As you’ve likely noticed, we live in a world dominated by right-handed people and music is no exception—most musicians are righties as well.
So, how do you get along if you’re left-handed? Can you learn how to play the guitar?
What are the methods, the techniques, things to know?
Are there left-handed artists and musicians who’ve succeeded in learning how to play the guitar?
Have you looked at a guitar recently?
A guitar isn’t a hammer, there isn’t a singular way to hold and use it.
When you play the guitar, you don’t use just one hand but two, and each has a different role, a specific action: one will create the chords or the notes on the frets on the neck while the other uses the pick or the fingers to make sounds on the strings.
To play the guitar, you need to have a hand that’s strong and very flexible, and great dexterity to push down on the strings with enough pressure, and the other hand needs to be versatile and agile to strum the strings the right way.
For righties, we often have a tendency to say that they’d manage best with two right hands and are forced to cope by training their left hands.
Lefties have always lived in a world of righties and have learned how to get by just fine, and it’s the same for learning and playing the guitar.
If you’re left-handed, the first question to ask yourself is whether you want to learn how to play on a right-handed guitar or on one designed for lefties; it’s a legitimate question because the number of guitars for lefties is still rather limited and their prices are often higher than the same models for righties.
It’s not fair but that’s how it is, and you should be aware.
But don’t worry… Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney, and Jimi Hendrix were all lefties. Despite that fact, they didn’t have any problems during their first guitar lessons.
There are lots of left-handed guitar virtuosos!
Bear in mind that the principal methods are for righties, which includes tablatures, songbooks, and chord grids.
Being a lefty is not a handicap for learning to play the guitar, rather it’s an opportunity to play differently and will never prevent you from advancing: it’s all a question of motivation and choice. It won’t stop you from learning how to play the guitar more quickly or from taking guitar lessons.
While righties don’t have to ask themselves this question, a lefty must consider which type of guitar to play.
Should this be a guitar designed for lefties, a guitar for righties, or even a reverse guitar?
The decision will influence all of your training to come.
This will be, of course, your first instinct, a natural solution that nonetheless has some sizeable disadvantages.
The first disadvantage concerns the choice of guitar because your options are fairly limited and the costs are often prohibitive compared to their righty cousins.
Another disadvantage is that the lefty guitarist will need to learn to handle the guitar using methods designed for righties: even if reading chord grids in reverse is a simple matter of getting used to it, it will take a certain amount of adaptation to develop the automatic movements necessary to playing the guitar.
Whether you decide to learn how to play the guitar on your own or with a guitar teacher, the problem will be the same: every time you read an example, you’ll need to do a little work to reverse what you’re seeing.
The last disadvantage of playing the guitar left-handed is that you’ll never be able to borrow a friend or another musician’s guitar: more than 99% of guitars are for righties.
You’ll have to be very careful with yours, not to lose track of it, not to damage it.
Of course there are, but as we explained earlier, the costs are higher.
What’s more, if you go to a music store, the salesperson will offer about five models for lefties for every ninety-five models for righties.
What are the best guitars for lefties?
The majority of manufacturers do not offer all of their models in left-handed versions and when they do (“Hallelujah!” as Jeff Buckley—also an excellent guitarist—would say, as would Leonard Cohen), the model for lefties will only be available in one color and it will cost up to 25% more, not to mention that there won’t be any other models in stock.
Nevertheless, we think you should remain positive, because there have been and will always be celebrity guitarists who were left-handed, like Kurt Cobain from Nirvana, Paul McCartney (the Beatles), and Jimi Hendrix.
And With a Right-Handed Guitar?
Because the majority of guitars are for righties, a large number of lefties choose to learn how to play the guitar as righties.
Even if it isn’t very natural and even if the positioning isn’t always easy to understand, this is easily the most popular decision made by lefties.
In concrete terms, the action of the left hand doesn’t generally pose any problems and it’s with the right hand that hiccups arise: creating a rhythm with your right hand when you’re left-handed isn’t very easy and that’s why so many lefties encounter difficulties with rhythm on their right hand.
But the issue of rhythm is there for everyone, and so whether you’re a lefty or righty, the problem can be addressed by working on it regularly and diligently.
Among the guitarists who make the decision to play on a guitar made for righties, there’s Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits) or even the blues guitarist Albert King.
The Reverse Guitar
With this solution, the lefty uses a guitar designed for righties to play like a lefty.
The reverse guitar method.
To be very clear, you’re going to play backwards with the strings in the proper order, meaning that the deepest string, the E, will be found on top and not closest to you.
This guitarist’s technique is being used more and more: the true advantage is that you can play like a true lefty and have the options of models of guitar made for right-handed guitarists.
Isn’t that cool?
This compromise is a fascinating solution, but there’s nevertheless a financial investment since you’ll have to resize the bridge of the guitar and even have an expert change the support. Before you get to this point, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your guitar teacher (during your guitar lessons).
This is an opportunity to take advantage of your guitar lessons!
Pay closest attention: if your guitar doesn’t have a cutout, it will be difficult for you to reverse the strings because you won’t be able to access the lowest frets on the neck, you’ll be blocked from reaching anything beneath the fifteenth fret.
In reversing the strings on your guitar, you’re going to find yourself with an arm that rubs against the knobs (the buttons that control volume and the effects) and the amp selector.
The best example of this technique was Jimi Hendrix with his famous Stratocaster for righties.
One last solution, which might look strange and rather risky, still involves playing on a guitar for righties, while keeping the order of the strings as intended.
This will give you rather bizarre chord positions, which are totally reversed (the bass strings will be found on bottom), and your learning how to play the guitar runs the risk of being very difficult.
There are no educational methods for this approach.
Strangely enough, certain guitarists play this way, such as Bob Geldof or even Dick Dale, mister “Misirlou” from the film Pulp Fiction. Yes, we make your musical ear work!
One last solution is the classical guitar: if you’re left-handed and you instinctively feel that you’ll be more at ease playing left-handed, choose to begin with the classical guitar: unlike rock or folk guitars, most classical guitars are symmetrical.
All you have to do is change the order of the strings: remove the strings, order them from biggest to smallest, and reverse the order as you put them back on your guitar.
The tricks of the left-handed guitarist!
You’ll have them in the following order: Low E, A, D, G, B, High E.
In short, as you can see, there aren’t any truly viable solutions for the left-handed guitarist: it’s all a matter of feeling and will.
If you really want to learn how to play the guitar, you will always find a way to get there, nothing can stop your drive, your determination, and nothing can deter your passion.
And you can even start improvising on the guitar!
What’s important is that you’re comfortable with your guitar.
That’s why we recommend trying lots of guitars before you decide on one.
Meet with your favorite guitar salesperson, explain your situation, and try out some guitars.
Don’t buy one on the Internet unless you’ve held in your hands!
Whatever happens, remember that you’re not alone with your left-handed “problem”: talk to a guitar teacher (during your guitar lessons), to a guitar retailer, do your research online on specialized sites, and choose the method that suits you best.