Something that I have been working on lately is designing the perfect bass guitar strap. This isn’t easy there are a variety of materials available, both for the outside and inside of the straps and many things to consider. What is most comfortable for the inside? Does the outside slip on the shoulder? Does it not move enough? Does it look cool?
Here are some things to think about when considering straps:
A shoulder strap will cut into the shoulder it is lying on, especially if the strap isn’t padded. Because some of the muscles of the shoulder attach to the neck and back of the head they will pull down on those areas causing discomfort. They can also cause a pinched nerve, a condition in which a nerve is compromised so that you feel sharp pain or numbness and tingling going down the arm from the neck, sometimes up to your elbow, sometimes into your fingers. This happens because the nerves that go down your arm all gather in a place called a plexus, which just happens to be the area of the shoulder that the bass strap lies on and where it tightens up the muscles that overlie this plexus, which can cause the above symptoms.
When choosing a strap, it is important to pick one that is comfortable. Generally a wide padded strap at the top of the shoulder area will take direct pressure off of the collarbone that most regular width straps will apply. With the wider strap it will rest on the whole shoulder rather than on one specific area, i.e. the plexus. Once set, the strap should be holding the bass at the same level all the time, and should be used whether standing, sitting, or while performing and practicing so that the bass will always be at the proper height for the player.
Strap height is one of the most common problems facing electric bass players. Playing too low can hyperextend your fretting hand and wrist, while playing too high puts pressure on the plucking hand and wrist putting them in a state of hyperflexion. Ideally, one should try to keep the wrists in a neutral position so that they aren’t bent forward or backward in such a way as to cause discomfort.
A poorly designed gig bag can produce the same symptoms caused by the strap cutting into the shoulder. A good gig bag will have two straps on the back so that you can wear it in the center, backpack style, which will reduce the pressure that would be put on one side or the other by the standard over the shoulder gig bag. When you use one side of the body more than the other, whether playing or carrying, this can cause muscles in the back to tighten and develop asymmetrically. This can cause problems most commonly in the mid back between the shoulder blades. If you do use a gig bag with one strap on for one shoulder, break it up by wearing it on one shoulder one day and the other the next to give yourself a break.
In my quest to design the perfect bass strap, I am always open to comments, suggestions, or any experience anybody can bring to the table. Please feel free to contact me through the magazine or my web site, www.drkertz.com with any insight or commentary you might have.
Thanks and peace,
About Dr. Randall Kertz
Randall Kertz is a chiropractic physician, acupuncturist, educator, author, and bass player in private practice in suburban Chicago, IL.