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Left-Handed Guitar: How to Play Guitar if You’re Left-handed
Posted on December 3, 2021
Starting to learn guitar is simple for right-handed guitar players as right-handed instruments are plentiful in music stores and online retailers’ websites. However, what do you 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 only beginning to learn how to play the guitar or you’re looking to buy your very first own (left-handed) guitar.
Table of contents
- What is the difference between left- and right-handed guitars?
- Verdict: Right-handed vs. left-handed guitars
- How to hold a left-handed guitar?
- Famous Left-handed Guitarists
- Choosing a left-handed electric guitar
What is the difference between left- and right-handed guitars?
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 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 you’ll use to navigate the guitar fretboard, including 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 your fingers. The picking hand’s tasks also include fingerpicking and palm muting.
When it comes to deciding how to play, there are three options for a left-handed guitarist. You should make this decision early on when starting to learn guitar. This is because it can be hard to switch to a different way of playing and readjust your playing style once you’ve gotten used to one way.
The three options for lefties 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. So which one should you choose?
Playing a right-handed guitar
One way to approach 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, especially with so many different kinds of right-handed guitars out there to choose from.
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 points to the right. This is one way of doing it, but there are some things to keep in mind.
First off, using right-handed guitars like this can be quite challenging with most instruments. Guitars tend to be 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. Nonetheless, this way is an option instead of getting a left-handed instrument.
Playing a left-handed guitar
Of course, there is also 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. Fortunately, you can find a good left-handed electric guitar (or an acoustic one) online or at your local music store.
Verdict: Right-handed vs. left-handed guitars
Just over 10% of the world’s population is left-handed. Because of this, there’s also less demand for left-handed guitars. It’s also extra work for the manufacturer to produce a left-handed guitar. Thus, left-handed guitars tend to be more expensive than right-handed models. On top of their higher price, it can be more difficult to find left-handed gear or learning material. However, if you can afford it and find a guitar for lefties, going with a left-hand model is a good decision.
How to hold a left-handed guitar?
A left-handed model is essentially a mirror image of its right-hand counterpart; you just play it with your right hand on the fretboard and your left hand strumming or picking the strings.
When getting a left-handed guitar, just make sure that the strings are the right way. How do you test this? Here are a few points that will reveal whether the instrument is a left- or right-handed 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-handed manner, then you have a left-handed model.
- Not all guitars have a pickguard or a scratchplate, the guitar part that protects your instrument from being scraped by strumming when playing with a pick. If there is one, however, on a left-handed guitar it should be located on the right side of the instrument when the guitar is facing you.
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 countless left-handed players to pick up a guitar. Here are just 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 Jimi down. Today he’s one of the most iconic guitar players in the history of music.
Likewise, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath is 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 on 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. However, he chose to start playing guitar like a left-handed person instead. 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).
While 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, which included his wife Linda McCartney.
Finally, one more highly regarded guitarist that plays left-handed is Omar Rodriguez-López, 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.
Choosing a left-handed electric guitar
As mentioned, instruments made specifically for left-handed people can be more expensive because there is less demand for them. This is also why finding the right one can be more difficult. If you’ve decided to go with a left-handed electric guitar, here are a few things to consider:
- Start by thinking about your budget and price points. Although they are generally more expensive, left-handed electric guitars are available at a wide range of prices. Just be prepared to pay a bit extra if you have some specific demands for your instrument.
- Choose the guitar body and model. Solid-body guitars are the most common ones and fit many different playing styles and genres.
Consider the type of pickups you want in your guitar. This will influence how the instrument sounds when plugged into an amp. The most common options are single-coil pickups and humbucker pickups.
- Brand plays a big role for many. However, for certain guitar brands, you may have to pay extra to get what you want. On the other hand, many well-known guitar brands are famous for a good reason, and their guitars are generally a good choice.
- Try out different left-handed electric guitars and models to see which ones feel good in your hand and sound the best. Make sure that the instrument has been designed with left-handed players in mind.
For more tips on choosing an electric guitar, read our full buying guide.
Choosing a left-handed acoustic guitar
How about left-handed acoustic guitars? Is there anything special to consider when getting an acoustic instrument instead? When it comes to getting a left-handed acoustic guitar, the body and size of the guitar have a great effect on the sound. Because acoustic guitars lack pickups necessary for electric amplification, they need a hollow body and a sound hole to produce a satisfying sound. You can also get a semi-acoustic guitar that can be played with or without an amp to amplify the sound.
For more information about acoustic guitars and some great recommendations for beginners, check out our acoustic guitar buying guide.
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 its 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 displayed 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.
Whether you’re a left- or right-handed guitar player, get started and learn how to play. Try Yousician’s free trial for seven days to get access to thousands of songs and motivating interactive guitar lessons.
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