward to bring the nut close, or swing the headstock round to the front to reduce wrist angle
    Playing an F chord with the guitar horizontal and a low strap is murder to my left wrist but if I swing the head stock upwards and out in front it becomes an entirely different position.

    I think people making blind prescriptions about technique stuff is very unhelpful
    Things like your anatomy, technique, playing style, strap height and the bass you use can all affect your comfort level
    INTP likes this.
  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    the strap length should position your bass so that both wrists are more or less straight.
    this can vary with your body proportions as well as the angle you prefer to keep your neck.
    JustForSport likes this.
  6. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I couldn't agree more. Sometimes the thing that works for one person can cause injury in another.
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I think keeping your wrist more or less straight works for anyone and injures no one.
  8. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I generally agree. There are some general principles like not having extreme joint angles that will work for nearly everyone.

    But at the same time, I experienced pain when I tried to emulate Todd Johnson's floating thumb. Although for many it means a relaxed, mostly straight wrist, it doesn't work for me. Specifically, in order to mute with the thumb my wrist is bent slightly backward and causes pain in my forearm. It looks like it is more or less straight, but it still hurts.
  9. Kmrumedy

    Kmrumedy Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Montreal, Canada
    I try to set my strap so the instrument is the same height whether I am sitting or standing.
    Pelao likes this.
  10. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I do too, but I have to sit on a stool because it's too high when I have my bass in my lap.
  11. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    That factor is often overlooked, but can be crucial to keeping both wrists straight.
  12. Anyone notice that for bass,finger-picking height and "using a pick" height are two different entities?

    I can't use a pick when the bass is hanging low.....wrong wrist angle......
  13. Big Hoss

    Big Hoss Up note, down note, blue note, brown note...

    I don't particularly care how someone else wears their instrument. I want my bass pelvis height for the reasons stated in the video mostly...

    It is far more comfortable to me to have the strings at about waist high, and it is easier on my back, too low and I have to overstretch, to high and I put a lot of tension on my back to play...
  14. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I think this can be helpful, if you sit when you practice or gig.
    But I suggest practicing like you gig: If you gig standing, practice standing.
    monodark and Lethgar like this.
  15. Lethgar

    Lethgar Supporting Member

    Jan 22, 2012
    NW Indiana
    First, and I believe this is one of the most important things: Every bass I own has it's own strap, the perfect length and width I need for each instrument. A lot of guys will set a strap to one length, and move it from bass to bass, compromising each time. Makes consistency difficult. I only use straps that don't move or stretch and don't adjust with any kind of buckle or slide. Once I dial in the length for that bass, it gets screwed on with washers. Never found a straplock I couldn't break or strip.

    Second, I sit on an "average" kitchen chair, and adjust the strap to be just slack when on and seated. Stand up, go to work. Most often find the neck quite vertical, but especially live, the angle is changing when I need it to (up against the mic stand, next to the drummer, whatever). Keeping wrist angles close to neutral is critical. I did some damage to my right hand and left shoulder ignoring that advice when I was younger. I started out at Jeff Berlin height, and later went too far the other way and spent quite a while as a low slinger. I generally would recommend replicating your seated bass height as a starting point, and letting it fall just a bit lower when standing.
  16. Shanannigan


    Feb 25, 2011
    Strap length is definitely a personal matter. My philosophy is the same as with anything else technique related, avoid injury, and efficiency.

    I take Billy Sheehan's tip on having a consistent position of the bass between sitting and standing, I don't like my instrument moving around unless I intentionally adjust it. I find if I position my bass in a classical guitar position while sitting (slightly elevated so it's not resting on my legs), that it's perfect for me sitting and standing. It allows my wrists to be as straight as the can be, and a position where I can comfortably adjust between techniques without compromise.
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Yes, and it's been driving me crazy! After playing strictly fingerstyle for about 13 years I have recently been trying to add pickstyle to my repertoire, and I just can't seem to find a strap length and position in which to hold the bass that works well for both. When I play fingerstyle, my strap length is pretty much average/medium, and I usually hold the bass with the neck angled upward at maybe 30- to 45-degrees -- the combination of which keeps both wrists comfortable straight. But as you say, I find it really difficult to use a pick in this position, as the natural strumming-like motion of the wrist seems to be more or less parallel to the strings instead of perpendicular to them. I'm much more comfortable playing with a pick when I'm sitting with the bass high relative to my body and more or less horizontal, and my right (picking) forearm nearly parallel to the strings. One thing that makes me crazy about this is that I've tried hard to adopt Carol Kaye's picking technique as much as possible, but in every video you see of her she is playing sitting down. I'd really like to know how she would adjust her strap and position to play standing....
  18. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    I screwed with this for a year or better. Lots of good advice about this but the challenge starts with the instrument itself - It should be balanced, meaning no neck dive. If it's got neck dive then the instrument and gravity are always fighting you. Personally I can even handle a heavier instrument strapped on for hours if it is properly balanced. All my adjusting, pulling, tugging was just me compensating for a bass that was neck heavy.
  19. ConnManX


    Jun 12, 2013
    Houston, TX
    Same here.
  20. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    For me, no one strap height is best for everything... which is why I own several straps. While I have a "default" height that I typically use when left to my own devices, I generally end up settling on a different height for each musical project, depending the tone, technique, and bass I'll most often be favoring.

    In general I prefer a medium-to-high setup because that position is more comfortable for my fretting hand, gives easier access to the higher frets, and (for me) tends to allow a slightly fatter tone due to the angle my fingers naturally strike the strings. However, if I am going to be doing a lot of aggressive picking I tend to use a longer strap length because that position is more comfortable for my plucking hand (particularly with downstrokes using a pick). For a project like my current main band, in which I use a lot of different picking/plucking techniques and prefer a middle-of-the-road tone, I tend to stay at a fairly medium strap length to balance those different sides.

    Plus, every once in a while I throw all of that out of the window due to muscle/joint issues -- for example, my fretting-hand elbow is giving me some trouble right now, so for the last couple of days I have spent more of my practice/writing time using longer strap lengths on bass and guitar.