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Left-Handed Guitar: How to Play Guitar if You’re Left-handed?
Posted on December 3, 2021
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Starting to learn guitar is simple for right-handed guitar players as you’re likely to just go with a right-handed instrument that are plentiful in music stores and online retailers’ websites. However, what to do if you happen to be left-handed? Should you just learn to play a right-handed guitar like others who play right-handed or is there some other way? Is there such a thing as a left-handed electric guitar?
If you have questions like these, then you’ve come to the right place. Today we’ll offer some great advice for all left-handed guitar players out there. Read on, especially if you’re still only beginning to learn how to play guitar or you’re looking to buy your very first own (left-handed) guitar.
Left vs Right-handed Guitar: What’s the difference?
When playing guitar, the left and right hands have very different roles, so it does matter what kind of instrument you choose. In guitar playing your hands are referred to as the fretting hand and the picking hand (also known as the plucking hand). Usually your dominant hand will be your picking hand (so the left hand for a left-handed person).
The fretting hand is the one that’ll be operating the guitar fretboard. This includes fingering chords and individual notes or performing slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, for instance. Meanwhile, the picking hand is used to pick and strum the strings, either with a guitar pick or just the fingers. The picking hand’s tasks also include fingerpicking and palm muting.
When it comes to deciding how exactly to play, there are three options for a left-handed guitarist. You should make this decision early on when starting to learn how to play because it can be hard to switch to a different way of playing and readjust your playing style. The three options are playing a right-handed guitar just like right-handed players, using a right-handed guitar and flipping it the other way or getting a left-handed guitar.
Playing a right-handed guitar
One way of approaching guitar playing as a lefty is to just play like other right-handed guitarists. This means using your left hand as the fretting hand and your right hand as the picking hand. In this case your dominant hand (your left hand, that is) won’t be used for strumming and picking unlike for right-handed players. However, this is a valid option nonetheless.
Playing a right-handed guitar upside down
You might have heard of people playing guitar left-handed and just flipping the guitar upside down, so that the headstock of a regular right-handed guitar is pointing to the right. This is one way of doing it, but there are some problems. First off, this can be quite challenging with most instruments as guitars are more often than not asymmetrical, meaning that holding the instrument the “wrong” way might not be possible. On top of that, learning to play will be more difficult as most learning materials and instructions aren’t designed for this type of playing.
Playing a left-handed guitar
Then there’s of course the option of choosing a guitar designed just for lefties. This requires you to choose an instrument that is specifically intended for left-handed players. These can be more difficult to find, in addition to being slightly more expensive. However, how to identify a left-handed guitar? Read on and we’ll tell just how.
What are left-handed guitars
A left-handed model is essentially a mirror image of its right-hand counterpart, you just play it with your right hand using the fretboard as well as your left hand strumming and picking the strings.
When getting a left-handed guitar, just make sure that the strings are the right way. How to test this? Here are a few points that will reveal whether the instrument is a left or right-hand guitar.
- Hold the guitar as you would as a lefty (the headstock pointing to the right) and see if the thickest E string is the one closest to you.
- Check where the fretboard markers are located. These are the tiny dots on the side of the guitar neck that help you play and locate particular frets on the guitar fretboard. The dots should be towards you when holding the guitar like you would when playing a left-handed model.
- If the guitar has a strap, see where the strap button is located. For most guitars, there is a strap button both at the bottom of the guitar’s body as well as on top, next to where the neck protrudes from the body. In a left-handed guitar, the other strap button will be on top when holding the instrument as a left-handed model.
- One way of telling what kind of guitar you have is by checking the nut. This is the strip located where the guitar neck ends and the headstock begins. If the strings fit the small grooves in the nut nicely when installed in a left-hand manner, then you have a left-handed model.
- Not all guitars have a pickguard or a scratchplate, the part that protects your guitar from being scraped by strumming and playing with a pick. However, in case there is one, on a left-handed guitar it should be located on the right side of the instrument when the guitar is facing you.
Just over 10% of the world’s population is left-handed. Because of this there’s also less demand for left-handed guitars. In addition, it’s extra work for the manufacturer to produce a left-handed guitar. Thus, left-hand guitars tend to be more expensive than right-handed models. It can also be more difficult to find left-handed gear. However, if you can afford it and find guitars for lefties, going with a left-hand model is a good decision.
Famous Left-handed Guitarists
Even if right-handed guitar players are in the majority, there are a number of talented and well-known left-handed guitarists out there. Some of these lefties could even be called iconic in the world of rock music and they have inspired a countless number of left-handed players to pick up a guitar. Here are only five legendary guitarists who play left-handed.
Back when Jimi Hendrix was starting his guitar playing journey, there really weren’t left handed electric guitars available like today. Jimi’s solution to this problem? Flip his right-handed guitar upside down so that the strings are still like in a right-handed instrument. This made playing more difficult, but as you might have guessed by now, this didn’t slow down Jimi and today he’s one of the most iconic guitar players in the history of music.
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath is likewise one of rock music’s most influential guitar players. However, in addition to being left-handed, there’s another thing that makes Tony Iommi stand out: his right hand is missing the fingertips of his middle and ring fingers. This understandably influenced his way of playing guitar. Today Tony Iommi is best known especially for the massive riffs and impressive guitar solos he played in Black Sabbath, most notably ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Iron Man’.
If Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi have left their mark in the history of rock and heavy metal in the 60s and 70s, Kurt Cobain is at least equally influential for the rock music of the 90s. This frontman of the legendary grunge band Nirvana was taught to write with his right hand in school and the story goes that he was in fact right-handed but chose to start playing guitar like a left-handed person. In other words, the person behind such memorable classics as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Come as You Are’ was ambidextrous (i.e. able to use both his hands).
If Nirvana blew up in popularity in the 90s, the Beatlemania of the 1960s does not pale in comparison. Some go as far as to call The Beatles “the most influential band of all time”. Although Paul McCartney was the vocalist and bass player of The Beatles, he’s also considered one of the great left-handed guitar players of popular music. In addition to The Beatles, Paul McCartney’s career spans many solo albums as well as his playing in the band Wings, also including his wife Linda McCartney.
Finally, one more highly regarded guitarist playing left-handed includes Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, best known for his work in the post-harcore band At the Drive-In and the progressive rock band The Mars Volta. Check out songs like ‘One Armed Scissor’ and ‘Eriatarka’ to hear Omar play.
Learn to play left-handed guitar with Yousician
If you’re a left handed player or want to learn to play guitar as a leftie, you’re in luck. Yousician and it’s interactive guitar lessons offer a mode for left handed players that makes learning and playing guitar fun and easy. To turn on the Left-Handed Mode in Yousician, simply go to the settings and select the Game-tab. There you can toggle the ‘Left-handed mode’ setting. After the option is active, the hand on the song screen changes when you’re playing. In the left-handed mode, the left is displayed as the fretting hand as are the chord charts.
You can find a left-handed mode also in GuitarTuna, our world famous app for tuning your guitar as well as other instruments. You can download GuitarTuna for free on your iOS and Android device. Here you can read how to turn on the Left-handed mode in GuitarTuna.
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