When starting to learn the guitar, one of the first big decisions you’ll have to make is choosing a left vs right handed guitar.
This choice largely depends on your dominant hand and playing style, as it will affect not only your comfort while playing but also the availability of guitars and the potential challenges you may face in learning and mastering the instrument.
If you’re feeling somewhat left out in a world designed for right-handed guitarists, don’t stress about it too much! If we look at the history of guitar music, there are many famous left-handed guitarists who were innovators and truly changed and even helped define the guitar styles we enjoy today. Just enjoy the fact you’re unique. You can still become a pro guitarist!
Left-handed and right-handed guitars are essentially the same, with the only significant difference being the orientation of the strings and hardware. The guitar string sizes you choose make no difference whether you’re a leftie or not.
For right-handed players, the thickest string is on the left side, while for left-handed players, typically, the guitars have their strings in the reverse order. This reversal affects how you hold the instrument and fret the notes, which is why it’s crucial to determine which type of guitar suits you best before investing in learning the instrument.
Left vs Right Handed Guitar
The primary difference between a left-handed and a right-handed guitar is the order of the strings based on thickness. For right-handed guitars, the thickest string is on the left, while on left-handed guitars, the thickest string is on the right. This reversal of string order affects how the instrument is played based on the player’s dominant hand.
The design of both acoustic and electric guitars is essentially the same for both left-handed and right-handed models; the placement of the strings and other structural elements, such as the bridge, pickguard, and input for electric models, is set up in a mirror image. The body shape and cutaways are also mirrored to accommodate a left-handed player’s comfort and playing style.
Left-Handed Acoustic Guitars
- Thickest string on the right
- Pickguard on the opposite side
- Right-handed bracing structure inside the guitar
Left-Handed Electric Guitars
- Thickest string on the right
- Pickguard and knobs/switches on the opposite side
- Input jack on the opposite side
- Tremolo system (if applicable) on the opposite side
The adjustments to accommodate left-handed players also extend to the internal electronics for electric guitars. The placement of pickups, volume and tone controls, and switches are inverted to provide easier access for the left-handed player.
Availability and Pricing
Getting a left-handed guitar can sometimes be more challenging, as fewer models cater to left-handed players. This limited availability can also result in slightly higher prices compared to their right-handed counterparts.
Many manufacturers offer left-handed versions of popular electric and acoustic guitar models, so your options, while reduced, are still plentiful.
Dominant Hands and Playing Styles
Strumming and Fretting Roles
One important aspect to consider is the role of each hand.
Your dominant hand, usually the one you write with, will typically handle the strumming or picking duties, while your non-dominant hand will be responsible for fretting and forming chords. This setup allows you to apply strength and precision to your playing style. It is crucial to understand the nuances of using each hand in their respective roles to progress as a guitarist.
Whether you’re playing a left-handed guitar or not, once you learn the roles of each hand you’ll be shredding rhythm riffs and guitar solos in no time!
The picking hand, typically your dominant hand, employs various techniques to pluck or strum the strings of the guitar.
Picking techniques include alternate picking, fingerpicking, and sweep picking. You should find the most comfortable and efficient techniques for your dominant hand. Practicing these techniques regularly can help you develop control and dexterity with your dominant hand.
Chord Shapes and Diagrams
Chord shapes and diagrams are essential for understanding how to play certain chords on the guitar. These visual representations detail where to place your fretting hand fingers on the guitar neck and which strings to strum or mute with your strumming hand.
Whether you’re left or right-handed, learning to read chord charts and diagrams is crucial because they provide insight into creating different chord structures.
Using both hands effectively when playing the guitar is essential for mastering the instrument. By understanding the roles and techniques of your hands, you’ll develop adaptability and coordination, allowing you to play various styles and genres effortlessly.
Challenges for Left-Handed Players
Adapting to Right-Handed Models
As a left-handed person, you might often feel at a disadvantage in a world designed predominantly for right-handed people. This is particularly true when it comes to playing the guitar. Many left-handed players face the challenge of adapting to right-handed models, as left-handed guitars can be harder to find.
Adapting to a right-handed guitar can be discouraging and difficult, but some left-handed players manage to overcome this obstacle by switching the nut of a right-handed guitar 180 degrees and installing the guitar strings upside down, like Jimi Hendrix’s famous CBS-era Fender Stratocasters.
Playing a right-handed guitar as a left-handed player may be challenging, especially when trying to perform complex patterns with accurate timing. Keeping your picking hand steady while focusing on your fret hand can be even more demanding if you’re forced to adapt to a non-dominant hand setup.
Switching Between Guitars
Another challenge faced by left-handed guitarists is switching between different guitars. Whether practicing with a right-handed guitar at home and using a left-handed guitar during performances or alternating between various guitars in different settings, constantly switching back and forth can be quite difficult.
Finding the perfect guitar is even harder for left-handed guitarists due to limited options. This can lead to frustration and discouragement, hindering your progress as a musician.
The good news is there are ways to overcome these challenges, such as working on your ambidexterity and flexibility to feel more comfortable on any guitar you encounter.
While you may face certain struggles as a left-handed guitarist, remember that many successful musicians have faced similar challenges and still excelled. By staying focused and resilient, you can adapt to various guitar setups and continue to develop your skills and passion for playing.
Reversing a Guitar
Changing the Strings
When reversing a guitar, you’ll need to restring it so that the strings are in the correct order for left-handed play.
Start by removing the strings from your right-handed guitar. Then, reattach them in the opposite order, with the thickest (low E) on the top and the thinnest (high E) on the bottom. This will allow you to play the guitar comfortably with your left hand.
In addition to changing the strings, you may need to make alterations to other components of the guitar to ensure proper left-handed play. Some of these modifications may include:
- Saddle angle: You may need to reverse the saddle angle to intonate the guitar properly.
- Strap peg: Adjust the strap peg location for comfortable playing in the left-handed position.
- Side markers: Consider adding or moving side markers to the opposite side of the guitar neck for easy reference.
Limitations and Considerations
While it is possible to reverse a guitar for left-handed play, there are some limitations and considerations to keep in mind:
Bridge and nut
Reversing the strings can cause issues with the guitar’s bridge and nut. You may need to change these components to accommodate the reversed string order.
Pickups and controls
The guitar’s pickups and controls, such as volume and tone knobs, maybe in awkward positions for left-handed players. Some adjustments might be necessary for easy access.
Some guitar body shapes may be less comfortable for left-handed players due to their asymmetry after conversion.
Understanding these potential limitations can help you decide whether reversing a guitar is right for you. If the drawbacks seem too significant, consider investing in a left-handed guitar specifically designed for left-handed play.
Notable Left-Handed Guitarists
Jimi Hendrix: Widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Hendrix was left-handed but often played a right-handed guitar flipped upside down. His innovative techniques and unique sound continue to influence generations of musicians.
Paul McCartney: As a left-handed guitarist and bassist, McCartney played an essential role in the success of The Beatles. His melodic bass lines and songwriting skills helped define the band’s sound and made him one of the most successful musicians in history.
Kurt Cobain: As the frontman of Nirvana, Cobain gave a whole new meaning to left-handed guitar playing in the grunge era. His raw and powerful guitar work, emotive vocals, and songwriting abilities helped propel Nirvana to international stardom.
Albert King: A pioneer of blues music, King played left-handed without restringing the instrument, which contributed to his unique guitar tone. His distinctive playing style heavily influenced many guitar legends like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Dick Dale: As the “King of Surf Guitar,” Dale’s innovative techniques led to the creation of a whole new genre of music. His rapid and unique picking style and heavy reverb sound gave birth to surf rock in the 1960s.
Mark Knopfler: Best known as the lead guitarist and vocalist for Dire Straits, Knopfler’s fingerpicking style and melodic solos have earned him critical acclaim and immense success. His skillful use of the left-handed guitar has made him a widely respected figure in the music world.
Duane Allman: As a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman’s unmistakable slide guitar technique, combined with his skillful left-handed playing, influenced many guitarists and remains a benchmark for Southern rock.
Gary Moore: An iconic blues-rock guitarist from Northern Ireland, Moore’s expressive playing and virtuosic solos left an indelible mark on the music world. His ability to play complex, fiery, and emotive guitar parts made him an exceptional left-handed guitarist.
Tony Iommi: As the lead guitarist and founding member of Black Sabbath, Iommi’s innovative playing and heavy riffs helped create the blueprint for heavy metal music. Despite losing two fingertips in an accident, his left-handed guitar playing led to the pioneering development of down-tuned guitars and power chords.
These left-handed guitarists have unquestionably left a significant mark on the music world, influencing generations of musicians with their exceptional skills and unique playing styles.
As you explore their contributions, it becomes clear that being left-handed can certainly be a strength in the world of guitar playing.
Tips for Left-Handed Students
Finding a Guitar
As a left handed guitar player, you might face some challenges when looking for a suitable guitar. Most stores carry a limited selection of left-handed guitars, but don’t let this discourage you.
You can start by visiting local guitar stores and asking for their left-handed inventory. Many online shops also offer a wider variety of left-handed guitars catering to different skill levels and budgets.
Lessons and Teaching Methods
The only difference in learning guitar for left-handed people is you’ll learn everything in a mirror image compared to right-handed players. It can be easier to study with a left-handed teacher initially as you can learn the techniques without having to mirror them. However long term, you’ll be fine learning from a right-handed teacher.
Resources and Tools
There are plenty of resources and tools available for left-hand dominant guitar players.
Start by searching for books, instructional videos, and online resources like this Fender Guitar article, specifically designed for left-handed players. You can also join online communities where fellow lefty guitar players share their experiences, tips, and tricks. This will help you improve your skills and widen your network.
Be patient and persistent. Learning to play the guitar as a lefty brings challenges, but you can become a skilled and confident left-handed guitarist with the right guidance and dedication.
Brands and Models
You might have noticed that most musical instruments, especially guitars, are designed for right-handed players. The good news is there are several brands and models that cater to left-handed individuals, ensuring everyone can enjoy playing the guitar.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between left and right-handed guitars?
The main difference between left and right-handed guitars is the orientation of the strings and construction. On a right-handed guitar, the thickest string is on the left, while on a left-handed guitar, the thickest string is on the right.
Beyond string arrangement, the guitar’s shape, hardware, and electronics can also be mirrored to accommodate left-handed players.
How do guitar positions vary for left and right-handed players?
For both left and right-handed players, the positions of the guitar components remain fairly consistent. However, left-handed players hold the guitar with the neck in their right hand and the body against their left hip, while right-handed players reverse these positions.
The picking hand is responsible for plucking notes, and the fretting hand is responsible for forming chords and pressing strings on the neck.
Are there specific left-handed guitars for beginners?
Yes, there are left-handed guitars specifically designed for beginners. These guitars feature the same design principles as right-handed guitars but are oriented for left-handed players.
Many guitar manufacturers offer entry-level left-handed models, which makes it easier for left-handed beginners to start their musical journey.
Who are some famous left-handed guitar players?
Several famous left-handed guitar players include Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Tony Iommi, and Albert King. These musicians have inspired and influenced generations of guitarists with their unique playing styles and iconic performances.
Does playing guitar with one’s dominant hand significantly impact performance?
Using your dominant hand to play guitar can impact your performance and may lead to faster learning and better coordination. While it is possible for some to adapt to playing a guitar in a non-dominant orientation, it is generally more natural and comfortable to play with your dominant hand.
Can a right-handed person learn to play a left-handed guitar?
A right-handed person can learn to play a left-handed guitar, but it may require significantly more practice and time. Switching to a left-handed orientation challenges muscle memory and coordination.
It is generally advised to use a right-handed guitar for right-handed people to learn faster and reach their full potential.
One of your first important decisions as a guitarist will be choosing between a left vs right hand guitar.
Not all guitar brands and models cater to left-handed players, but it is possible to adapt a right-hand guitar to be played the opposite way.
You can quickly tell the difference between left and right-handed guitars by looking at the direction of the strings. The low E string, or the thickest string, is on the right side for left-handed instruments, while it’s on the left for right-handed models. The neck of the guitar, pick guard, and body shape are also reversed.
When it comes to the quality of the instrument, the most important thing is to choose a good guitar that suits your needs, regardless of whether it is a left or right-handed model. Keep in mind that left-handed instruments might carry a slightly higher price due to lower demand.
Both left and right-handed guitars cater to different ways of playing and preferences. It really comes down to whichever setup feels the most natural to you.