Update on the Redesigned Guitarest
In September of 2015, my good friend Trent asked me to join him in catching a couple concerts at the Ellnora Guitar Festival at the University of Illinois. Because I had never seen Sharon Isbin perform, I thought it would be nice to see a guitar recital given by the woman who founded the Juilliard classical guitar department 25 years ago. Sharon was offering a “meet and greet” after the concert, and Trent asked me if I wanted to attend. I didn’t feel like I had any particular reason to meet Ms. Isbin after the concert so I initially said no but, as we were leaving the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois, Trent asked, “Are you sure?” I began to have some second thoughts. A still, small voice inside me said, “Tim, you’d better turn around, go meet her and let her know who you are, who you studied with and what it is you invented.”
I probably looked a bit like a California beach bum in my shorts, Woodstock t-shirt and messy hair as we stood in line. I extended my hand to Sharon out of habit, even though I knew classical guitarists generally do not shake each others’ hands because all it takes is one overzealous handshake to damage their fingers. Unsurprisingly, Sharon rebuffed it. I was in a playful mood and held up a fist to offer her a “fist bump” instead. She informed me she doesn’t do fist bumps either. Not willing to take no for an answer, I extended my elbow and asked if she’d rub elbows with me. She relented with a smile so now I joke to people that I’ve literally rubbed elbows with Sharon Isbin.
I told her that I studied classical guitar with Ricardo Iznaola at the University of Denver on scholarship and that I invented a patented arm and leg rest that I’ve been selling for years. She asked if I had them with me for her to see. Because our meeting had been spur-of-the-moment, I didn’t have any to show her, unfortunately. I mentioned that I didn’t see her using any guitar support device in her concert.
“But Tim, I KNOW people,” she said. “I’ll tell you what--I am coming back here in November to give a concert with Isabella Leonard the day after our Carnegie Hall album debut. Why don’t you bring your arm and leg rests then? I will make time for you after the concert reception to try them out.”
Up to this point, I had invented my arm rest specifically to help taller, longer-limbed people position their guitar more comfortably. When shorter people tried the arm rest, their response invariably was, “Tim, this might work really well for you and other tall people, but I don’t think it’s going to work for me.”
The proper design I was seeking had been eluding me for years. I was looking to create a design that would help everyone, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out. I never thought I would either.
When I met with Sharon after her concert at the Krannert Center again, a few months later, I explained the invention to her and demonstrated what it was designed to do by positioning the arm rest for her. She tried it but wasn't entirely happy with my positioning, probably because Sharon plays in a position that Ricardo terms as the “short arm approach.”
The “short arm approach” is a positioning between the wrist and elbow that uses the arm like a “teeter-totter” fulcrum. By contrast, the “long arm approach,” often used by shorter players, is a positioning where the bicep rests against the guitar, leaving the entire forearm free, much like a pump handle or wheelbarrow fulcrum. After observing the way Sharon was playing, I made some modifications to the arm rest and re-positioned it on the guitar for her to try again.
As she tried this newly modified position, I happened to be standing behind her gazing downward at her arm. In that moment, I immediately realized the necessary design element that the arm rest needed. Sharon told me the new position felt better, and I told her that I’d gained unexpected insight into the redesign I’d been searching for all these years, thanks to watching her try the device. I knew exactly what it was I needed to do.
In early 2016, I contacted my old friend and engineer, Gerald Davis, in Denver. Gerald was instrumental in helping me with the design of the original arm rest. We worked together on the redesign that transformed the invention into a device that now works universally, for everyone, regardless of their height. By February, I had a working prototype that I took to New York for Sharon to try. She invited me to Juilliard, where I could demonstrate the prototype for her and meet her students.
The redesign differs from the original in one fundamental way: instead of building a “bigger guitar,” which was what the old arm rest did, the redesign features an adjustable angle. No matter what approach one uses, whether it be the “long” or “short arm approach,” everyone’s right arm comes off the guitar at an angle. Shorter people’s arms will come off the guitar at a shorter or lower angle. Taller people’s arms will come off at a higher angle. My newly redesigned arm rest, with its adjustable angle, now accommodates everyone.
After my meeting at Juilliard, I returned to Denver to work on the second prototype of the arm rest, which now serves as its current design. The device is about 7 1/2” long. It has a curved radius from the soundboard to the rear of the guitar. The rest uses a T-hinge that allows for angle adjustment, and a “skirt” has been added to bridge the “gap” that occurs between the rest and the guitar. This allows for smooth transitioning of the arm to various tonal positions on the strings without the guitar “catching” on the underside of the forearm. The newly redesigned arm rest sits at the widest part of the rear bout of the guitar. Most importantly, the long side of the arm rest is aligned to sit parallel to the strings and offers consistent distance to the strings while avoiding the curvy nature of the guitar and angle adjustment in arm support.
This newly redesigned armrest is amazingly comfortable. The old arm rest was very good, and beneficial for taller players, but the redesign is in a completely different ballpark because it can benefit any player, regardless of their physical size or their playing position. It provides a consistent, comfortable foundation for any guitarist.
Story of the Guitarest's Invention (1997)
After suffering a severe accident that left me bedridden for three days, I remained unable to sit or stand to play the guitar. Those three days without my guitar were insufferable. I was eager to play again but limited to bed rest on doctor's orders. So I began to play in bed while I lay on my back.
Sometimes, all we need is a new perspective to improve our situation. As it turned out, playing guitar in bed was just what I needed because it made me aware of the immense effort required to maintain a proper right arm position.
Even when I began to walk again, I still required crutches and found that sitting in in the "classical position" was unbearable. The severity of my injury made it impossible for me to sit "properly," and for that matter, no position was comfortable for any length of time.
I was a musician who was unable to make music.
Undaunted, I began to investigate other approaches to playing the guitar. I crossed paths with British guitarist Jonathan Leathwood, who encouraged me to learn the Alexander Technique.
This world-renowned technique has been utilized by notables such as Paul and Linda McCartney, Sting, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis. It serves as a foundation of body movement to relieve stress. Reading about it and taking weekly instruction was not enough. I realized that I needed to apply the Alexander Technique to all of my daily activities. To promote this, I installed a mirror in my living room that spanned an entire wall. Then, sitting in front of the mirror, I studied my body movements, ranging from the methods of bending, sitting, walking and, of course, playing the guitar.
One thing I discovered was that I needed a bigger guitar!
The guitar has its own history. Evolving from the romantic music era in Spain, the guitar became standardized for the average-sized Spanish guitar player, who, in 1863, stood approximately 5'4" tall. To this day, the classical guitar is crafted to fit that same sized player. Today's musicians who utilize the guitar in all types of music, including folk, pop, rock and hip-hop, do not necessarily fit that 5'4" tall mold.
Since I am 6'3", I realized that I could not find a guitar suited to my proportions. I always thought that I looked silly playing the classical guitar, as it appeared to look like the size of a ukulele compared to my frame. While guitars are made in larger sizes, I was left with the impression that playing anything other than a "standard-sized" guitar in the "standard playing position" would somehow be improper.
I opened my mind to the idea of modifying the guitar itself and found that I needed a device that could adjust to MY particular body dimensions, to allow for proper positioning of my arm. The Alexander Technique taught me how to hold my head, shoulders and arms properly, with shoulders parallel to the floor and with limbs extended in a sloping, downward relationship with the strings. What I developed was something like the embrace used to hold a dance partner, and the music I began to make was miraculously improved!
After hearing of enthusiastic experimentation, my guitar instructor, Maestro Ricardo Iznaola, placed a rolled up beach towel under my arm and instructed me to play. His ears discerned the truth and he agreed that my playing was better with the beach towel!
The first prototype of the Johnson Guitarest was conceived as a block of wood attached with Velcro to the body of the guitar. After several more prototypes, I met with Gerald Davis, President of Denver Sheet Metal, who engineered the strut system, yoke and tang that allows for complete range of movement. Suction cups with axels were added as the means of adhesion so that one device could be used on multiple instruments.
The final products are made of stainless steel, African mahogany and brass. They have brought my music to new heights and I have forgotten the pain from my accident. I no longer fear playing in the "classical position" Playing has become a joy once again!
We hope that you will share our experience and enjoy increased resonance, overtone, clarity, volume and ergonomic advantages that the Johnson Guitarest provides.