Can a lefty play a right-handed guitar? It’s possible for a lefty to play a right-handed guitar, but it will take some effort to get accustomed to the instrument built for the right-handed players. One workaround is to rearrange the strings in reverse. Or better, just go get a left-handed guitar!
Okay, let’s play a short game. Swiftly think of these five iconic guitarists:
Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, and Courtney Barnett.
What’s common among them? Well, aside from being part of the most talented guitarists of all time, all of these legends are left-handed.
As seen, despite the adversities in traversing a career designed for right-handers, left-handed musicians were still able to make a name for themselves.
In this article, we’ll be hovering over the day-to-day struggles of being a left-handed guitarist, their chances in playing right-handed guitar, and the conveniences of a left-handed guitar.
To the Left, To the Left
On a scale of 1 to 100, lefties assessed themselves as more artistically adept in a 2019 study of greater than 20,000 participants. This might be attributed to the fact that left-handed people have to acclimatize to a right-handed milieu on a regular basis.
We can’t dispute, though, that left-handed artists have it tough. When a lefty has no other choice but to flip the strings on a conventional, run-of-a-mill of a mill guitar and perform it that fashion, you (right-handers) would soon realize that you had it better!
“Why do lefties feel the need to adjust in the first place, given left-handed instruments exist” a typical right-handed musician would wonder.
Well, it all boils down to some key reasons: left-handed guitars are rare and expensive, there are fewer teachers who are experienced in playing left-handed instruments, and, of course, personal preference and aesthetics.
So what are some common day-to-day struggles for lefty guitarists?
Ergonomics. Let’s pretend our left-handed musician is forced to play a right-handed guitar. This option has several faults.
Because of the manner by which the left arm rubs across the knobs, they’ll notice the tone and loudness to start tinkering as soon as they start playing. Furthermore, their left elbow would clash with the output jack cable, thereby ruining the welding.
Some string intonation issues may also arise due to the counter-conventionally slanted bridge. Finally, because all six tuning pegs are on the opposing side of the headstock, they would be difficult to access.
Chord Charts. Because what you see on paper a chord chart is essentially what you catch when you pass a glance at your guitar’s fretboard and your chord hand, the ordinary right-handed individual has minimal difficulty reading chord charts.
For lefties, things become a lot worse. Consider the low E string: they see the low E string on the chart where the high E string is based on their fretboard’s layout. Are there any left-handed chord charts? Yes, but they’re exceedingly difficult to come by. Later on, left-handed artists would develop a second nature of consciously swapping up strings to adjust.
Playing Live. If a musician plays a left-handed guitar and is arranging a live show, they might want to consider standing on the stage right (with the headstock facing center stage).
If they fail to do this, their guitar’s headstock is more likely to clash with the headstock of another player’s guitar. Mind you, headstocks are exceedingly delicate, and breaking one would be a pain in your wallet.
Furthermore, few stage technicians are left-handed or have experience working with left-handed instruments. Unless you have someone who is well-versed with how lefties prefer to play, the most typical practice is to learn how to set it up on your own.
The Lefty with a Right-Handed Guitar
As mentioned earlier (as stressed in the ergonomics section), playing a right-hand guitar could be messy for novice left-handed guitarists.
But is it possible?
Of course, with some extra elbow grease and patience.
To reiterate from earlier, there’s an actual logic on why many lefties opt to play a right-handed guitar. Left-handed guitars are just difficult to come by and would cost some extra bucks. Not to mention, you’ll never know when an opportunity demands that you play someone else’s guitar (which would most probably be right-handed).
The guitar is a delicate instrument that demands finesse and accuracy. In order to play the guitar properly in the first place, you will be required to practice with both of your hands. Individuals who have spent their entire life doing things with one hand may find it difficult to do so with the other.
Some left-handed musicians play right-handed, but with the neck turned to the right so that the lowest string is closest to the ground. They are taught the chord forms backward.
Here’s a tip from an actual left-handed guitarist:
“To avoid spending money on a lefty guitar, you could try him out on a right-handed guitar restrung with the strings the other way around.”
If it proves to be more than a one-time trial, you’ll want to have your right-handed guitar established for that arrangement. However, when it becomes an annoyance, it’s time to get a left-handed guitar. It sure is a lot easier than trying to play the guitar upside down like Jimi Hendrix did!
Left-Handed Guitar: The Lefty’s Best Bet
Okay, probably our trick did not work you hoped. What now? Probably, it’s time for you to resort to the more logical (and expensive option): get a left-handed guitar.
So, what’s so special about them?
As the name suggests, left-handed guitars are designed specifically for left-handed players.
Basically, the thickest string on this guitar (your Low E in standard tuning) is the one farthest to the right. Conversely, that Low E (again, if you’re in standard tuning) will be the initial string on the left on a conventional, right-handed guitar. Moreover, the left-handed guitar is constructed so that a lefty would be able to utilize their right hand to grasp the instrument’s neck and their left one as a strumming hand.
Similarly, components such as tone knobs, switches, vibrato bars, and volume knobs are reversed on a left-handed guitar – giving lefties the opportunity to add that extra kick during their jamming sessions.
Check out this video of a guitar teacher discussing the challenges of being a lefty guitarist, her tips for the lefties, and why getting a left-handed guitar is worth it:
A Lefty in a Right-Handed Dominated World: Final Words
According to a study by experts, only 10 percent of the world’s seven billion (plus) population is left-handed. It must always be a hustle to adjust for the overwhelming majority of right-handers.
It’s also no secret that the world of music is not necessarily designed for left-handers. But this won’t stop you, will it?
In this article, we gave you a brief rundown on the typical struggles of lefty guitarists from the underlooked ergonomics to the additional stress during live sessions. We’ve also talked about some tips when trying to play a run-of-a-mill right-handed guitar as a lefty.
Lastly, we delved into understanding what makes a left-handed guitar a lefty’s best bet.
As we always say, the choice would always be up to you—your playing style, your time, and of course, your resources.
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.