Saggy Pants and Low Slung Guitars

Throughout history, every new generation is responsible for instigating and adapting trends and habits that are particularly designed to bug the living crap out of the previous generation.

My dad came up in the “Happy Days” years when slicked back pompadours and cigarette packs rolled up in T-shirt sleeves were the rage. Coupled with the early days of rock and roll – “the devil’s music” – my dad’s generation was accused by his dad’s generation, of nothing less than representing the eventual destruction of mankind.

I came up on the tail end of the “hippie” generation. Known for free love, mind altering substances, long hair (on men) and rock & roll (the “devil’s” music). It was a great time to grow up, but I still remember the look of confusion and dismay on the “old folks” when a static scratched Purple Haze blared out of the AM radio speakers as my shoulder length hair shook to the beat. That was, of course, back when I had hair.

Nowadays, when I walk down the street or through the mall, I gawk in amazement at the current generations’ fixation on saggy pants. How these things stay up when the waist band is at thigh level or below is, to me, something that defies gravity and decorum.  They say we all eventually become our parents. I guess it’s true!

As a long time guitar player who still climbs on stage every weekend to play the “devil’s music”, I have also had a fixation on a trend over the last couple of decades, with guitar players that wear their guitars slung low.

This is one that I’ve never figured out. Always trying hard to remain an open minded Baby Boomer, when I see a guitarist hunched over forward and shredding a guitar at knee level, I still walk away baffled.

Although this low slung guitar trend has apparently continued to perpetuate as a fashion statement, because it “looks cool”, my confusion has less to do with fashion than it does physics.  I just can’t fathom “how” you can physically play a guitar at that angle.

A large part of guitar playing technique comes from the wrist. String bends, barre chords and finger movements are all supported by a wrist that is able to pivot at a comfortable angle.

When a guitar is slung low, the only way to approach the neck is with the wrist bent at what, to me, seems to be an un-natural angle. The more severe the angle of the wrist, the more diminished is the wrist’s ability to apply a sufficient amount of pressure. When the natural plane of the lower arm, to the wrist, to the hand, to the fingers is broken, the less control the guitarist has to perform intricate maneuvers on the fret board.

Of course, it’s all a matter of what you get used to. I have been invited to sit in with bands over the years, and have been handed guitars with straps in the “low slung” position and tried to play them. Although, for the guitar player whose axe I was using, it was a perfectly comfortable position – for me it just doesn’t work.

My generation of guitar players included legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughn. All who played guitars at waist level and up, so that’s naturally how I learned to play.

In fact, I am a “slung high” guitarist. I wear my guitar up at about chest level. It’s just a natural position for me, although I have taken some ribbing from other musicians about it! To some “low slung” guitarists I must look like the high school nerd with pants pulled high in a buttoned down short sleeve shirt with a pocket protector.

Now that my generation has gone from cool and hip – to aching hips – I try to always be conscious of the fact that there are new things that will come out of the younger generations that I may not totally understand, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad.

Although I want to pull some of these “low slung” guitarists off to the side and say, “hey, just try it this way. Give your wrist a break and see how much raising the height of you guitar will improve you ability to play”,  I refrain.

The beauty of playing music and being a musician is that we are all different, which allows us all to express ourselves in our own way. What works for one may not work for another, and you know what, that’s okay.

My biggest fear though, is that the trend continues on even further. The vision of a guitar player playing a low slung (to the floor) guitar, and, wearing saggy drooping pants, might give a whole new meaning to a “crack” problem.

BOLA TANGKAS