There are few instruments that provide so much debate around "how it should be held" as the classical guitar.
Once we have traversed the world of crossed legs and resting the guitar on the right leg, most of us eventually gravitate towards placement on the left leg. In finding that this is the most comfortable, we then will have employed the use of a footstool in an attempt to raise the guitar to an optimal playing position and found that we are either in pain somewhere or unable to reach positions we thought we would be able to.
Just 20 years ago there were very few solutions to the footstool problem. However, in an ever-changing world of optimization and ergonomics, modern day classical guitarists are left with a wide choice of equipment. The problem now is how to choose between these options.
In this article I will take you through 3 guitar supports that I have used extensively throughout my playing career and explain how they work and the pros and cons of each. As always I have not been paid to say anything written here, these are all my own honest opinions based on anecdotal advice and use.
*Pain should always be investigated by a medical professional.
The Footstool: Where it all began...
In order to determine what exactly it is that many of these supports offer in terms of playing solutions, it is first important to understand what the options for playing are without them.
The most common of these that makes sense is the use of the footstool. The footstool’s aim is to raise the guitar to anywhere between a 20 and 60 degree angle by creating a platform on which to rest the left foot therefore raising the left leg (for right handed players) on which to rest the underside of the instrument.
The immediate effect is an instrument that is both raised to a desirable height and that is relatively steady. On the flip side the main downside of footstool use is the lasting physical impact that holding this position has on the body - namely the lower back - but which left unattended can negatively impact the neck, upper back and shoulders which all have an effect on the blood flow to and therefore success of the hands.
When sitting upright with our knees an equal distance from each other and our feet planted with equal weight on the ground the weight of our torso is supported and distributed equally by our pelvis. However, when we unbalance this equilibrium by raising one leg (even by 10-15cm) we cause a redistribution of weight to one side of the pelvis.
This affects the body in two negative ways: the extra pressure and weight on the one side increases tension in the hip muscles causing tightness in the hip flexor which in turn damages the sciatic nerve, and/or over time the rotation and tilt of the pelvis overstrains the ligaments connected to the sacrum which causes misalignment of the natural curvature of the spine and in worst cases spinal deformities such as scoliosis.
Unfortunately, in a world where we are lead by example and suffer a lack of research and information, most guitarists will use a footstool for years at the outset of their playing career paving the way for serious injury in the future.
It is worth noting that one of the main reasons so many players continue to use the footstool as a viable guitar support is that pain is a normalized part of playing an instrument and not that those players do not suffer pain or injury from playing.
Finding a solution
In order to remedy this misalignment that the footstool causes, guitarists worldwide set about imagining and designing stand alone devices that could hold the guitar at an optimal angle whilst allowing the guitarist to sit with both feet firmly and evenly planted on the ground.
Whilst all of these solutions allow the guitarist to assume a more comfortable and less physically strenuous playing posture, they compete to solve the consequent problems that arise from the guitar not resting on the leg of the player: stability of the neck, attachment security of the support to the instrument, adjustability, weight and position possibilities of the instrument.
The three supports that I have chosen to talk about were selected because they are the supports that I have had the most experience with during my own personal playing career (footstool 8 years, Dynarette 4 years, Ergoplay Tröster model 4 years, GuitarLift 3 years). For reference, I currently use the GuitarLift medium model.
#1: Dynarette Cushion
Created by Dieter Hopf, the Dynarette cushion is a kidney-bean-shaped leather-covered foam cushion designed to fit the form of the left leg on its underside and support and raise the curve of the guitar body on the upper-side.
It comes in two sizes, 10cm and 13cm, which represent the height by which the guitar is raised from the support leg. The cushion is tapered towards the backside so that when playing the guitar is tilted on an incline towards the body providing stability of the instrument.
Essentially, this cushion is a replacement for an extra chunk of thigh on which the player rests the guitar to bring the headstock closer to their head, it is a stable device which can support considerable weight and which retains its shape well into years of use.
The stability of this cushion means that players will enjoy a steady positioning of the neck of the guitar and will not have to worry about the guitar becoming uncoupled from the support and moving at a crucial moment.
Players who struggle with, long for and can afford consistency of sitting position will find the Dynarette a good solution as it is unadjustable, however, for players who frequently encounter different chair heights, require flexibility in the height of the instrument or young players who still have time left to grow, the rigidity of this support may pose a problem.
I personally enjoyed the Dynarette as it was my first guitar support that wasn’t a footstool and even since exploring at greater lengths the guitar support world, I do miss the stability that the Dynarette provides. However, I eventually found it unsustainable as a support for concerts due to it being unadjustable, too bulky to pack for extensive travel and to squeaky a material for intimate settings.
Users should be aware that dropping the Dynarette is much like dropping a rugby ball!
Average Price: $30-40
In the early 2000's two German guitarists and sports enthusiasts Michael Tröster and John Tappert noticed the disparity between the performance enhancing advancements being made in the sport world and the classical guitar world and decided to try and find a solution to the unpleasant physical side effects incurred by use of the footstool.
Together they founded ErgoPlay, a company dedicated to designing guitar supports based on research into anatomy and ergonomics and making them accessible to the wider public at an affordable price.
Both models of the ErgoPlay supports are made of a solid coated aluminium frame held together by plastic screws which allow for the angles of the frame to be adjusted. The support is attached to the underside of the instrument with four (or three in the case of the Tappert Model) rubber suction cups and the underside of the support rests on the supporting leg cushioned by a self adhesive rubber pad.
Both models allow the guitarist to adjust the height of the guitar to optimum position whilst keeping both legs firmly planted on the ground and as opposed to the Dynarette cushion both models of the Ergoplay offer a wide range of movement during playing without needing to adjust the position of the support and without damping the sound of the instrument.
Ergonomically both models have their benefits depending on the desired physical position of the player, but the Tröster model fitted my playing better as I needed the guitar to not only be elevated but also moved slightly more toward the fretting hand. Not only this but the Tröster model offers more support security on the instrument due to its extra suction cup meaning that on stage you can trust that it will not come unstuck which is a worry that many players of the Tappert model encounter.
The suction cups and self adhesive pad are both replaceable either through contact with www.ergoplay.de or with John Tappert himself via his website.
Overall, I really can’t fault this Tröster model, it got me to the position where I felt physically more comfortable sitting with the instrument than without it and it was the first period in which I didn’t feel physical pain during or after playing.
Whilst I loved the adjustability of the model, which also means it can be packed down into a real small frame for travel, I can imagine that some players would have difficulty finding their optimal position again after loosening the screws. However, this is not a problem for musicians leaving the support in their practice room as the frame can be left in position and holds very well, but for those who travel often this should be taken into consideration.
Aside from this, I reached out to replace the self adhesive rubber mat once and the suction cups twice over four years both of which I paid only the sending costs, which I found incredibly reasonable.
Average Price: $70-90 (cheaper to purchase in Europe)
Designed by Felix Justen the GuitarLift is one of the most attractive and efficient guitar supports on the market.
It is made of plexiglass with a rubber leg cushion and is available in either solid opaque or transparent models in sizes “mini” for children, M, L and half, cross-over, slender and long variants (see www.guitarlift.de).
The GuitarLift allows for the same adjustable possibilities of ErgoPlay with increased stability and instead is a design that uses the hurdle of the contact points of the support dampening the sound of the guitar to allow the possibility of attaching the plexiglass panel which amplifies the sound of the instrument and sends it forward.
The GuitarLift is easily attachable to the back of the instrument and will not damage the polish of the guitar, however, if this is something that players are concerned about, Felix provides adhesive patches to protect the finish which can be attached to the back of the guitar.
What I particularly enjoy about the GuitarLift is that it allows a closeness between body and guitar that other guitar supports cannot without becoming unstable. The GuitarLift also takes care of its own portability by being easily attachable to guitar cases, this is useful as it is relatively bulky to take in a suitcase especially in the larger models.
This support is pricey, but well worth it, the model I have been using for the last three years has needed no replacement and is still as sturdy as first usage.
Average Price: $90-150