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I began learning guitar on an SG style guitar. Based on the thigh position when seated, or the strap position when standing, I noticed that the neck of the guitar is slightly shifted toward the fretting hand compared to other popular designs. I understand that this is why the SG design is notorious for "neck dive". I found this design made learning open chords quite difficult due to my wrist extension and contortion at the first 3 frets. In particular, learning the F barre was exceptionally hard on this guitar design.

I'm wondering if this was just a personal negative experience or is it widely appreciated that the SG guitar design can be more physically demanding when learning open and barre chords? Worded another way, is the SG a bad design for a complete beginner?


Edit for context

I'm not trying to identify the "best guitar design" for a beginner. Rather, I'm curious. Many have commented on the general complexity of executing a perfect F barre, but I'd like to note that, with the SG design, I also found it hard to execute an A major chord, which is comparably easy.

Having struggled with certain open chords and the F barre on an SG, I tried other guitar designs including Stratocasters, Superstrats and Les Pauls, and I found my wrist was far less bent at the first 3 frets. As a result, I switched to a Superstrat and have since had no trouble with the F barre.

I ask this question because after searching forums online, I didn't find any mention of wrist angle and open chords based on guitar design, but it seems to be well-documented that on an SG the neck will be shifted more toward your fretting hand due to the position at which the neck joins the guitar body.

I'm wondering if my experience was generalizable, as I'd like to be informed when a friend asks me for first-guitar advice in the future.

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    Sounds plausible enough. Most SG players I can think of use it more for single-note stuff or powerchord-heavy licks, not much for full open- or bar chords. But Todd is right, the full F chord is a bit challenging in the beginning even when playing a nylonstring guitar seated in classical position with a footrest, and then you definitely can't blame neck-heaviness or anything like that... – leftaroundabout Jun 13 '18 at 17:58
  • i think this isnt a specifically SG problem - F barre chords are never easy for beginners as you're trying to fret all the strings at once, pushing against the tension that the Nut brings. Try using an A shape, barred, at the 7th till your hands get stronger ? if the neck is diving its perhaps becuase the SG copy has body made of lighter wood than Gibson use. – bigbadmouse Jun 14 '18 at 12:58
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It's not the guitar. The F barre chord is usually a challenging chord for beginners on every guitar. Personally, I never play the F barre chord at the first fret and I've been playing for 25+ years. It's just too uncomfortable for my playing style and guitar position, and not worth it. I play it without a barre by leaving off the high F note and either leaving off the low F or fretting it with my thumb.

A major factor in ease of playing barre chords is the neck profile (thickness and shape) and the width of the neck. The thicker or wider the neck, the harder it can be to get your hand all the way around to barre. According to Gibson, the Standard SG has a width at the nut of 1.6875", and a thickness (profile) at the nut of .800". In comparison, a Fender American Strat has a width at the nut of 1.685" and thickness at the nut of .820". Other guitars may be wider/thicker or thinner/narrower than the SG, but the SG does not have an unusually large neck that should make it harder than usual to play barre chords.

Regarding what is called "neck dive" by bass players, who have the problem on many popular bass models (because the necks are long and the tuning machines are heavy), I think a lot of people work to mitigate it by getting a strap that is less slippery. If you're ok with leather, a suede strap seems to help a lot. There are most likely synthetic straps that help with neck dive as well. If you have a favorite musical instrument retailer, I would ask someone there about straps that will help keep the SG in place.

  • with all due respect it's a bit of an opinion that the F barre chord in "bad for beginners in every guitar". I think you are also promoting false ideology about guitar playing and teaching. This is simply not true. Proper education, proper set up, and proper posture on the student part should lead to relaxed, smooth execution. Please reconsider your post. – ggcg Jun 14 '18 at 23:17
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    @ggcg If I changed it to "difficult for beginners on every guitar", would that seem more appropriate? I've taught guitar for many years and I've taught guitarists of all ages with all different types of guitars of various quality levels, and the F barre chord and the Bb major barre chord have been very difficult for all of them. Would you agree with my overall point that it's not that the asker has a Gibson SG that is the cause of the trouble? – Todd Wilcox Jun 15 '18 at 4:21
  • Have you played every guitar? The comment is simply not true. Beginners should be encouraged to learn to do things correctly rather than fed false information that would lead to a form of non-learning. Let's not get into a resume comparison either. I too have taught guitar, etc, since 1985. The statement seems like hyperbole. – ggcg Jun 15 '18 at 11:55
  • Actually I would disagree on the point about the guitar being the problem. Gibson's are great guitars but they are not without issues. One that I've experienced on every new Gibson is that the shape of the frets and the notch in the bridge will cut strings. My 335 had to have those parts filed down to prevent frequent string breaks. Now I can leave a set on for years with no breaks (though they do get muddy). Many guitars have the nut groves cut too high making 1st pos. playing very difficult. But when filed down 1st pos. feels like 5th pos. Proper set up is key! – ggcg Jun 15 '18 at 12:01
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    @ggcg Does lowering the nut notches help with the increased fret spacing in first position? Because for me that’s a bigger problem than the action. Would you say that there are no especially difficult chords for beginners? I’m curious if the F barre chord is not any harder than the rest, is there anything that is more difficult? – Todd Wilcox Jun 15 '18 at 13:40
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I had an Epiphone SG for a long time, and I dn't remember any particular difficulty with F. That said, I play rock and that rarely, if ever, requires a full F barre chord. Power chords usually do the trick, or something tinkly on the top 4 strings.

One thing that may be a factor is the height of the nut. If the action (distance from fret to string) is high at the 1st fret, then anything around that area is going to be hard to play because you're trying to squash a string the to fret when it's only an inch or two away from the nut, which is holding it upwards. The string doens't have the length to flex. F barre would be the absolute hardest, perhaps Bb being difficult too.

That doens't answer the issue of the 'neck dive' but it culd be one reason why you're finding F hard to play on that guitar.

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The ability to play an F barre chord in first position depends on your posture. On Classical guitar with proper sitting posture it's actually quite easy to play without any hand tension. I've never played an SG but I have noticed that there are certain chord forms and patterns that are easy to play when seated and impossible to play standing. The opposite is true too, standing leads to a more open picking arm and it's easier to pick fast and smooth but while seated the right arm starts to cramp (at least for me).

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