When a beginner guitar player begins to learn the basics, there is always the question of where to place the thumb on the fretting hand.
Thumb placement is not only style and technique dependant but also a personal preference. If we look at thumb placement from a stylistic perspective we can see how this links to technique. Classical style guitar playing typically uses a thumb placement behind the neck of the guitar, roughly in the centre. This position is used in Classical guitar playing because it allows the fingers to stretch easier for bigger gaps between frets. In contrast many Blues and Rock guitar players place the thumb over the fretboard, this placement allows the player to bend the strings easier in addition to being to use the thumb to block unwanted strings and to fret notes on the low E string. The downside of this thumb placement is that the fingers have less room to stretch out for big gaps between frets.
I will now look at two famous guitarists and analyse their fretting hand thumb placement.
In this clip we can see the legendary Blues guitarist’s B.B King fretting hand thumb placement as he plays through a series of licks. Notice that for the most part it is arched over the fretboard except for when he uses vibrato. This thumb position gives more control over string bends and is likely used due to the importance of the string bend in the Blues.
Conversely in this clip we can see the difference in the legendary Classical guitarist Abel Carlevaro’s fretting hand. His thumb is firmly placed behind the fretboard throughout the piece. This thumb position allows him to stretch his fretting hand wider for more dexterous playing.
So now we can see that thumb placement comes down to the personal preference of the player and is dependant on what they are trying to achieve technically and in part what style of music they are playing. Players can switch between both of these two different thumb placements, allowing the maximum use of the fretting hand.