Why Do Guitarists Wear Wristbands?

why do guitar players wear wrist bands

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Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield, Dave Grohl, Johnny Ramone. What do all these players have in common besides being great guitar players? They all wear wristbands when they play.

Of course, thousands of highly successful guitar players don’t wear wristbands when they play, yet many iconic guitarists, like those listed above, rarely, if ever, have played shows without them.

 So what is the deal? Why do guitarists wear wristbands?     

A guitarist may choose to sport wristbands for several reasons. However, the most common reasons are to develop their overall image, to help absorb sweat, reduce the friction between the player and the guitar, aid in physical support of the wrist, and help facilitate a particular playing style.

 Let’s look closer at these five main reasons why guitarists wear wristbands. After reading this article, you will have a better idea as to why many players choose to use wristbands and whether or not you should join the ranks of wristband-wielding shredders. 

1. Image

Look good, feel good, play good. There are many playing-related reasons why a guitarist might choose to wear a wristband, but simply looking cool is a genuine and valid consideration. Just look at how cool James Hetfield looks sporting his black wristbands:

Much like athletes, there is often a blend of functionality and aesthetics when using wristbands. However, some wristbands will be more functional than others will. A leather wristband, or one with spikes, as Slayer’s Kerry King sometimes sports, is more for looks than function.  

Usually, however, guitarists will wear a wristband designed to do more than just look cool. The wrist and hand are vital to success as a guitar player, and wristbands can often help improve playing performance.

2. Sweat

Sweat is a problem. Especially when on stage. Amid a performance, the last thing you want to worry about is dealing with sweat interfering with your playing. This is where one of the most common applications of the wristband comes into play- sweat absorption. 

High-quality, absorbent wristbands, first and foremost, will help keep your hands dry while playing. Of course, your palms will also sweat, but preventing excess sweat from dripping from your arms onto your hands can be a huge difference in playability.

Excess sweat on your hands will make gripping a pick much more difficult and can also cause your hands to slip on the strings and fretboard, leading to missed notes. You can redo your attempts if you are at home practicing or even in the recording studio if you mess up, but that isn’t an option when playing live.

Further, the wristbands can dry your forehead and prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes. Sweat dripping into your eyes will sting and distract you from playing or even cause you not to see well. This is certainly an issue if you are used to seeing where your fingers are on the fretboard.      

Minimizing sweat can also help your strings last longer which isn’t a concern for the superstar musician but can be a problem for the average player, especially when you consider the cost of strings.

3. Friction Reduction

Sweating can cause your fingers and hands to be slippery, but too much friction isn’t good either. Too much friction between your skin and the guitar can cause playing issues (like calluses), most notably slowing you down.  

When we think of our favorite guitar players, their playing speed is often a factor. Fast guitar players are mesmerizing to watch (especially if they’re fast benders), and many of us want to be like them, but if our skin keeps sticking to the guitar, we won’t be able to play as fast as we would like.

Wearing a wristband helps decrease this friction potential by creating a smoother surface between your skin and the guitar’s surface. This reduced friction allows your picking hand to glide better over the guitar, ultimately enabling you to play faster. 

Continued exposure to skin friction and sweat will also cause the guitar finish to wear down over time, so if you want to keep your guitar looking as new as possible, wristbands will help protect the finish.  

4. Support

Like any other repetitive action, moving your wrist over and over in the picking motion can lead to wear and tear over time. While wristbands won’t cure or prevent something like carpel tunnel syndrome, they can help you maintain proper form and reduce direct pressure on your wrist. 

Playing for extended periods will cause fatigue in sensitive areas, like the wrist, which can ultimately hinder performance. The compression wristbands provide may help to reduce this fatigue, allowing you to play for longer. 

If you are more concerned with support than sweat reduction, something more supportive than a traditional wristband, like WristGrips, might be a more appropriate choice. Although most wristbands will provide some degree of support, products specifically designed for that purpose will be a better option.  

5. Playing Style

Playing style is an important consideration when determining if wristbands should be worn. Not all playing styles will put the same degree of tension on wrist joints. Genres such as hard rock or metal often require more aggressive picking styles and, in some cases, faster playing speeds. 

James Hetfield and Johnny Ramone are great examples of guitarists who not only play a heavier genre of music but also specialize in a downpicking style of play.  

Johnny Ramone playing Surfin’ Bird:


James Hetfield playing Master of Puppets:

Downpicking, as shown in the videos above, puts tremendous stress and tension on the wrist joint of the picking hand, and wristbands can help mitigate this stress.

Wristbands can also aid in muting open notes, which can be a challenge using just the palm of your hand, especially if it is covered in sweat. Many of the songs James Hetfield plays, like Master of Puppets, require a ton of muted open notes on the low E string, and it seems his use of wristbands aids in his ability to do this well.

Closing Thoughts

Wristbands have often been overlooked as non-essential fluff. While it is undoubtedly true that many phenomenal guitarists do not use wristbands, many do, and they are worth considering. If you are having issues with one or more of the points listed above, it won’t hurt to give wristbands a shot. They are inexpensive, and if you don’t like them, you can take them off and find other ways to overcome these issues. Happy playing!