From Zakk to Jimmy Page: A Study in Strap Length
We guitarists reveal ourselves to the world in a lot of different ways. Our note choices, the tones we choose, the notes we avoid, styles we gravitate to. Playing music is a very personal form of communication, unique to every individual, yet it's also a universal language with enough common information to be understood by anyone. And just as with verbal communication, body language is crucial when it comes to guitar. You can tell a lot about a guitarist by how they wear their instrument. And that is the crux of our hypothesis today: that strap length is directly related to personality and musical style. This is merely a hypothesis, one of many possible interpretations of the strapular-guitaristic-personality matrix.
There are six main guitar strap length personality types: Low-precise, Low-relaxed, Mid-precise, Mid-relaxed, High-precise and High-relaxed. There are very, very few exceptions - for example, those who exclusively play sitting down, or who have an entirely unorthodox technique like WWIII guitarist Chet Thompson, whose party trick is playing the guitar upside down with the body on his shoulder and the headstock between his legs, with both hands on the fretboard.
Zakk Wylde is capable of incredibly nimble feats of guitar daring. The speedy ascending licks in the "No More Tears" solo, the epic harmonics of "Harvester Of Pain," and of course nailing the neoclassical fury of Randy Rhoads nightly on stage with Ozzy Osbourne - all are indicative of Zakk's technical command of the instrument. But watch Zakk in concert and you'll see that the guitar itself is part of the performance, not simply an instrument to perform upon. Zakk wears his guitar low and if that's the perfect position from which to blast out a fast alternate-picked chugging riff like "Parade Of The Dead," so be it. But when it comes to laying into those precise solos, Zakk typically hoists his Les Paul into a much more shred-friendly position. Whatever it takes to do the job, Zakk is able to do it while simultaneously stalking the stage like a heavy metal viking god.
In the studio, Jimmy Page is a sonic explorer, a brilliant arranger and producer, and a man who can craft three-dimensional musical experiences seemingly as easily as breathing. But on stage an entirely different side of Page's musicality comes out. The studio craftsman is pushed aside by a swaggering rock god, the ultimate guitar hero, with exaggerated gestures and sure, the occasional gloriously sloppy note. Page's onstage blues-meets-prototypical-metal style doesn't just work better with a low-slung Les Paul: it practically demands it.
Joe Bonamassa is that rare kind of player who lives in the moment yet never seems to lose control of what they're expressing at the same time. He has the ability to see in between each beat, each note, and pull out the most perfectly phrased licks and melodies time and time again from his Les Pauls (such as the Gibson Custom Joe Bonamassa Les Paul and the Gibson USA Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Studio). If you watch his hands while he's playing, there isn't a single muscle twitch that seems to be out of his control, yet the musical results are always human, never mechanical.
Paul Gilbert is still a very precise axeman - that's why this category called Mid-relaxed instead of Mid-sloppy - but he's the perfect example of a player who wears their guitar mostly around the mid level (around tummy-height rather than sub-belt or encroaching-on-chest) and who employs their whole body in playing guitar. In clinics and lessons Gilbert is fond of expressing the importance of using ones' picking hand as a type of metronome, letting it travel far away from the strings before crashing right back down on the perfect beat. It's the same type of approach used by great funk guitarists like Nile Rogers, whose pioneering rhythm style is dependent on the physical manifestation of rhythm.
The electric riffs Tom Morello has pumped out with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club are deceptively nuanced and intricate. Just listen to the fine details in the rhythm guitar work of "Killing In The Name" by RATM or Audioslave's "Revelations" - surely Morello wouldn't be able to rock out that hard or play such sensitive arpeggios if he was slinging his strap down at Johnny Rotten levels.
Albert Hammond Jr.
One half of the guitar team from The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr. is instantly recognizable even in silhouette: his distinctive 'just out of bed' hairstyle and high-slung guitar are very identifiable. Hammond regularly employs a very loose picking technique that appears to originate from his elbow rather than the wrist, and his guitars are worn at precisely the right height for maximum efficiency and attack. And if you listen closely to The Strokes in headphone it becomes immediately apparent who is doing what. Nick Valensi handles more of the lead and single note work, while Hammond's insistent, consistent strumming technique makes him a rhythm guitarist in the truest sense of the word.
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