Left Handed Guitars – A Buyer’s Guide

17510691_304I guess we have Jimi Hendrix to blame. As a left handed guitar player, those not in the know will frequently point out that if restringing a right-handed guitar and playing it upside down was good enough for him, then it is good enough for anyone. Right? Wrong! That was then and this is now. With so many more guitars being made for so many more players, it is only natural that the modern left-handed player should be catered for in a way that his earlier rival was not. And of course you have the added bonus of pointing out that Jimi Hendrix also learnt to play right-handed as his father thought left-handed playing was a sign of the devil! Thankfully times have changed. So what does the left handed guitarist, and in this case guitarist also means bass and anything in the broad guitar family, need to consider above and beyond his dexter-led, musical fellow travellers?

 

It’s not just a right-hander played backwards

 Albert King had a remarkably direct approach to accommodating the fact that he was pre-dominantly a left-handed player; he just took a right-handed Gibson Flying V and flipped it over. The major disadvantage to this is that the strings are now in the reverse order and whilst you could argue that it didn’t do King any harm, for most players it presents a challenge to shaping chords correctly and other rudimentary techniques.

 

It can just be a right-hander played backwards

 So unlike those early pioneers, you don’t have to settle for flipping a right-handed guitar, but that isn’t to say that you can’t. If you have your eye on a certain model and nothing else will do then take the Hendrix route and flip it but then reverse the string order so that the chords and relationships between the strings match the standard was of doing things.

 

But these days you don’t have to

Thankfully the production levels of guitars are at an all time high, playing guitar is no longer an outsider occupation and playing in a band almost seems a rite of passage for most kids in college. More demand means more choice and the range of options available means that most decent sized music shops will have in stock or be able to order you something that meets all your requirements and be suitable to your left-handed needs.

 

Flipping has its limitations

Although I have pointed out that re-appropriating a right-handed design for your left handed needs is possible, it brings with it a lot of issues. That is, everything is now in the wrong place. You might be able to get around the issue of the strings but everything else, switches, tremolo arm, input socket and scratch guard are all now in the wrong place, or at least not the logical place for you the player.

 
Also on a more technical level, the guitars intonation, bridge set-up and pick up calibration are set to work with a certain string order. Reverse the strings and suddenly things aren’t working so well with each other. You can replace the pickups, but it might have been easier to have just bought a left-hander to begin with!

Reissues are easier to find than vintage

As implied at the top of the article, the further back in time you go, the less likely it is to find a classic model in a left-handed option. Instead of hunting endlessly for a vintage make, you may want to consider a re-issue, which are much more readily available. What’s more important, having the right guitar or being able to easily play the guitar? A reissue might be the perfect compromise.

Never has their been a better time to be a left-handed player. If you find “the one” and it isn’t available in a left handed model, then all sorts of resources and modifications are available for the flipped guitar. But with the amount of guitar options on offer to you now is also the time that you are less likely to have to resort to a repurposed instrument.

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About Dave Franklin

Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.
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