Less than maximum hand strength from reduced leverage of the thumb (pics)

I just sat down with a pile of guitars and "watched" myself with this stuff specifically in mind. As you do all know (?..? :dontknow:..?) the thumb behind the neck is specifically as leverage for bending strings up. And if you leave it there you do get a certain heads up on "A" form chords (ring finger barring strings 2, 3 & 4)  and "Em" form, barring strings 1, 2 & 3. But if you want to leave it there, might as well hang it around your knees and play all of Buzzy Flapfinger's licks. Jimmy Page being the most egregious, but I still can't see how he played certain things - but he's Jimmy Page, and I'm not.

To the crux of the biscuit - if certain things cause obvious discomfort which they didn't a few days ago -  you've changed the location of the neck in relation to your body. The all-time worst offender is an acoustic guitar played while sunk into a deep squishy sofa with the body of the guitar up on the sofa - your arm is extended 60 degrees and your hand is bent back 45 degrees. I'll go out on a limb and say your elbow shouldn't go past 90 degrees and your hand past 30... ever watch how Keith Richards pushes his left shoulder up? What happens to the elbow angle...

No need to post it, you know Slash angles his crotchy flapfinger git way up straight to his body; (which he picked up from Jimmy Page), watch the angles. Ever notice how much time Petrucci, Hammett  & multi-others spend with their right leg up on a wedge monitor; a few of these might even be dummies (monitor, not player). If you want to see a great musician with a guaranteed short career, dial up little Tal Wilkenfeld playing bass with Jeff Beck. I say little not to be cute, but because she's little, playing a 34" scale bass. Those little short arms and that 90 degree wrist. I can't bear to look, it gives my brain carpal tunnel syndrome.

Last bit: there are a category of bends I call "inside bends" for the obvious reason, they're not the big, phrase-ending, high bends, they're quick little one in the middle of the lick. The country guys are all over them, with a chest-high Telecaster, light strings, action low enough to snap off the fingerboard and a Dyna Comp to boot. They're hard to do, it's more finger power than wrist lever. Duane Allman KILLED on these, it's harder to find an unbent note on his solos on "Little Wing" off of "Layla", or his "Stormy Monday" solos than it is to find the bent ones... I count approx. 39 ABB shows here with Duane (recording quality all over the place):
The solo off the "Live at the Fillmore" is a fine one, but probably half these concerts are better, because Dicky was on (waking Duane up), and no G-D harmonica player. Here's another stellar "Stormy Monday" solo at 48:15:

Garcia was chasing the inside bends real hard in the later 70's, but once the heroin got him he could've been playing a zither for all it mattered.  :sad1:


The only reason I post all this is because it matters, really a whole lot more than blooming crunch vs. detailed creamy balls and all.

wow! 20 replies!
So much goodness.
Thanks for all your input everybody.

It seems to me that some of you have answered some other posters questions and responses (including mine) and so rather than bore you with personal habits and posture I'll cut to the chase with my next questions.

I am interested in the '59 back contour and the SRV back contour. Which to choose....
I like my Wolfgang neck, and seeing as my hand is obviously not symmetrical, I like the idea of the Asymmetrical back contour (SRV) but I am wondering if the extra meat of the '59 would not be more ultimately more comfortable.

From the pictures posted, and going on strictly physical size/space, do you think I'd be better off with the'59 or the SRV back contour?  ???
Is there a reason why the '59 back contour does not come with an "asymmetrical option?" besides sticking to classic specs. Would it be advantageous to get a 59 with an asymmetrical back contour curve? Would that even be possible?

tylereot said:
Interesting topic, though it was a little tough to figure out where you were going with your analysis.
I'm kinda surprised you got through Berkelee and the amount of playing you had to do only to find that NOW your hand is cramping up playing barre chords.  It sounds like this is a new thing, and by inference that your new Warmoth necks are implicated, no?
What were you playing at Berkelee?

I love my new Warmoth neck, and this is by no means a criticism of construction or design. Its "Wolfgang" back contour was a bit of a leap of faith as it is thicker than all my others, as well as asymmetrical. I also was not able to play it before its purchase/delivery.

You might not believe that it also has full scalloping and 6100 size frets which was quite a leap. Heh...I assure you that the very first time (and ONLY time) I ever played a fully scalloped neck in Berklee Camp back in 2000 I DID NOT LIKE THE SCALLOPING!!!

Yet, there was something in my gut just telling me that this time around I would like the scalloping, and my brain was seconding the idea with logistics of it: more leverage on the strings with full scalloping using the same pressure, and less tension from the hand. Maybe my Fender Thinline helped too because the frets are just wimp city and I was scraping the fingerboard with some of my bends. My balls were telling me that if it was to be that I again did not like the fully scalloped fingerboard I would find a way to grow to like them based on ergonomics.

Well, it turns out that that this neck has rendered a beautiful Heritage LP ("Class of '59" or some such from Ed Roman) obsolete. This "radical" combination (I am betting on increase in popularity in the future) of scalloping and bigger frets proved to be so rewarding in terms of comfort that I just started thinking that maybe the guitar was due for an evolution of the instrument.
The genesis of the idea being rooted in maximizing the natural leverage of the tendons, how the hand works when it grabs. Notice how it is able to not only grab but open as well.
Well, my thinking was that somewhere between these two extremes (full opened and fully closed) was a "Zero" ("0") value where the exertion (or non-exertion) of both the tendons that open the hand, and the tendons that close the hand were equal.

Now that's only a starting point because as most of us are guitar players, we know that holding chords, and fretting notes on the instrument is a lot different than holding a baseball bat.

It's funny, I had a rough time while I was attending Berklee because of my roots in classic rock and my inexperience with jazz. So for the longest time I struggled with omitting the roots and ditching the barre chords . Not that I am some upper structure, chord melody wizard, or classical maestro (maybe someday),  I still need my power chords if I am going to jam some 'Chili Peppers, and geez, why not get the extra harmonics by doubling the octave, and adding a M6 cherry on top (or m6 depending). (I thought I read somewhere that the Root, 5th, Root 8va with overdrive yielded more harmonics  :icon_scratch:
peter.k said:
From reading your comments, I think you would be interested in the The Guitar Principles website  and teaching system (run by Jamie Andreas). It is all about solving the physical and mental problems associated with guitar playing. It has changed the way I play for sure. 


I LOVE www.guitarprinciples.com
I have read many of the articles she has posted. ("Jamie," right?)
Maybe that's where this seed of better ergonomic practice came from.
Jamie's idea that beginners should start fretting notes on the higher frets (instead of the the first fret) is RIGHT ON!

I taught lessons for a few brief years and I noticed how difficult the micro movements of playing the guitar combined with the furthest space between the frets near the nut (combined with a lack of "Guitar Muscles") were very difficult for some beginners, especially very young ones. Although a slow process, and not as immediately gratifying to the parents as playing the riff to "Black Dog" or "Crazy Train" we had great success with strumming open strings (which evolved to an open string ear training excercise).  :guitaristgif:
swarfrat said:
If *ALL* of the space between the tips of my fingers and the neck/fingerboard were filled

Now we're getting somewhere! JK.

My Ibanez wizard neck was one of the most fatiguing guitars I've ever played. I just didn't realize how much more thickness was desirable. I thought my Zion had a fatter than normal neck, so I ordered the fatback. Not really, it's an ESP from the early 80's. I'm loving the fatback, happy misktake.

I think the 80's classically trained shredders and SRV wannabes influence has still saddled us with a nearly industry wide perception that you need a flatter neck radius too. I think my next neck, unless some showcase item grabs me, is going to have a lot more radius.  I llike the sound of the radius options across town, (but the wood selection is extremely limited, and theyre overpriced for garden variety maple )

I'm not a doctor, nor am I a physical therapist, nor psychologist so please don't quote me.
I am just a consumer looking for a better product.

But one thing I have been thinking is that if we use a neck with an ultra thin back contour, are we closing our hands more than a thicker neck just to fret notes?
Now, my next question is if so, are we trading the use of the larger/stronger tendons in our forearm (designed for gross motor movement?) for the tendons in our thumb to close our hands (designed for fine motor movement?).

So what I am getting at is  if our hand so close to being completely closed by using a neck with a thinner neck back contour, IS the work load not shared between BOTH the tendons that OPEN our hand and the tendons that CLOSE your hand.

Is there more pressure placed on the tendons that Open our hands rather than a more equal distribution of pressure of both? Can these tendon strengths be measured with psi? Would you rather have a theoretical 90/10 % distribution of pressure than a more 50/50 distribution of pressure? Personally I would rather have a more 50/50 percentage of pressure distribution.  :eek:ccasion14:
StubHead said:
I have a pretty much ridiculously strong left hand, just from playing bass and guitar since the age 13 (41 years now). But the angles and approaches are everything.....................

I have been noticing the locomotion of the animals a little bit more lately. Sure, many of them have more legs than us (like my Siberian Husky dog). It is a wonder to me how dogs and cats (on a more practical basis) can lounge around napping for so much of the day, and yet still have the speed, and reflexes of a...cat (no pun intended). Sure they have 2 more legs than humans do, but it seems to me that many humans (mostly track runners/sprinters etc.) have only been able to harness "World class" kind of speed from years of training and "staying in shape"...not napping. And this "World Class Human Top Speed" still cannot hold a candle to any average 4-legged animal. I wonder about the quality and consistency of animal muscles. Even birds who are able to flap their wings fast enough to fly have such thin tendons. Sure they are light, but still they are able to flap their wings faster than any human can and for a longer period of time.

I am not a doctor, but it sounds like any type of disc displacement could be pretty serious. Maybe see a chiropractor?

I also regrettably did not take advantage of studying with Associate Professor Julian Kasper, who has been known around Berklee as being the "Hendrix guy." But my roommate did study with him and I was fortunate to catch a performance of him and his trio (at the time) in the David Friend Recital Hall. (Maybe deep down I had enough "Hendrix" from my roomate and no doubt "Hendrix the Cat" from another's pet lol  :laughing3:
I hope to return some day to Berklee College of Music and study and play with everybody I can book! And take at least 1 ensemble every semester!  :doh:

Check out this guitar!

I can't wait until a guitar comes out with lasers to replace the strings. So you'd actually be picking beams of light. Even crazier would be many years after you had initially started playing this laser stringed instrument where you had finally developed a sensitivity to the laser beams where your brain might actually feel these beams of light as solid. :cool01:
DustyCat said:

Check out this guitar!

I can't wait until a guitar comes out with lasers to replace the strings. So you'd actually be picking beams of light. Even crazier would be many years after you had initially started playing this laser stringed instrument where you had finally developed a sensitivity to the laser beams where your brain might actually feel these beams of light as solid. :cool01:

Not my brain. I guarantee!  :toothy11:
Sorry, late to the party here, with school I don't get to read that often, let alone post.

This interests me because I have a similar issue. Essentially, I can play for as long as I want on my squier strat, so long as my thumb is wrapped over top. Like so:


But as soon as I put it in a "normal" position such as for barre chords, I get cramps within a fairly short time. Now I believe it's more of a technique issue, but I'm not completely sure. That's never been something I've been explicitly taught; just like wrist angle, another problem I used to have. I fixed that problem after reading some comment from Cagey actually... Something about a wrist brace to keep from bending at the wrist. Anyways, any suggestions to help with this?

One other thing that I find a little annoying is not being able to try out a whole bunch of necks, 'cause I'm a southpaw. So the other thing I wanna ask, (not to hijack) is what kind of necks tend to agree more with people with medium to small sized hands and a large amount of thumb over?
I'm sure you can walk as much as you want without issue, but if you're not a runner, trying to do that will result in "shin splints", side cramps, belly aches, etc. They're essentially the same activity, but one is unfamiliar. Your body will rebel until you get used to it. Part of it is over-exertion, but most of it is unpreparedness.

I used to run cross-country about 100 years ago, and it was surprising how once you got past a couple barriers you could essentially run all day without a problem. Not literally - there are endurance limits due to caloric and hydration requirements - but you see people run marathons all the time. A lot more will run 3-4 miles a day without issue. It's easy enough that there's a whole industry built around it to support it.

Point is, proper thumb placement is uncomfortable and causes you trouble because you don't do it. You'd probably find that if you worked at it, the problems would go away and the benefits of doing things the way the pros have found to be the most effective would come to you as well.

It's not a neck geometry thing. Review the neck profile dimensions at the Warmoth site. We're talking some pretty small differences. A sixteenth here, a tenth or two there... Even if you had some freakishly large or small hands, those differences would be a tiny percentage of your reach. Thing is, it feels like a massive difference. I'm use to a "Standard Thin" neck, so if you hand me something carved to a "Fatback", it feels like a baseball bat to me. But, there's only between .150" and .200" difference in thickness. That's nothing, compared to my reach. But, your hands are pretty sensitive to such things and your nerve endings will tell your brain stories.

If you got stranded on a desert island with only a fatback neck, would you stop playing guitar? Of course not. And in no time it would feel perfectly normal. Probably wouldn't even take a week.

As for wrapping your thumb over the top, that's just laziness and it's getting in your way whether you think so or not. And stopping that behavior isn't going to return anything for a long time, so don't think that after a week of avoiding it that everybody that says you should is fulla shoes. Take the time. It's like not smoking. You're better off.
If you want to see Malcolm McDowell play, you should see him in Caligula. If that doesn't freak you out, you're dead inside.
I made an active effort to keep my thumb out of the way for the last hour.  It didn't go over with my thumb well. Darned sucker keeps returning to its 'home.'
My hand has never hurt whilst playing and I've got many years of possibly doing it the wrong way that it's quite comfortable to me.
Try as I might the thumb isn't the only thing I do like Mr. Gilmour.  Stupid faces go with it too.
For what it's worth I was always taught to play with the thumb only resting on the back of the neck, and the pressure actually coming from the elbow. I can play barre chords without my thumb touching at all and when I play leads sometimes my thumb is parallel to my other fingers when I'm high up on the neck (George Lynch does the same thing, I think). Might be worth looking into.
AutoBat said:
Try as I might the thumb isn't the only thing I do like Mr. Gilmour.  Stupid faces go with it too.

Wait... So that's not part of playing guitar? :icon_jokercolor:

JCizzle said:
For what it's worth I was always taught to play with the thumb only resting on the back of the neck, and the pressure actually coming from the elbow. I can play barre chords without my thumb touching at all and when I play leads sometimes my thumb is parallel to my other fingers when I'm high up on the neck (George Lynch does the same thing, I think). Might be worth looking into.

I think part of the problem I have with the barre chords is something along the lines of this. When I play, I essentially squeeze the neck between the fretting fingers and the thumb, and all pressure coming from there only.
Cagey said:
That's not a problem; that's the way you're supposed to play.

:toothy11: Huh... Just sounds strange to think about, but ok. The less technique I have to change, the better.

JC's comment kinda threw me off there.
Any "method" book you'll refer to will tell you the same thing. You need to oppose your fingers with your thumb and keep your palm off the neck. It's the most efficient use of your musculature and how your fingers work. It's really just basic mechanics.

You fingers don't actually have any musculature in your hands - it's all in your forearm. Your thumb does, though, and that's what hurts if you use/abuse it (although you can get some serious forearm pain without a whole lotta trouble). So, if you're getting cramps or pain there, it's because the muscle isn't up to the task. The cure is simple, and doesn't involve a new neck or different dimensions. It's just exercise. Commonly known as <shudder> practice!

It really doesn't take that long if you work at it. But, it is painful. It's like any workout, except it involves a smaller muscle. If you're like most people, you can't do many jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc. and if you're pushed to your limit it not only hurts now, it'll hurt worse tomorrow. But after a week or so, the same effort doesn't hurt and you can go further. Keep it up, and in no time you can do dozens of them without pain.

We all like to blame our instruments for our playing and our gear for our sound, but more often than not it's our own damn fault. Don't be ashamed to admit it. Like any problem, admitting you have a problem goes a million miles toward resolving it.
Shadow said:
Cagey said:
That's not a problem; that's the way you're supposed to play.

:toothy11: Huh... Just sounds strange to think about, but ok. The less technique I have to change, the better.

JC's comment kinda threw me off there.

Yeah, that's just how I play, I realize it's unique. I always try and take things from different players and styles, even if I don't adopt something fully, I try to incorporate what I like into my own playing.
I have been playing since the mid 80's and grew up with the whole shred scene first, and then worked my way into the blues scene and thus ended up learning alot of bad habits that caused pain in different ways at different intervals, and the biggest fix for the majority of those issues was "relearning" proper technique or better methods of technique for a specific issue.

ie. making sure my elbow was under the neck more, so that there was less pressure and torque at the wrist joint, or learning not to use a death grip when moving between new chord changes and learning that speed comes with familiarity and smoothing out the shifts between changes and transitions from rythym to lead.

some of these fixes involved "isolating the problem areas" and making up exercises for these problems by focusing on the chord changes, for example,  and playing that repeatedly before moving through the progression,

or actually observing the way I was holding the guitar and being honest with myself and realising I was just being lazy to avoid the pain and lag time of learning the "right way" (if that makes sense) by placing my elbow under the neck further to give my wrist the room it needed necessary to alleviate tension at that joint and allow my fingers the room and freedom they need to do their job optimally.

I did find that a super thin wizard style neck seemed to cause pain for me as I felt like I was trying to play chords and leads on a sliver of wood, which for me seemed to make my hand cramp up in the palm to some degree, but looking at it now it very well may have been more about technique than the neck itself, considering how many shred playing pro's liked that style of neck, ie. Ibanez.

stretching before playing and practice is very important, warming up would fall into that catagory, both have their place depending on age, strength, ability, etc. obviously if your having pain this would be a helpfull habit to cultivate.

again soaking your hands in hot water before playing can really help, I grew up on the Cold midwest where sometimes room temperatures fluctuated considerably (especially when your paying so much for heating cost) and found that soaking my hands in hot water allowed me to be more productive in some not so nice playing conditions.

I think neck size and thickness does affect playing, but probably more so for the beginer than say the pro, but something tells me if your a pro (which Im not) then you already have specific preferences, most of which you now take for granted and dont consider so much any more.

I have found I liked thicker necks more than thinner, though I have also found its enjoyable to play someones thin neck on occasion when hanging out with friends here and there, so changing things up can be a nice treat, just as trying a different string gauge can do the same.

I have found if chugging and heavy rythyms are more important than lead work, then heavier strings can be a nice way to accent your playing for a bigger sound, and that a tad bit thicker string can sound great when playing lots of blues work.

I have found that working on mega licks, alla, Malmsteen harmonic minor noodling or Satriani type hybrid scales and picking can sometimes be best played on lighter gauge strings and that "it does matter" in the sound of the lick and the ability to actually play it up to speed.

I have learned that for me all of these things have played what I now know is a considerable factor in my development as a player, though no one thing would I consider the be all end all, and its true some guys just naturally do more things "right" so to speak than others and thus find alot of these types of issues less of a factor.

Stevie Ray Vaughan said he used 58's or 56's for his low E and 13's for his high E,  where as B.B. King said if you want to bend easier just use lighter gauge strings and that he didnt understand guys torturing themselves by using such heavy gauges.

Malmsteen said he prefers to pick more notes and use pull offs and hammer ons less, where as, Satriani said he prefers to minimize his picking and use more hammer ons and pulloffs, these are all areas that may cause some guys pain more so than others, especially if say your strings are too heavy for the application.

So as you can see there are a whole slew of factors at play for some players, in which case it really makes technique more important than any other factor where pain is considered, especially so if you've already taken the other precautions of using lighter strings, a bit thicker neck etc.

Plenty of good books out there for that, an entry level chord book often uses hand pictures to show proper elbow,wrist and finger placment which you'll notice is holding the neck very parrallel while keeping the elbow under the neck, the wrist generously bent and the fingers squarely across the frets and the thumb placed directly behind the fingers on the back of the neck.

I like bluesy based Rock more than any other so I have my thumb over the top of the neck more often than not, go figure, and I can shred better than alot of players I've met.

everyone is different, thats the beauty of it all, only Angus sounds like Angus, and he said straight away that he plays his own songs wrong, during an interview with Guitar World he started to laugh cause the interviewer started jamming one of his songs and he said, yep thats right but its not the way I play it, and then he did the lesson and showed his hack approach to Hells Bells and it was not the "right way" to play it, go figure.  :laughing7: