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Tips, Tricks and Road Stories


Restringing Your Guitar for Reverse Playing

October 12, 2012; Caleb Knott

Recently, I had this idea to restring my guitar the opposite way. I'm a fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana's music, plus I always wanted to learn guitar the opposite way that I have played it the past eight years. I'm sure there are a lot of left-handed guitarists and people who enjoy Jimi Hendrix (who made left-hand restrung guitars famous), Kurt Cobain, Doyle Bramhall III, and Albert King, to name a few. Also Michael Angelo Batio, who plays both ways, often at the same time!

This article is also for people working in guitar repair. If you have a left-handed client and a right-handed guitar, this article is for you. Or maybe this idea strikes you as fun to try. I subscribe to the idea that "anyone can play guitar" if you practice, practice, practice. And I think it's the same with playing with your opposite (non dominant) hand.

Simple Steps
First, remove your guitar strings. You can either replace them, or re-use the old ones. Now is a good time to clean your fret board and frets. If your fretboard is rosewood, teak oil is a good way to keep up the health of your fret board. Next, inspect your tremolo or bridge. Is it a bridge? Is it a tremolo? There's not much difference as far as the restringing goes, but I'll cover both just to be clear.

If you have a Les Paul or other guitar with a tune-o-matic style top-loading bridge (strings running on the top of the guitar), you shouldn't have to do anything other than just run the strings in the reverse way. If you have a Fender hardtail bridge, some light filing might be in order for the holes below the saddles. Be very careful or have a professional do it.

If you have a Stratocaster style tremolo, or a Jazzmaster tremolo, once again you will have to check the holes in the saddles to make sure your strings fit inside them. A Stratocaster's tremolo springs might have to be adjusted to compensate for the change in tension on either side.

The Hard Stuff: Reversing The Nut
This part is, as said above, the hard stuff. First, take your fingers and try to move the nut by pushing it back and forth on each side. If it doesn't budge, you might have to use a chisel or knife. If you have to use a chisel or knife, be very careful not to cut yourself. Try to insert the chisel or knife under the side of the nut, prying gently, up and down. Move from one side of the neck to the other, being gentle as not to crack the finish or break the nut. I must stress that you take your time doing this. A slow pace will be rewarded. 

Once your nut is pried free, turn the nut the opposite way, so that your low E string spacing on the nut is where your high E string was on the guitar. Then push the nut into place. If your guitar is a Gibson style with the nut at the end of the fret board versus a Fender neck with a groove for your nut, you might have to use super glue. But only use a little bit! Please don't use a bunch of super glue on your guitar.

Now just restring your guitar, putting the strings in reverse order so that your low E string is on the bottom when your guitar is held right handed.

Give it a try and see if you like it. You might have to re-adjust your string height, frets, pickups and tremolo.

Caleb Knott has played guitar for eight years, drums for seven, bass for six years, and mandolin for two — all self-taught. He plays most styles of music other than Country, Rap, Opera, and Dubstep. He primarily plays Metal, Rock, Blues, and Grunge. You can hear some of his music here.

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