Lefties Anonymous – The Life of a Left-handed Guitarist

Jun07

“Why are you playing that thing upside-down?”

Ah, the life of the left-handed guitarist. Chances are that if you’ve picked up a guitar, this question has been posed to you – and the answer is, inevitably, that you’re left-handed. It’s not YOUR fault. It’s not YOUR fault that your brain just happens to work that way. It’s not YOUR fault that you are, statistically, 27% better at the creative arts than right-handed people. It’s not YOUR fault that you’re trying your hardest in a field that is generally dominated by the right-handed.

And many people don’t see it that way, which is tragic. A lot of lefties just look at the problems and quit before they’ve even had the chance to wrap their right hands around the neck of a guitar. This article is here to provide support and encouragement to those who are left handed. But, a few things before we start:

A lot of the tips here at Guitar Noise apply for us too (David Hodge is left-handed), so don’t disregard information that’s primarily aimed at right-handed people because you think it won’t apply to you. Chances are it does. And if there’s anything about placing your left hand on the frets or whatever, REVERSE IT.

If you’ve picked up a guitar and you’ve found you can comfortably play right-handed (left hand working the frets, right hand plucking/strumming the strings), then for God’s sake, CARRY ON DOING THAT. It will prove to work to your advantage. If it’s uncomfortable, then unlucky, you’re in the same boat as me, and about 1/9th of the world.

OK, so we’ve covered the requirements. Now, onto the advice:

I know how you’re feeling. “So what if I’m a leftie? Why should I have to pay extra for guitars because my brain just happens to be better at this sort of thing?” Well, the world isn’t always fair, but you’d be surprised as to the options left-handed people have in front of them. Any decent music shop usually offers a very good variety of left-handed instruments. Obviously, unless you’re in a specialist shop, there will be more right-handed guitars than left, because the majority is right-handed and to stock equal amounts of both would be bad for business. Don’t hate the store. They’ve got a mortgage to pay and a family to support. They’re just trying to make a living. Take a look over their selection, and for God’s sake, do NOT pick up a right-handed guitar, at least not in front of a salesperson. If a salesperson sees you plucking a right-handed guitar with your left-handed ways, the “SUCKER” alarm goes off in that salesman’s head, because you will look inexperienced. YOU DON’T WANT HIM TO KNOW/THINK THIS. If you’re new to this, then the way to spot a left-handed guitar is this: if the thickest string is on top when you’re playing it, then that’s the right guitar for you. If the thickest string is on the bottom, it is right-handed. PUT IT DOWN. Don’t drop it on the floor though. That’s asking for trouble.

MYTH: Some songs sound worse when played by a southpaw.
TRUTH: Here is the list of songs that sound different when played on a left-handed guitar by a left-handed person:

There are none.

OK, so you’ve got your guitar now. Well, the good news is that if it’s left-handed, you can now have lessons from a tutor/a friend/a relative/whoever. Even BETTER news is that since the Internet has become the best source for information available to man, you can get a lot of help online. If you’re worried you won’t read TAB the same way right-handed people do, you can. But often it’s simply a matter of finding a way that YOU can decipher it. You will find a system that works for you, honest. If all else fails, take the chord in question over to ChordFind.com – they have a left-handed option.

And you’re on your way! That’s pretty much all you need to know about left-handed playing. Here are some all-purpose does and don’ts to help you -

1. Don’t, don’t, DON’T take a right-handed acoustic and re-string it. It will constantly be falling out of tune.

2. Don’t try and learn to play on a right-handed guitar, as some chords will be impossible (G springs to mind). Also, if you ever decide to jump to a left-handed guitar later on, you’ll be forced to start from scratch.

3. Don’t feel bad about playing in front of right-handed people – you’ve got just as much potential as them.

And most importantly, have fun playing. That’s what it’s about. And before I go, here are some little snippets and statistics that you can tell any nay Sayers -

A band with a left-handed guitarist in it is 3% more likely to attract attention, because looks are almost everything these days, and left-handed guitarists look unique.

Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix made a combined total of over $200million in their respective careers… all three were left-handed. Leonardo da Vinci and Napoleon were also left-handed, as well as – that’s right – Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.

The numbers of left-handed people in the UK has increased fourfold over the last 100 years.

About 11% of women and 13% of men are left-handed.

The Latin word for left-handed is “sinister”. The reason “sinister” means what it does today is because hundreds of years ago left-handed people were considered evil.

I hope this has been helpful to one in every nine of you… keep playing that baby upside-down, southpaws.

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About John Tucker

John Tucker is a guitarist from South Wales in the UK. Although he is young, he has a lot of experience - music has been an active part of his life for about a decade, and he has vast concert experience from the various bands he's been in throughout the years.

Comments [13]

  1. OK I am a right hander that plays left handed because of loosing the first digit ring finger left hand. So it would be the same for me (a right hander learning to play a left handed guitar) as vise versa.

    First you have a real advantage when it comes to chording with your dominate hand. Now the strumming will be a little spastic to begin but when you are just learning the guitar, keeping your fingers off of adjacent strings and deadening the notes is a greater problem than making simple strums.

    In fact having to learn left handed I now am clueless as to why right handed guitars are any better for right handers and worse for left handed players.

    The greatest advantage of playing a right handed guitar whether you are right handed or not is being able to go into a guitar store and try out whatever guitar you want. Something I have never been able to do and something that can be avoided for even left handed people by a little re-training of the brain which, I can assure you will come natural with practice.

    Plus, the benefit of being able to try out your buddies guitar, choose a guitar from the shelf, or not having to pay 15% more and waiting 6 months from your local guitar dealer to get your special order guitar in which you still won’t know how it plays until it arrives. Just seems like a lot of trouble for very little benefit. I know lots of left handed people that drive stick shift cars or ride motorcycles and do as well as any right hander without having to go out and buy a special car or motorcycle. Come on… it’s a right handed world that you have already done very well in. Don’t sweet the small stuff.

    I now play better than my right hand friends after making whatever adjustment it was for me to learn to play what most would consider opposite handed. So, lefties. I say don’t turn it upside down PLAY that thing right handed!

    Later you can thank me for my good advice : )

  2. Sorry to repost but, are their any advantages to playing left handed guitar? Yes. When you are facing a right handed player it is much easier to follow what chords they are playing because it is like watching yourself in a mirror. The fretboard of your guitar will be facing in the same direction as theirs and it is easy to duplicate their chords.

    You can much more easily duplicate their finger position. This is also a reason why it is not to the advantage of a left handed player to seek out a left handed guitarist to teach them. In fact it is much easier for left handed players to teach a right handed player or for a left handed player to learn from a right handed player. This is the only advantage I can think of that really matters.

    • Hi Jim and thanks for writing!

      There are definitely some good points here. And there are a number of role models when it comes to “switching,” at least for left handed folks who decide to go play right handed – Paul Simon, Mark Knopfler, Steve Morse and David Byrne are all left handed people who play right handed. It would be interesting to start up a list of right handed people who play left handed.

      Peace

    • I like the comment on the mirror vision when teaching or learning between a right handed person and a left handed person.
      I am left handed and I am beyond counting the amount of times people say “how can you show someone how to play when every thing will be backwards”. I never understand their thinking. like you, I say it makes it easier as both players can sit directly in front of each other and watch what each hand is doing very closely just as looking in a mirror.
      For me, there was never an option for playing right handed- everything I do is left handed and it would just not be me.
      Other advantages are that I believe it can create symmetry with a right handed bass player on stage and also being able to face each other while playing can be good when improvising.

  3. David Rivas says:

    Alright so I learned right handed, and I am left handed. I hated it. I always felt like I was getting a literal work out every time I played. I could do sweep picks, pinch harmonics, chime. Anything really. Played for 3 years. I flipped over a guitar like Paul gray. And played it left handed, it worked cause it was a strat, like jimi Hendrix. I have been playing for two years, I hate playing guitar right handed HATE IT. I love playing left handed so much more comfy and natural and I can do everything that I used to be able to that took me 3 years too learn I’ve been playing lefty for 2 so it took me a whole less year to learn all the stuff I could already do but now more comfy and natural so if you’re debating which way to play play natural. Don’t bend cause some loser says you have a advantage. It’s a lie.

    • Absolutely! My first teacher would not teach me left handed. So, I learned to play the first couple months right handed. I’m pushin 50 yrs. young and have been a lefty all my life. I strive to keep it that way. I also do pottery on the wheel, left handed. So, I found a new teacher and he has been very cool with me playing left handed. I think it’s going pretty good, considering I’m only in my first year. I sit across from him so it’s almost like I’m mirroring what he’s doing, if that makes sense. Anyway, I agree, don’t be persuaded to play right handed. If you’re a natural “lefty” then play that way. It’s not really as backwards as you may think.

  4. Tom Stulc says:

    so I go over to begin to teach my young nephew and niece on beginning guitar. I discover that my nephew is left handed> he has an lot of music potential. more so than the niece. about 7 years old. I get on the net and find all kinds of advice! teach then to play right handed, no stay with the left etc.. I know having deliberately learned sign language left, though I am right handed, and rifle shooting left and right handed equally well as I am left eye dominate. and playing basket ball and learning to dribble and shoot layups left handed, it can be done. He is young. However, he is weak fingered and muscled compared to his younger sister who is a bull dozer. a real tank for a 6 year old. So my conclusion after observing his weakness of finger strength when trying to play right hand is. For the sake of finger strength and personal comfort, with the idea of him enjoying playing enough to stay with it, I’m going to restring his cheap little beginner guitar and a ukulele, I have, and teach him south paw. any thoughts offer them

    • While the life of a lefty guitarist is a tough one, (I have been doing it since 1978) I say if he is a lefty let him play left handed. I have always held to the belief of why make yourself work harder than you have to. Music is an expression of one’s feeling and you want to be as comfortable as possible so that you can get that natural flow. I prefer not to struggle because when you do it comes out in your music and you can really tell. If you are a good player then you know that when you are calm, relaxed, and confident – that is when you play the best.

      I would recommend extra light gauge strings also (.008). These are much easier on the fingers and are great for beginners because at first you want to learn the basics, chords and scales. If the beginner gets too frustrated it is more likely they will give up. I try to not over work beginners and watch for when they need a break. Remember to have him shake out his hand now and then to avoid cramps. They are working muscles in way they are not accustomed to so like any other exercise, you have to slowly build up the amount of time they use them. Most of all patience is the key.

      You will have to make it fun to keep their interest. Children have a short attention span so you will have to keep him entertained and interested. As a father myself I know that can be a big challenge but you will have to keep your expectations reasonably low enough to avoid getting frustrated yourself. Don’t push it, try to get it to where it’s his idea to practice. If you get him on those terms then you have found the sweet spot. Have his mother or friends ask to hear him play, kids love to show off. When people other than you are involved it helps encourage him even more. I know most of this probably will sound obvious, but I hope something here will help. Good luck.

    • Steven Stuart says:

      Hi Tom,
      I am 60 years old and have been playing guitar and bass left handed for at least 50 years.

      I have a collection of over 25 lefty instruments, from guitars to ukuleles and even violins.

      It all became clear to me after seeing Paul McCartney on the Ed Sullivan show and realizing you can play your instrument “backwards”. He has stated in interviews that he had the same revelation after seeing a photo of Slim Whitman.

      There was a time when lefty instruments had to be specially ordered, cost at least 10% more, and had almost no trade in value. Back in the day before the internet, we had a little network of lefty players who kept in touch with each other, and let each other know when we had an instrument to sell or trade.

      Those days are over now, just do a search on Ebay for lefty guitar, and you’ll get pages of instruments for sale. Sometimes a lefty instrument will even sell quicker and bring more money because the guys looking for them want them bad.

      As far as teaching a lefthander, I never had any problem learning from right handed players, it really is like looking in a mirror. I say let the boy be himself.

      The only downside to me is, you have to get in the habit of taking your instrument with you anywhere you go that there might be an opportunity to play.

  5. I think you have to play the natural way! If you are left handed then there are more chances that left handed guitar suit up for you! Notice when you write its like you were holding a pick and when you are clapping your hands the left one its in control!!

  6. I’m left handed, who plays right hand guitar(upside down). I told myself that nothing is impossible, since I could find a left hand guitarist, and I only realized later that I purchased a right hand guitar. I just told myself that I’m gonna do it on my own. I reffered to the internet, but I learned to play using right handers guitar tab. But it helped me a lot. So guys don’t be dicouraged, you can do it.

  7. In 1978 I left home and joined the navy. I had always wanted to play guitar but my parents couldn’t afford one so as soon as i got my first paycheck I went to the exchange and bought a guitar and amp. Then I tired to get this guy to show me how to play. He told me I was holding it wrong. I am left handed, but I didn’t know it made a difference when it came to guitar. I tried to hold it the other way but it just felt too weird. He told me to give up because I could never play guitar that way. I was heartbroken because I really love music and wanted to play so bad.

    A couple of months went by and I saw another guitarist (who later became my best friend) tearing it up on a SG copy. Then I noticed he was playing left handed. I said “Wow! how are you doing that? I was told it was impossible.” He replied “I just strung it upside down”. I was overjoyed and bought another guitar and did the same.

    I learned never to let someone tell me something is impossible. Soon after I bought a real left handed guitar and have been playing ever since. Now I am respected by my peers and the fact that I am a left handed guitarist is valued to other guitarist because they find it easier for me to teach them because it is like looking in a mirror.

    While being told it was impossible for me to play a guitar when I first started did sting, I’m actually glad it happened. Because when I found out different nothing could have fueled my desire and dedication to prove otherwise more. So I hope if you are starting out playing guitar, or anything in life for that matter, that you find that sting like I did, and the fire that lights the passion inside of you to do great things.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Guitarnoise.com comes to our rescue too – and all that’s written for guitar on there also applies to bass, of course: http://www.guitarnoise.com/lessons/lefties-anonymous/ […]

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