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How Should Left Handed Guitarists Play Their Guitars?

Mar 28, 2008
I was recently thinking about left handed guitar players ( I know I need to get out more often) and wondered what effect their left handedness had on their playing style. Most of the very famous ones we're familiar with but I'll list some anyway:

Jimi Hendrix- yep he has to go first still - as you probably know he mostly played a restrung right handed guitar which he played upside down. (the guitar, not Jimi, though early on who knows). Gibson did however custom make him a left-handed Flying V in 1969 which he used at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.

Kurt Cobain - played a mixture of left-handed guitars and upside-down restrung right handed guitars. Favoured Mustangs and Jaguars, though dabbled a bit with Strats and had some custom made for him.

Paul McCartney (free again!) I know he played bass in the Beatles but he also played and plays guitar. Trivia fact - the guitar he first learned to play on which belonged to a childhood friend sold for over $600,000 in 2006! If you know some aspiring young rock gods you should perhaps lend them some gear (as long as you get it back and they don't trash it).

Dick Dale - It was good to see him getting some attention thanks to the inclusion of Miserlou in Pulp Fiction. Initially played an upside down right handed guitar but did not restring it so the strings were also 'upside down'. Even when using a left handed guitar keeps strings upside down.

Albert King - influential blues guitarist who also favoured 'upside down' strings, whether on an upside down right handed guitar, or a left-handed version. Was a big fan of the Gibson Flying V, and thanks to down-tuning his guitar had a very expressive and individual sound.

From this we can see therefore that there's 3 main options available to lefties :

1) Use a right handed guitar and simply turn it upside down leaving the strings as they are.

This will definitely have a large impact on your playing style and sound. Using 'normal' training materials and tabs will be difficult but you may be the next Dick Dale or Albert King.

2) Use an upside down right handed guitar and restring it.

Although some purists may scoff this is certainly fairly straightforward for electric guitars. It can be difficult sometimes using the volume and tone controls and some guitars may just not be comfortable to use this way.

3) Buy a purpose built left handed guitar.

This avoids having to restring your guitar and will mean that all the controls that you need will be in easy reach. Will also avoid difficulties in using an unusual arrangement of strings and will make more training materials available to you. Less likely that clumsy right-handed friends will want to borrow your guitar and return it after bouncing it off a concrete floor.

Your guitar should be pretty much plug n' play out of the box (well perhaps tune it first). Aesthetically your guitar will probably look more balanced and like what it's designers intended.

So overall if you're just starting out learning to play guitar and are left-handed then I'd recommend finding a left handed guitar that you like. It will make your learning curve (to use an overused phrase) a bit smoother. Later on once you've learned the basics feel free to experiment as that's part of the fun in learning to play guitar, whether you're a lefty or not.
About the Author
Bob James is left-handed and plays guitar. Though not terribly interesting these facts means that he's interested in left handed guitars.

If you're interested in finding a left-handed guitar then you might want to check out http://findlefthandedguitars.com
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