Bass Player Health

The Doctor is In, Dr. Randy Kertz, D.C. : The Perfect Bass Guitar Strap

The Doctor is In, Dr. Randy Kertz, D.C. : The Perfect Bass Guitar Strap
Dr. Randall Kertz

Meet Randy Kertz, D.C. –

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,

Randy

View Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. Michael

    August 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Dr. Kertz: I play bass, and I’m a bodybuilder, which over time has made it more difficult to play strapped up high. First it was adjusted right-leg high, then left-leg high, now I’m gravitating downward more, but I don’t know how far is too low.

    I’ve tried strapping it so the centerline of the neck heel is at navel level when I hang the bass directly in front of my body with the neck horizontal (i.e. waist height), and adjusted where the top edge of the center of the body (the dip) is level with the top of my pelvis, more or less like your vetruvian bassist. Also to consider is that I play a 35″ scale 6-string, I have a long torso and short limbs, and medium-sized hands.

    In my youtube vids, you can see me playing at navel height.

    Is pelvis-height too low? Which is better: navel high or pelvis high?

  2. Dr. Randall Kertz

    drkertz

    August 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for your question. I watched your videos to see you playing, and the answer is whatever is most comfortable to your playing style. The important thing is to keep your wrists in as neutral a position as possible. For most players that would be at approximately navel height, however you have other things to consider- such as 1) you play with a pick, mostly I would guess, 2) you may have to hold up the neck of that bass somewhat as it may be heavy and doesn’t balance with the body as well as a conventional 4 string, 3) as a body builder you may not be as aware of increased tension in your muscles as you probably have a certain level of tension there already. The most important things for you to consider are again, keeping your wrists as close to neutral position as much as possible, not rigidly for you have to bend them somewhat to play, but for the most part, at least in starting position before you play, and at the same time keeping your right arm from sticking out like a wing , as that can cause shoulder/upper-mid back issues. Keeping that in mind, place the bass in the most comfortable position for you, watching that wrist angle on both sides. Hope this helps, feel free to email me if you have further questions or concerns.
    Best,
    Randy Kertz

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Bass Player Health
Dr. Randall Kertz

Randall Kertz is a chiropractic physician, acupuncturist, educator, author, and bass player in private practice in suburban Chicago, IL. He treats many local, national, and international musicians of all playing styles in his office and on the road, and has lectured on the subject of musician's injuries and health education worldwide, including Steve Bailey's Bass at the Beach and Victor Wooten's Bass Nature Camp. He has also been a tour manager and has performed many other roles in and around the music business for over twenty-five years. He attended B.I.T. in 1989, worked on the business side of the music industry for the next several years in various capacities, and became a physician in 1999. His book, 'The Bassist's Guide to Injury Management, Prevention and Better Health' was was self published in 2005, with a second edition published in 2011. He is currently working on his next book and other health education projects geared toward musicians. Visit Online: www.drkertz.com

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