Guitar Armrests | Feature Article | Part 1: After Market Rests
Guitar Armrests are designed to provide a comfortable surface for your playing arm to rest on. At the same time, it also lifts the arm off the top of the guitar. This provides three things. Firstly increased comfort (vs. edge of the binding) and reduction in body contact hence, damping of the tone and finish damage from perspiration.
Guitar Armrests come in 2 flavors: After Market and integrated armrests. I will write about the After Market Armrests in this part and the integrated versions in the next installment.
The After Market armrest is designed to be installed after the guitar is built and purchased. There are armrests designed to be permanent/ semi-permanent – such as that manufactured by John Pearse and those which are easily removable after each use- such as the Plenosom armrest. I will look at the most common armrests: how they work and if they work.
| John Pearse Armrests |
The most common armrest used by steelstring players is the John Pearse. Made of wood, these devices are designed to be attached to the edge of the lower bout of a guitar with an adhesive. Although it can be removed without damaging the instrument, the fixture is likely to be a permanent one as removal and reattachment can require a repairman’s know-how. The armrests come in a variety of sizes and styles, including left handed. Costs: US$30-35
The armrests are marketed primarily to improve tone by reducing body contact is “By placing your forearm on the top of the guitar, you lose between 15% and 20% of the power and projection of the top of the guitar” the official documentation proclaims.
I’ve been using these armrests for a number of years so I can attest that:
1. Installation is simple. The templates provided on the website allows for ‘fitting’ before ordering and the installation was a breeze, pull the tabs and apply pressure for a firm, solid fit.
2. The rests are comfortable. When installed over the lower bout of a 16″ small jumbo they do allow me to play for longer than previously. This is due to more gentle curve of the armrest vs. the body and binding which would often cut into my circulation.
3. Improvements in tone are subjective but I do detect a small increase in volume and projection.
4. Reselling a guitar with a Pearse Armrest is always a little more difficult as almost everyone who is interested in the guitar will hmmm and ahhhh over the installation and removal. I usually remove it before resale. There may be a lighter spot over the installation site, but unless you play out a lot this is usually not very noticeable.
5. Removal is best performed by a professional. Although I’ve taken out many armrests by myself with a small scraper and a bit of heat, I definitely view this a job for the experienced or professional. Quite a lot of damage to the finish can be inflicted on removal if not properly done.
Summary: Cost effective tool for increasing comfort and tone although the attachment is best thought of as permanent and may affect resale.
| Plenosom Armrests |
These devices are manufactured by Brazilian duo Tessarin & Bellinati. These are more common amongst the classical guitarists it was designed for.
These are also made of wood, but designed to be easily removable. They attached to the side of the guitar via suction cups and a overhanging wood fixture provides the ‘lift’ off the soundboard. The armrests are available in one style and size- due to the construction, no ‘fitting’ is required. Cost: US$40
The armrests are marketed as tools to improve tone, comfort, “right hand technique and accuracy” and reduce damage to French Polish (a Classical guitar trait…)
I’ve using these armrests periodically on vintage guitars which I cannot out of good judgement attach a John Pearse armrest. My impressions are:
1. Installation is simple. The suction cups do stick rather well and there is no fitting involved. You just approximate where the ideal position is and adjust from there.
2. The rests are comfortable– may more so than the larger Pearse sizes if you are slim of build and appreciate the thinner rests. But certainly the smaller Pearse sizes are equally comfortable.
3. Improvements in tone are subjective but like the Pearse armrest I do detect a small increase in volume and projection. Certainly my technique didn’t improve- but I’m not a classical player as I can hardly comment! However, like the QT armrest, in the classical position, I found I didn’t need to rotate my wrist to achieve the optimal angle.
4. Problem: the suction cups have an habit of detaching during inopportune moments. Usually during the climax of a gig. My suspicion is that the Classical players this device was intended for never really go for the Pete Townsend ‘windmill move’. Okay I exaggerate- it was during heavy strumming and moving about but I can it functioning perfectly well during a recital.
Summary: A perfectly functional tool for who it was designed for: Classical Players. Because Bellinati is Classical player, whereas John Pearse plays steel strings, we see several differences in design: slightly less robust attachment system, the one size fits all philosophy and even the documentation (French Polish anyone?)
So, the suction cup system works for those who sit relatively still and play and the increased comfort level is always nice. It is a little more expensive and fiddle-y compared to the John Pearse models but it is a non-permanent fixture which will not affect future resale.
| Cumberland Armrests |
Cumberland Armrests are devices are manufactured by Steve Smith in Nashville. These are made of ebony, and like the Plenosom armrests designed to be easily removable. They attached to the top and back of the guitar via a clamp system and a overhanging wood fixture provides the ‘lift’ off the soundboard.
A layer of cork under the armrest and the clamp protects the finish from damage. The armrests are available in one style and size- due to the construction, no ‘fitting’ is required. Cost: US$50
The armrests are marketed as tools to reduce finish wear and tone
I’ve using these armrests several times. My impressions are:
1. Installation is more complex than the other systems. The clamping mechanism requires fine tuning with a tool and the end result is always slightly worrying
2. The rests are comfortable– but not nearly as comfortable as the other armrests- the wooden portion doesn’t quite allow my arm to clear the edge of the lower bout and there is no curve to support my arm.
3. Improvements in tone are subjective but like the Pearse armrest I do detect a small increase in volume and projection.
4. Problem: I found attaching the clamp an exercise in worry… did I clamp too hard? Is it too loose? Will it slip? If it tighten anymore will I induce a crack?… you get my drift.
Summary: A tool worth considering but clearly not my first choice in terms of it’s price. It offers the advantages of a removable fixture but the installation is a bit of pain.
| QT Armrests |
QT Armrests are the brainchild of Classical guitar player David Qualey. These Alder wood armrests are designed to be easily removable. They attached to the side via a three suction cups. Interestingly, there is no overhanging wood fixture, but relies on the wooden support on the side to lift your entire arm over the soundboard.
A layer of cork under the armrest and the clamp protects the finish from damage. The armrests are available in one style and size- due to the construction, no ‘fitting’ is required. Cost: Euro56 (US$87 approx at current exchange rates)
The armrests are marketed as tools to improve comfort and improve playability… the blurb on the website reads: “What few realise is that the normal body of a guitar is too small for our right arm to hang easily over the top and be the right distance from the strings. Now with the help of the QT armrest your arm can rest gently on the rounded form of the QT, and at the same time you have increased the distance to the strings in a positive way”
I’ve using these armrests several times. My impressions are:
1. Installation is very simple. Press- hold- let go.
2. The rests are comfortable– despite the lack of a curve to support my forearm, I feel these are as comfortable as the other armrests with the gentle side curve to hold my upper arm upwards.
3. Improvements in tone are subjective but like the all the other armrests I do detect a small increase in volume and projection. I did not detect much of difference in my angle or distance of attack, but in the classical position, I found I didn’t need to rotate my wrist to achieve the optimal angle as in the plenosom.
4. Problem: like the Plenosom, the armrest had a habit of popping off with vigorous use.
Summary: Although not as finickly as the Plenosom, the QT armrest has more benefits for the Classical than Steel String player. Still something I have used for smaller vintage guitars when I can’t attach a Pearse.
| ROUND UP |
These arm rests offer something for everyone and I feel it is a personal choice on the part of guitarist. I do have several recommendations though:
1. John Pearse– suited for a player who is looking for a permanent solution and not that bothered about resale.
2. Plenosom & QT– Ideal for classical guitarists and a good solution for delicate vintage instruments. The QT is more expensive for US players, but around the same for those in the EU once tax enters the equation.
3. Cumberland– Half way between the 3 designs above. Good for those who need a secure easily removable armrest.
Plenosom Armrests http://www.bellinati.com/plenosom/index.html
Cumberland Armrests http://cumberlandacoustic.com/_wsn/page7.html
QT Armrests http://www.david-qualey.com/QT%20Armrest%20Pages/QTArmrest.html
John Pearse http://www.jpstrings.com/armrest.htm
©2008 Terence Tan.
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