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Should You Play Left or Right Handed Guitar?

Michael Angelo Batio
Michael Angelo Batio – A true master of both sides!

The question you may be asking yourself is; should you play left or right handed guitar? I have been playing guitar for 21 years at the time of writing this article. I’ve spent 21 years happily playing right handed guitar. It’s totally normal and natural for me to play this way around as a right handed person.

I still have a clear memory of me thinking I was a lefty player when I was a child. I remember my dad making me a full-size cardboard cutout guitar when I was around eight years old. A mini rock star I was, rocking out with the cardboard guitar on the left side. But my dad said I should play it the other way around. Why? I wondered, left handed guitar was my default side it seemed.

Another memory was from when I was ten years old and I got offered guitar lessons at school. Again, my first time I picking up an acoustic guitar belonging to the school I placed it on my lap upside down, left handed style. The guitar didn’t work the same this way around. My my teacher quickly told me to hold it properly and stop messing about!

Ever since then I conformed to the right handed way of playing guitar…the normal way…the way it should be…or should it?

What Does Left and Right Handed Guitar Mean Anyway?

When we play guitar we use both hands correct? So what does left handed and right handed refer to? Well, we are referring to the hand that is doing the strumming, the hand the holds the plectrum, the hand that points to the crowd after hitting a mighty power chord!

A right handed guitar player would strum the strings with their right hand and play notes on the fretboard with their left hand. A left handed guitarist would do this the opposite way around…obviously!

According to World Atlas, around 10% of the population are left handed. It’s hard to put a number on exactly how many guitarists play left handed guitar, one thing is certain though; there are some very famous and successful players that play left handed guitar. Keep reading until the bottom to see my list of noteworthy left handed guitarists.

Is There a Difference Between Left and Right Handed Guitars?

There is a difference between both types of guitars. In a way there has to be differences to account for everything being on the opposites side of each guitar. On the other hand (pun intended) there doesn’t have to be any differences. I’ll explain.

A guitar maker (a luthier) designs and builds guitars. They build them to be played either right or left handed. Each piece of wood is carved to be made into either a left or right handed guitar.

When we sit with the guitar, either electric of acoustic, we want to guitar to feel comfortable and playable. We don’t want the guitar neck pointing up in the air because there is too much weight at the bottom of the guitar body. We also want the curve at the bottom of the guitar body to be comfortable for resting the guitar on our leg. Also, we don’t want the controls in the best places.

For these reasons it makes sense to buy a guitar that is for your style of playing i.e. left or right handed. By buying the right guitar for your needs you will have a guitar that is balanced and set up correctly and will play really nice. The volume and tone control knobs will be in the optimum place also.

And a note about guitar setup. A bought new or used guitar is set up in a way that is most suited for its design; left or right handed. If you re-string a right handed guitar to be like a left handed one, there will be a difference in the guitars ability to stay in tune and sound as good as it could unless you put in the work of going through the guitars setup.

Setting up a right handed guitar to play left handed would include;

  • Changing the guitar nut
  • Possibly adjusting the truss rod
  • Setting the intonation and string heights
  • Adjusting the pickups
  • Tuning!

It is certainly possible to convert a right handed into a left handed, and some leftys do, Jimi Hendrix being the most famous to do so. And hey, rock and roll! Who cares if the pickups are not set properly or the strings are the wrong way around, you could still go on to become a guitar hero! Check out this video of the left handed legendary guitar player Albert King, who learnt to play left handed guitar on a right hander without changing the strings around. No excuse for anyone now!

Are Left Handed Guitars More Expensive?

Now when it comes to deciding whether to play left or right handed, there are both good point and bad points to consider with regards to buying your first left handed guitar.

The Good

Do not think that being left handed will put you at a disadvantage compared to right handed guitarists, because it wont! You can still shop at all the usual shops, both online and offline, and get pretty much what you want.

Now, this is the good point that I mentioned; You can buy left handed guitars easily, especially online! All the big brands such as Fender, Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, Jackson etc. sell left handed guitars, all the smaller brands will also produce left handers too. I visited a couple of reputable online guitar selling sites and compared prices for left and right handers that are the same model. The price always seems to be the same!

The Bad

The Bad points are worth pointing out as they could affect your decision if you are at the stage where you are deciding whether you should play left or right handed.

Firstly, although there are a selection of left handed guitar to buy online, there isn’t as many available for left handed players. You can certainly get all the usual models such as Stratocasters and Les Pauls, but some of the more specific models and rarer models, or even different color and setup schemes, may not always be available for leftys.

Secondly, there aren’t as many secondhand left handed guitars either, meaning that if you don’t have the budget for a new guitar, it will be harder to get hold of a secondhand version of a guitar. This could also impact the selling of your guitar if you ever wanted to. There are less left handed guitarists, therefore less to buy yours? Or maybe you’ll have a better chance of selling because there are less on the market?

These two point are about all there is to the negatives of buying a left handed guitar. There really isn’t much difference, and these points certainly should discourage anybody from being a left hander.

I’m Left Handed; Should I play Left Handed Guitar?

If you are just starting out playing guitar and you’re wondering which side to go for, I would recommend going to a guitar shop and trying out both left and right handed guitars.

The guitar store may have a collection of left handed guitars, if so then try a few left and a few right handed varieties to start to get a feel for which side feels more natural to you. Try each one sat down with the guitar resting on you leg, move your hand around the fretboard and strum those strings, try to stand up too and playing if you can, with a guitar strap of course!

If you don’t have access to a guitar shop then I honestly recommend picking up a broom stick or the hoover and seeing which side you prefer rocking out on! …seriously!

…..If you don’t have access to either a broom stick or a hoover then use your air guitar!!!

Initially, when you learn to play the guitar, both hands have a lot to learn with regards to playing techniques and the synchronization of both hands together. Eventually, both hands will be doing complex things and both will need to be in sync as tightly as possible. For this reason, it’s hard to say whether your dominant hand should define the type of guitar you play, as both hands have a lot to do.

…Some examples

There are examples of left handed people that play left handed guitar, and also left handed and play right handed guitar, Tony Iommi and Mark Knopfler being two examples. Again, this is reason for me to say “I don’t know which side you should play…”, all I can do is suggest that you try and have a go on both varieties and choose the one that feels the most comfortable.

Left Handed Guitar Chords?

Do left handed players have to play different scales and chords to right handers? No! Of course not, luckily. As far as playing goes, everything is just the same as if you were right handed. You can use all the same resources and lessons as any other guitar player. For a left handed guitar player it may seem a little strange to think about learning from a right handed person, but this is quickly overcome and in my experience of teaching left handed guitar players isn’t anything to worry about.

One thing left handed player may prefer is Left Handed Guitar Chord Charts. These are one of the only times we as guitar players use the fretboard as a written reference.

Check out my Ultimate Guitar To Learning Guitar Chords

Famous Left Handed Guitarists

Now comes the inspiration for anybody reading this who is considering learning left handed guitar or someone who is already a left handed guitarist. Below I have put together a list of noteworthy guitar players who rock it hard on the left handed guitar!

Kurt Cobain


Jimi Hendrix

Ben Howard

Dick Dale

Al Mckay

Zachy Vengeance

Conclusion

Being left handed certainly isn’t a disadvantage as we have seen here. Reading and understanding music is the same as if you were right handed. The chords, scales and techniques are all the same too, so you are at no loss for being left handed. Converting a right handed guitar to be left handed is an option and buying a left handed guitar isn’t difficult these days.

Many famous guitarists, such as the ones listen above, are left handed and they’ve produced some of the greatest music ever! Being left handed isn’t a factor to really be concerned about, just as being left handed for writing or left footed for football isn’t anything to worry about.

If you are trying to decide on whether to play left or right handed, try get some exposure to each instrument and pick the one that feels more natural to you. The comfort you feel with the instrument will really help your progress. If you feel that you are playing on the wrong side, try the opposite for a while. Once you’ve chosen a side and started your playing journey you will never have to think about this again!

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