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Left handed guitar

  Left Handed guitar background
Where to find left-handed guitars and information
Famous lefthanded guitarists

Left Handed guitar background

We are often asked for advice from left-handed guitarists, both on the best way to teach guitar left-handed and for stockists of left-handed guitars.

Most left-handers find it natural to hold a guitar so they can strum the strings with their left handed and finger the chords with their right. If a standard right-handed guitar is just turned over the other way, all the strings are upside down, with the lowest notes at the bottom instead of the top. Some lefties have played this way,  including Coco Montoya and  Albert King but it is not ideal!

It is possible to re-string the guitar to change the string positions, and again many famous guitarists have played his way, notably Jimi Hendrix with his famous  restrung Fender Stratocaster, but it is not really a great solution as the rest of the guitar is still in the wrong places – the direction of the string bridge, the protective panels, electric pickups, sound controls, cable jack, strap connections etc.

What you really need is a properly designed left-handed guitar with all the components made to be played left-handed.

As with most things left-handed, the answers are never as straightforward as one would wish. If you are thinking of buying a left-handed guitar, you will find that the choice can be very limited. Whether it is acoustic or electric you are looking for, you may find there are no left-handers at all among the glittering display or, with luck, perhaps two or three may be tucked away behind the right-handers. As with expensive equipment for many other hobbies or activities the economics of guitar production and sales makes it impossible for most stores to supply the range of choice that right-handers enjoy.
Unfortunately, reversing the strings on a right-handed guitar is not sufficient, since the entire instrument must have all its parts reversed to produce an acceptable tone. We have only two options: to purchase from the few left-handed versions available, even if they are not entirely suitable or to order a left-handed version of a right-handed model you have seen. The second option may seem a reasonable compromise, but actually carries a number of pitfalls. Firstly, assessing the merits of a right-handed guitar by playing it left-handed is far from ideal as you can get only a rough idea of its tone and action. As any guitarist knows, even two guitars of the same model can vary slightly. Secondly, and most seriously, most manufacturers insist that once a guitar is ordered by a customer to be specially made, the customer is then obliged to buy it, even if it turns out to be less than ideal. Bearing in mind the guitar in question may cost in the region of £3,000 if it is a top of the range model, this is a high-risk option. So, not only can the left-hander not, in most cases, walk out of the shop with the guitar of their choice, they may also be obliged to wait anything up to a year before obtaining their purchase.

Learning left handed guitar

Finding a patient teacher who can instruct in reverse is almost as difficult as finding a left-handed instrument, since most teachers are right-handed. Some even refuse to teach left-handed pupils! yet the solution can be simple: just seat the left-handed pupil opposite the teacher, so it is like looking in a mirror – a simple and effective way to learn.

Some teachers will even argue that with any stringed instrument the right hand has to be pretty dextrous so it shouldn’t make any difference which way round the instrument is played. For folk or classical guitar playing, the argument goes against this theory because much of the control is carried out by the right hand, which left-handers might find difficult.

But what if you have already been encouraged to play guitar right-handed – is it too late to change? The Guitar Workshop in New York made a detailed study of left-handed guitar playing and found that it took three to six months for players who changed over to regain their previous level of attainment, after which they improved even further! Composer and guitarist John Duarte, a ‘changed’ man said: “Now I would not encourage a lefty to learn right-handedly, and when I inherit a student who does play that way round, I advise him to change if he does not appear to be reaching his potential. I think there has been much irrational prejudice against lefties, and such things die hard”

Famous lefthanded guitarists

Thankfully, we can count some great guitarists among our numbers to even out the score. Here are a few we know and let us know of any other great left-handed guitarists to add to our Hall of Fame.

Picture Name Background Links
  Jimi Hendrix Jimi Hendrix pioneered the explosive possibilities of the electric guitar. Hendrix’s innovative style of combining fuzz, feedback and controlled distortion created a new musical form. Because he was unable to read or write music, it is nothing short of remarkable that Jimi Hendrix’s meteoric rise in the music took place in just four short years. His musical language continues to influence a host of modern musicians.  
  Paul McCartney Played Bass for ‘the Beatles’ in the 60’s. Generally considered the greatest pop composer of all time, along with fellow Beatle composer John Lennon. In the Guinness Book of Word Records for most records sold, most #1’s (shared) and largest paid audience for a concert (350,000 people 1989 in Brazil). After ‘the Beatles’ he formed Wings, one of the most commercially successful groups of the ’70’s. Solo career in post 70’s has been sporadic in both commercial and artistic terms.  
  Bobby Womack He was born in Cleveland in 1944. Bobby and his brothers sang several memorable songs including his composition “It’s All Over Now” which they recorded as The Valentinos for Sam Cooke’s label, SAR. When the group who had begun as a gospel unit broke up, Bobby started out on a solo career. When he went down to Memphis to cut an album with Chips Moman, he met Wilson Pickett for whom he wrote “I’m A Midnight Mover”. Bobby played guitar on Wilson’s dates and began playing on many other sessions for artists such as Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Joe Tex. Bobby became a major soul recording artist of the 1970’s, influencing folks such as Rod Stewart and The Stones.  
  Kurt Cobain Kurt Donald Cobain was the leader of Nirvana, the multi-platinum grunge band that redefined the sound of the nineties. He was introduced to music at a very young age, by his aunt. At seven years of age his parents divorced and he was forced to look at the world in a different light. He spent time under a bridge here he would spend the time alone writting his first lyrics. At the age of 15 Nirvana was born. However at the age of just 27 he killed himself after the presure became too much.  
  Tony Iommi As founding member of Black Sabbath and architect of such classic riffs as Black Sabbath, Paranoid, War Pigs, Iron Man and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Tony Iommi was – and is – the acknowledged progenitor of heavy rock guitar. His unique style and much copied sound have had a profound influence on succeeding generations of guitarists, and many of the leading bands of today owe more than a passing allegiance to the Black Sabbath sound as defined by Tony Iommi  
  Bob Geldof Bob Geldof was the leader of the successful punk group the Boomtown Rats. Inspired by a documentary on starving Ethiopian children, Geldof contacted music personalities from the U.K. and the U.S. to make a recording, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” whose 80 million dollars in benefits were sent to Ethiopia. In 1985, he organized two enormous Live Aid concerts, again featuring some of the most popular acts in modern pop music, and donated the proceeds to charity. As a result, Geldof received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. He was also knighted.  

 

You will find full profiles of these left handed guitarists and many more in the book set Uncommon Sound – see below.

If you have any more information about these people or have any other successful left-handed guitarists that you would like us to feature, please add your comments below.

Left Handed Guitar

Shops that specialise in left-handed guitars

The Guitar Workshop in Ibstock, Leicestershire, UK

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