Left-Handed Guitarist
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

It’s never been easy to be a lefty in this righty world. If you’re left-handed, you know this well, especially if you’ve ever used a spiral notebook or tried to play a guitar.

Guitar in particular has always been difficult, since it’s predominantly made for the much more common right-handed player – i.e. the person who strums with their right hand and frets with their left. So if you’re a lefty, what options do you have when this world is seemingly at odds with your natural inclination?

Well luckily, you do have options. Here’s a look at what you can do to get yourself into an optimal playing position and some examples of famous lefties that have used the approach.

Playing a Left-handed Guitar:

Tony Iommi playing a left-handed guitar
Tony Iommi playing a left-handed guitar

This is the most obvious option for a lefty. Between Paul McCartney, Tony Iommi, Dick Dale, Kurt Cobain, and many others, some of the best guitarists to have ever lived are left-handed. If you know or meet a left-handed guitarist, chances are they’ll say they picked up guitar quickly due to the fact they have more dexterity in their left hand to begin with. Once upon a time, guitars were strictly built with right-handed players in mind. Nowadays, there’s an ever-growing selection of left-handed models out there with more on the way. Most major brands are expanding their catalog to offer more of their popular and newer models as lefties.

However, there’s still a long way to go. Unfortunately, not every guitar is made in a lefty version, and if it is, it may not be readily obtainable. In many cases, it’s because the machines used to build guitars at factories have specific presets made to cut into the wood and the molds they have for other aspects of the guitar are designed specifically for right-handed players. For some companies, changing everything to accommodate a left-handed model can be both time consuming and disrupt the overall process of building guitars. This means that if you exercise this option, you may have to wait for a lefty to be built from scratch or compromise what you actually want and merely buy what’s available. All in all, you’ll get a guitar that’s comfortable for your playing style but sacrifice time and/or options in the process.

Additionally, if you’re a left-handed player, you’ll find it next to impossible to borrow gear from friends or sit in on a jam when the guitar is being passed around. Just keep in mind that if you’re going to stick to playing left-handed, the only safe bet on sitting in on an impromptu jam is by bringing your own axe.

 

Learn to Play Right-Handed:

Peter Frampton playing a right-handed guitar.
Peter Frampton playing a right-handed guitar.

“What? You want me to play right-handed, when I’m really a lefty?”

There’s an argument that it really doesn’t matter how you go through life—righty or lefty— when it comes to picking up a guitar. It’s a new feeling for both hands. You’re using your hands in new ways and making new movements so it’s awkward for anyone picking up a guitar for the first time.

There’s also suggestion that a lefty playing righty will have an advantage in that they already have more advanced dexterity in their fretting (left) hand, enabling them to learn quicker than a natural righty. The only thing you have to learn with your non-dominant hand is a rhythmic strumming pattern.

If you can convince yourself this is a possibility, you may be better off. With unlimited right-handed guitars available, you won’t miss out on any model. Plus if you’re hanging out somewhere without your guitar and you want to jam, it’ll be much easier to find a righty to borrow!

 

Turning a Right-Handed Guitar into a Left-Handed Guitar:

You could call this “The Hendrix Method.” When Jimi Hendrix was starting out, he had to modify his right-handed Fender Stratocasters himself. He actually took his guitars, turned them upside down, and restrung them so he could play them lefty.

Though things have come a long way since then, there’s still a limited amount of left-handed guitars out there. With that being the case, rather than settling with limited choices, some guitarist take the creative approach by purchasing right-handed guitars and adjusting them. To achieve this, you flip the guitar upside down and string it so the strings are in the correct order when held as a lefty with the thickest E string closest to you and the thinnest E string furthest away from you.

Jimi Hendrix playing a right-handed guitar with the strings oriented for a left-handed player.
Jimi Hendrix playing a right-handed guitar with the strings oriented for a left-handed player.

Keep in mind that this could still take some additional retooling. For instance, the nut will likely need to be swapped to accommodate the new order of the strings since the grooves in the nuts will be too thin for where the thicker strings will go and too wide and deep a gap for where the thinnest strings. Additionally, if you’re planning on using a strap, you will have to either find a new way of using it with the existing strap buttons or you’ll have to drill another hole for a strap button to be added elsewhere.

 

This method could also cause awkwardness with the control layout. On many electric guitars, once you flip it upside down, the controls can get in the way of your strumming where you may hit your hand on the control knobs or accidentally moving the pickup selector switch.

“But, hey, Hendrix did it, so why can’t I?”

You can! What made Hendrix such a great and innovative guitar players was working around his means so that he could get around his limitations. Instead of settling on buying a left-handed guitar, he converted a right-handed guitar to serve his needs which in turn changed his tone as well! Since he switch the strings on his guitar and played it left handed, the lower strings had a brighter tone and his higher strings had a rounder sound giving him his unique guitar tone overall. Additionally, he had to compensate with his playing which meant bent strings differently and created different voicings than your average right-handed guitar player.

One last not to consider: if you play a right-handed guitar flipped over you will have to be weary of single cutaways. Since a bottom cutaway makes it easier for a player to reach the higher strings on higher frets, if you flip the guitar upside down and restring, the cutaway will be on the other side of the guitar, no longer serving that purpose. However, if you’re not a shredder looking to hits the high notes and just want to focus on rhythm playing, there shouldn’t be a care in the world!

 

Playing a Righty Guitar Lefty without changing string orientation:

Eric Gales playing a right-handed guitar in a left-handed orientation without changing the strings.
Eric Gales playing a right-handed guitar in a left-handed orientation without changing the strings.

Do you want to have the option to play all the righty models AND be amongst the most impressive group of guitar players that has ever existed? Then take a righty guitar, flip it upside down, and play it lefty, but don’t change the order of the strings.

“Is that even possible?”

Heck yeah it is! It’s rare, but some famed guitarists like Eric Gales and Albert King did exactly that! Not only does it look really cool, but it changes the tones coming from the guitar; the sounds emanating from the strings change when you’re executing up and down strokes because the order of strings struck and the way in which they ring in relation to each other is different. Also, similar to what Jimi Hendrix learned to do, you’ll discover new ways to play common chords and scales which may come up with interesting and creative chord voicings and solos!

This option no doubt will help you find your own sound.

 

Decisions, decisions…

These methods remain the same with both electric and acoustic guitars. Whichever option you choose will of course depend on what you want to achieve.

Want to save yourself all kinds of hassle? Learn to play righty.

Can’t fathom that, but still want more model options? Reconfigure a righty.

Like to challenge yourself? Learn to play a righty as a lefty (with the strings upside down).

Like playing lefty and still having the layout of the guitar how it was intended? Get yourself a lefty guitar.

Whatever you do, don’t let your left-handedness stop you from truly rocking!