The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    So I really love playing my Eastman 7 string. Most of my solo act consists of singing and the 7 string is perfect to accompany myself. I really can't get enough of it, but lately I really can't play it for all that long on most days. I get a decent amount of forearm strain on my fretting side and sometimes I get the numbness or tingling in the fingers on either or both sides of the hand - symptoms of carpal or cubital tunnel depending on the side. There are some days I can play for quite a while with no discomfort.

    Strangely enough, I've never had, nor do I have any problem playing the 6 string. I can play all day with no problem at all. My guess is that the extra width of the fretboard and the stretch I need to do has something to do with it. One voicing of a minor chord, e.g. Dm7 5xx356x, which I use quite often is a bit of a stretch, but I don't necessarily feel any problems while playing it. I use the 7th string as much as I can for the comping I do for my singing, so I can get those lush low notes. I'm getting a little frustrated. It's like fatigue after a little while.

    So what have I done to try to fix this?

    1. Guitar set up. My Eastman 7 is set up exactly like my Benedetto Bravo Deluxe. Very little relief 0.004 and string height of 3/64 on the high E and 4/64 on the low E measured at the 12 fret with a capo. ( I have a guitar tech business and am very good at setups) Guitar is strung with Chromes 12-52 with a .072 low A.

    2. The lower bout on the Eastman is the same as the Benedetto and the strap buttons are in the same place. I wear them both at the same height which is maybe a tad higher than resting on my right knee if I'm sitting upright and not hunching.

    3. I saw a hand specialist a few months ago. He put me on Naproxen for a short time and added B6 to my diet. I already take turmeric which helps for some minor arthritis I have. He also suggested I wear braces on my wrists at night as I do weird things with my hands while I sleep - this is not new. I felt great when on the Naproxen, but at the same time I was travelling and only played a small 6 string travel guitar. Naproxen seems to help any time, but it's not a great idea to be taking too much of that.

    4. Went to my chiropractor who gave me some forearm stretching to do against a wall. These stretches help to some degree. To be honest, I don't do the full set of stretches every time I pick up the guitar. I will try to be more consistent. It's funny that I don't have to do stretching to play the 6 string.

    5. I've found that I need to be very conscious of my posture and thumb placement. But it's weird that I can slouch on the sofa at night and play the 6 string and feel fine.

    Maybe my use of that 7th string is too much while comping for myself? I try to pick up what I can watching John Pizzarelli and see that when he comps for himself he voices the 7 string on about every chord it works. So I'm looking for any thoughts on what I might have overlooked other than stop playing the 7 string.

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  3. #2

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    I'm sorry to hear that you're having this, and I'm sure it's frustrating! The three critical areas in which answers usually lie are whether you're playing "properly" (i.e. not doing the things that promote repetitive use syndromes and injuries), whether you're playing an instrument whose design, dimensions etc are well suited to your physical size, body habitus etc, and whether your problem(s) have been present for a long time but are progressing or whether they developed only after you made some kind of a change to which you can temporally relate the onset of your discomfort. So if this started when you got your 810 and you were fine before, the answer is probably in the instrument and/or your relationship with it.

    The basic mechanics may offer a clue. The necks on all Eastman 7s have the same functional dimensions (scale, radius, thickness, taper etc) as far as I know, regardless of body size. It's a bit fuller than the neck on my Ibanez AF207, for example. I have long thin fingers - I needed a size 8 or 8 1/2 glove, back when things came in sizes instead of S-M-L, and the fingers were much too wide but perfect in length. I love the Eastman 7 neck, but if you have smaller hands this may be the problem. I was surprised to find that my new 16" Jazz Elite 7 (which has the exact same neck contours) does feel a little easier when fingering difficult chords across several frets. So body size may also affect fretting hand comfort by changing the position in which you hold the guitar.

    I've always played with the guitar on my left leg - it just feels right to me and my 36" sleeve length. But this positions my arms at totally different angles to the neck and strings than does playing on the right leg. This is another potential difference you might explore if you play sitting down. If you play standing up, you might explore holding the guitar at a different angle. Depending on your arm length, finger size, height, girth etc, you may find it more comfortable to play with the neck higher and the body lower than the way you've been holding it (or the other way around).

    It may also help to get out and try a few 7s from other makers with different neck contours, because they differ greatly. My Epi LP7 has a fat but narrow baseball bat neck - the nut's probably about 1 11/16" to 1 3/4". My Raines Tele 7 has a wider neck (1 7/8" nut) that's much thinner and flatter along the back, with a much longer fretboard radius. The neck on my Carvin 7 was between the LP and the Tele and (like my Eastmans) very comfortable to play for hours. And my old ESP 7 has a neck similar to the Raines but a bit fatter - it's closer to the Eastman profile than any other 7 I've had.

    So your body may be crying out for you to change something in the way you play, hold the instrument, sit or stand, etc - or it may be asking you to find a guitar more suited to your own dimensions.

    The pathology of the hand is far from my area of expertise, so I have nothing to add regarding any frank pathology you may have developed. If you have a diagnosable disorder like CTS, it needs to be managed before you make it worse. That's why you have a hand specialist. There are hand specialists who manage a lot of musicians and understand better than most the mechanics, disorders, and management of the many repetitive use syndromes to which we're prone and the injuries they cause. They tend to be performers themselves, and it may be worth seeking one out even if you have to travel some distance.

    I wish you the best of luck finding a solution and restoring your comfort. I hate to say this, but if all else fails and this truly began when you switched to the 7, you may be better off in the log run going back to your Bravo if playing it is completely comfortable and you can't find a mechanical solution with the 810 or a different 7.

  4. #3

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    I play 7. A while ago I had issues of numbness and some occasional fingertip pain. Diagnosed as Ulnar nerve compression, it was determined that practicing on a low object (low futon sofa) put my knees higher than level, this pulled muscles and nerves through my back and the strap on my guitar put pressure on the nerve as it crossed over my shoulder.
    Perfect storm of nerves being compressed from upper arm all the way down to my fingertips.
    The 7 strings place my thumb in a different place on the back of the neck (I play classical thumb on neck technique) and the wider neck exacerbated the problem.
    At first I got one of those double X type straps and that helped a little, but the problem persisted. I took to sitting in a higher chair (proper dining room height chair) and that helped but didn't cure it.
    I saw an accupuncturist and for me, at least, that cured it. Others I've known with the same ulner nerve issues went the recommended surgical route. None of them found it to be the solution.

    Now I use a leg lift (a thing that goes on the guitar and lifts the guitar to a 45 degree angle resting on the leg) and not only am I free from pain but I can reach chords and stretches I couldn't play before.

    I can only speak from my own experience and solutions, but that's what worked for me.
    Good luck

  5. #4

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    May I ask what sort of device you're using and where you got it? (I have a lot of trouble finding a comfortable and mechanically advantageous way of holding my guitar.)

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by raymoan View Post
    May I ask what sort of device you're using and where you got it? (I have a lot of trouble finding a comfortable and mechanically advantageous way of holding my guitar.)
    If you’re now holding it on the right, try the classical position with guitar on the left leg with a footrest of at least a few inches. This brings the neck up and toward you. It may feel weird at first, but it’s a standard around the world and it works for me.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit View Post
    If you’re now holding it on the right, try the classical position with guitar on the left leg with a footrest of at least a few inches. This brings the neck up and toward you. It may feel weird at first, but it’s a standard around the world and it works for me.
    Michael Chapdelaine has a very informative video on YT where he discusses different guitar positions, including the one he uses which could be a bit more appropriate for guitars with a 14-th fret neck join. NB: he advises against long-term use of a footstool (rightly so, IMHO).

    The reason is that many people who think they need to go for a narrower-nut guitar (in a sense a variation of the 7 vs. 6 string situation) find their hand problems go away on a guitar with a shorter scale.

    I agree that classical position is a priori much more ergonomical for the left hand but in this case I understand that the OP already holds the guitar at a comparable angle through the use of a strap.

    Maybe post some pictures how you're sitting and placing your hand on the 7 and 6 stringers?

    FWIW, I hear that Strings By Mail are (were, already?!) running a promo on the NeckUp guitar support which looks to be designed for right-legged playing.
    For instance: Strain when playing 7 string only - advice-fee629779061aaa4cae95a1ec1a6b891_380x380-jpg

  8. #7

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    I just recently started playing 7-string myself (not as my main guitar focus, but for solo/nylon practicing). Years ago I had terrible arm/wrist issues which I think were caused by a bent wrist. Later I changed my technique to have a straight wrist as much as possible (thumb centrally behind neck as much as possible in a very classical-looking position, even while standing which is how I mostly play) and I haven't had any issues in over 10 years since making that change, including a few years of practicing/playing for hours a day. So my advice would be to try to avoid a bent wrist as much as possible. I realize that's harder on a 7-string so perhaps the more realistic goal is to minimize the amount of wrist bend and the amount of time the wrist is in that position.

  9. #8

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    Fred Fried, a local 8-string player here on Cape Cod, uses a "stick" or "crutch"-like tool that attaches to the rim of his guitar almost like a clamp and then the other end, whose length can be adjusted depending on the height at which he may be sitting, goes to the floor. This holds the guitar in a relatively upright position that promotes a straight left wrist and makes a strap unnecessary.

  10. #9

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    That sounds like a similar solution to that of Paul Galbraith and his "Brahms" eight string guitar, which has basically a spike like a cello and places the guitar pretty much in that position. His left hand mechanics look dramatically more relaxed while playing than almost any guitarist I've ever seen playing in a conventional position.

    If you look at Steve Heberman, he plays seven string guitar with the neck very vertical; John Stowell plays six string, but also with the neck very vertical. For that matter, even Joe Pass tended to hold his guitar pretty vertically, in a classical like position even when standing.

    I have recently been having right shoulder/arm problems with my 17 inch arch top and have been experimenting with using a strap to hold the guitar very close to vertically with the lower about resting just lightly on my thighs. I can tell that if I adopt this for the long run, I am going to need to move the lower strap button off about 6 inches to the bass side to make that work more comfortably. I am also finding that my chronic low back pain and sciatica are less aggravated by being able to sit in a more neutral and upright posture. Basically, it puts me in about the same position as Heberman, Stowell and almost Galbraith (although his position basically puts the headstock behind his left ear). In my case, the headstock is quite high because of the full size 17 inch body and I'm reaching up to the first position chords, which feels a bit awkward. I may need to actually do this with a smaller bodied guitar; I have a GB10 that I'm going to experiment with.

    I have never played seven string, but I wonder if repositioning the guitar in that fashion would be advantageous for you.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit View Post
    If you’re now holding it on the right, try the classical position with guitar on the left leg with a footrest of at least a few inches. This brings the neck up and toward you. It may feel weird at first, but it’s a standard around the world and it works for me.
    I use the classical position with my nylon string, and find it very comfortable. The body of my archtop, however, is much larger, and I just can't seem to accomodate it in classical position. I suspect that you are considerably taller than I am (5'-10"), with correspondingly longer arms (my sleeve is 33"), effectively rendering your guitar much smaller than mine. Worth another try, though -- thanks for your reply.

  12. #11

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    BTW, you can see Fred using this device if you google "Fred Fried youtube." The guitars that he typically plays are not archtops, but more like a classical guitar, so I'm not sure of the dimensions, but probably less than 17" at the lower bout, in any case.

  13. #12

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    There is also Franz Halasz who has a comparable position, discussed here: Franz Halasz playing position with Guitarlift - Classical Guitar

    I have been able to obtain a similar guitar position with my Cordoba by (IIRC) just shifting the attachment point of the lower/big suction cup of my DeOro support towards the endpin. It's really a very different position for both the right and left hands. Strumming would probably be difficult, and I find that low position full-width barré chords definitely do not become easier. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that they will require more hand force (pinching) because leveraging arm weight is much less evident.

    FWIW, cello and viola da gamba literature does not (or rarely) call for barré chords. Modern cello players also often have an endpin with a curve that puts the instrument in a more horizontal position. This allows more efficient use of right (bowing) arm weight for more sound, but also of the left arm of course (which will be a boon given the heavy strings they tend to use).

  14. #13

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    The Alexander Technique For Musicians. After reading this book, I followed its primary methods and no longer have any pain in my arms. Many people think you need to have a teacher for this book to work, but you don't. I recommend this all the time.


    Amazon.com

  15. #14

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    Wow, Alexander technique ... now there's a term I haven't heard in ages! Thanks for reminding me (I'm guessing there must be videos on YT about it...)

  16. #15

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    Thanks to all for the thoughtful ideas and discussion. I’m going to make some slight positional changes, make sure that I stretch, and head back to both the hand specialist and chiropractor if I don’t see any improvement.

    Edit: Won’t be the worst thing in the world if at some point I have to just stick with the 6 string, but boy do I love this 7 string.
    Last edited by Zigracer; 11-30-2022 at 11:32 AM.

  17. #16

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    A 6 string baritone guitar might be a good compromise.

  18. #17

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    I think you think too much, you can have every pain you want on any type of guitar.
    I have had a lot of strange pains when I was a bass player (rehearsals were exhausting and were too long at home I didn't practice so much), my fingers were sometimes paralysed and couldn't move them. When I was playing the classical guitar in class I had the same things, I switched to piano and don't play the guitar so much in class now.
    My main guitar is a 7 string guitar now, the first time I played it, the pain came back.
    So I did the thing like if it were a sport, kind of body-building, it takes time to make a hand. I played a bit then I stopped, again and again. Now I can play for hours.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep View Post
    A 6 string baritone guitar might be a good compromise.
    Or Johnny Smith's tuning the low E to D, which is what makes many of his spread chords even possible. Without it, the bass note often has to be left off. Johnny thought he could get about 80% of what the 7 string guys were trying to do.

    Tal Farlow commented on tuning his A string down an octave, but I don't see how that could be done without an immense amount of rattling.

    There's a video on tuning the low E to A and the A to the standard E, but after all these years I'd find that terribly confusing.

  20. #19

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    I would encourage you to see a corrective exercise specialist.

    In my experience the only way to effectively address these problems is to practice a daily regimen of exercises that improve your posture, strengthen your core, and gently "stretch" your nerves, especially the ulnar nerves.

    Treatments by chiropractors or acupuncturists may feel good but only you can build your body up to a create a permanent solution.

    Fiddling with adjustments to your guitar, it's size and shape, etc., are also temporary fixes.

    Foot rests are an ergonomic disaster. There are many solutions that will put your guitar in the proper playing position while allowing you to keep both feet flat on the floor (this applies mainly if you are willing to play while sitting down; otherwise you will need a guitar holder which is a much more involved solution).

    These are lessons I learned while dealing with repetitive stress problems, cubital tunnel syndrome, etc for nearly 30 years.
    Last edited by Tim Clark; 12-03-2022 at 07:53 PM.

  21. #20

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    A couple of thoughts.

    At one point Kaiser (an HMO) recommended B6 for this kind of problem. The doctor who authored an influential study on it was a Kaiser doc.

    I saw him for Carpal Tunnel and he had me take it. It seemed to work great.

    But, the research failed to replicate and Kaiser stopped recommending it. That was 30 years ago. Maybe things have changed again.

    I felt happy that I got the benefit before the medication stopped working. <g>

    I'm interested in 7 string, but afraid of it. I had to give up 6 string nylon because of hand/wrist issues.

    What works for me is often playing a guitar (Yamaha Pacifica 012) which has a very slim neck in every dimension. And, I set it up with light strings. Very comfortable to play. The thinness of the neck doesn't bother me. I tend to gig with a Comins GCS-1 set up with 11 to 42 strings, but I mostly practice on the Yamaha. That may not be ideal, but it keeps me playing.

    I have the impression that Vitamin D3 helps with pain from arthritis in my fingers. There is a blood test to check your level. Apparently, it is possible to have too high a level, so it isn't something you should take without appropriate medical supervision. I don't know anything about potential risks of B6, if any.

    I am surprised at how few guitars are made with truly slim necks and full scale length. After all, mandolinists play a tiny neck all the time, including comping. I'm not saying it would be for every guitarist, just that I'm surprised at how rare they are.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    I am surprised at how few guitars are made with truly slim necks and full scale length.
    I'm under the impression that most dreadnoughts have a very slim neck - in the nutwidth dimension. I think there are German archtops with similar neck widths. No idea about the other width/thickness in the dimensions.

    EDIT: violinists play even narrower necks than mandolinists, and with string tensions that are at least as high as on the average archtop (I think). But scale length is a lot shorter too, action lower and we don't play barré chords so overall the strain of the left hand is a lot less. Even if mandolinists do play barré chords they too work with a much shorter scale length that doesn't oblige to extend the left arm a good part of the time.

  23. #22

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    This discussion brings me to a question I have: Why does it seem that most 7 string guitars have wider string spacing and thus a wider fretboard per string than “similar” 6 strings? I measured my Jazz Elite which has the same nut width as many other 7s that I can find the nut width spec listed. The measurement I took was from the high E side of the fretboard to the center of the low E String. Although I don’t have the number with me at the moment, the Jazz Elite measured wider than the same measurement on any of my six strings with the exception of a cheap classical I have. The other 6 strings measured include pro line Gretsches, Benedetto, Gibson and my GB10. The six string spacing on the Jazz Elite was not quite as wide as the classical, but closer to it than to the 6 string archtops.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    What works for me is often playing a guitar (Yamaha Pacifica 012) which has a very slim neck in every dimension. And, I set it up with light strings. Very comfortable to play. The thinness of the neck doesn't bother me. I tend to gig with a Comins GCS-1 set up with 11 to 42 strings, but I mostly practice on the Yamaha. That may not be ideal, but it keeps me playing.

    I am surprised at how few guitars are made with truly slim necks and full scale length. After all, mandolinists play a tiny neck all the time, including comping. I'm not saying it would be for every guitarist, just that I'm surprised at how rare they are.
    This is why I absolutely adore my 1966 ES125T and will never sell it. It is light as a feather, has a 1 and 9/16 inch neck width (I think), and the scale focuses attention on the first 12 frets. Together all these things just make it a lot easier to play than any other guitars I've had. It's strung light .10-.46. And it sounds great, to my ears :-)

    I practice, rehearse, and perform exclusively sitting down so I don't need or want a strap, which takes pressure off the shoulders. I also use a guitar lifter. I've tried several of them and settled on one with suction cups, but the suction cups were unreliable, so I replaced them with velcro and attached the matching velcro pieces permanently to the back of the guitar. Couldn't care less about back-of-the-guitar aesthetics; no one ever sees it and I will never sell this instrument :-)

    Like many of us, for years I searched for external fixes for hand and arm problems, including nutritional supplements. But the only permanent solution I found is the exercise routine created for me by a corrective exercise specialist, which I have observed religiously now for 20 years. Even so, I still have to watch myself carefully and cannot play for hours on end...

  25. #24

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    I dunno...instead of "corrective exercises" I feel that using technique that minimizes or avoid strain on the body just makes more sense. And on guitar that basically comes down to keeping the left wrist straight and avoiding unnecessary hand/arm tension.

  26. #25

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    Here's a terrific posture aid people may find helpful:

    Nadachair.com

    I'm unassociated with the company but have used these for many years and still practice and rehearse with them.