What are the differences between left and right-handed guitars? Basically, a right-handed guitar means the right hand is strumming or plucking the strings while the left hand is fretting the chords or notes. On the contrary, a left-handed guitar has the person’s left hand on the guitar’s body while the right hand is on the fretboard.
In the early days of numerous bands rising from their hometowns trying to make it to the spotlight, guitars are massively produced almost exclusively for right-handed folks. What can we do? The majority of the population is right-handed.
However, not all artists are born right-handed. In fact, Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and lots of other musicians are left-handed. Some of them were urged to learn to play the guitar right-handed or find a way to turn it into a left-handed guitar.
This may have you thinking, is there even a difference between a left- and a right-handed guitar? Don’t you just have to flip it to the other side and start playing left-handed? Well, it turns out, there are quite a few dissimilarities between the two, and we’re here to let you know about them.
Left vs. Right-Handed Guitar
The entire world seems to have just accepted that scissors aren’t for left-handed people. However, when you’re trying to change the landscape of music, you want to make sure that left-handed musicians are well accommodated. That’s one of the reasons why we have left-handed guitars now.
So, how does it differ from your regular guitar?
Let’s begin with the most notable visual difference between the two; the pickguard. The pickguard is a piece of laminated material, often plastic, installed beside the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. Its main purpose is to prevent picks from scratching the body when you’re playing, hence the name pickguard. Electric guitars have this too, but instead of being beside the soundhole, the pickguard usually covers almost half the body.
When you put a left-handed guitar in an upright position, the pickguard would be on the left side of the body. You won’t instantly notice it, too, but that’s just because your eyes are so used to seeing the pickguard on the right side. Nonetheless, you would feel as if there’s something awkward about the guitar, but you just can’t seem to put your finger on it.
Classical guitars traditionally don’t have pickguards. That’s because they use nylon strings which are often played by plucking instead of strumming with a pick. Thankfully, the pickguard is not the only difference between a left- and a right-handed guitar. The strings will let you know as well.
This is what we mentioned somewhere at the beginning of the article. You see, you can’t just flip the guitar to the other side and start playing with your left hand. This will invert the strings, with the low E at the bottom instead of at the top. This means you’d also have to invert the position of your fingers when fretting a chord.
So, in a left-handed guitar, the direction of the strings is also inverted. When in an upright position, a left-handed guitar’s low E string is on the right side instead of on the left.
Inlays refer to the white dots or markings often found on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, and sometimes on the 12th fret. They help you quickly identify where to place your hands, especially when playing barre chords. The inlays are often on the surface of the fretboard, so why are they vital in identifying a left- and a right-handed guitar?
Well, inlays can also be found on the edge of the fretboard. When you hold a guitar, the fretboard faces forward, so it’s not always easy to see the inlays. That’s why there are also times when the inlays are marked on the edge, albeit they’re smaller. This way, you can see them along the edge while you’re playing the guitar.
In a left-handed guitar, the inlays are on the right side, the same as where the low E string is. In a right-handed guitar, the inlays are on the left.
The nut is a little piece of solid material, usually ivory, located between the headstock and the neck. Its primary function is to guide the strings towards their corresponding tuner. To do this, nuts often have indents or slots to cradle the strings and prevent them from moving too much.
If you’re going to identify a guitar if it’s left- or right-handed using the nut, a thorough inspection is required. That’s because the difference is very subtle. However, make sure that you do so diligently because this is very important.
As we’ve mentioned, the nut has specific slots for each string to prevent them from moving. This means that each indent is notched to perfectly fit the size and thickness of each string. So, if you’re going to turn a right-handed guitar into a left-handed one by inverting the direction of the strings, the nut will be a major problem.
That’s because the slot for the high E string is too narrow for the thickness of the low E string. Furthermore, the wide notch for the low E string is too wide for the high E string, causing it to move frantically when you’re playing the guitar.
Jack & Knobs
Most of the differences we’ve mentioned above are also present in electric guitars. However, one distinct contrast between a left- and a right-handed electric guitar are the location of the jack and knobs. Right-handed electric guitars have the jack and knobs on the right side.
On the other hand, left-handed electric guitars have the jack and knobs on the left side. Having them on the right side as well would make it difficult to reach when you’re in the middle of playing the instrument.
Nonetheless, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix faced this issue, which is why you’d often see pictures of him playing the guitar with the knobs on the top side of the body.
The world hasn’t always been a just place for lefties. Thankfully, and perhaps motivated by all the left-handed icons in the music industry, there are now guitars made specifically for left-handed artists.
So, if you’re ever planning to purchase one, make sure that you know the differences between a left- and a right-handed guitar, so you get the most bang for your buck.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.