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I feel like a guitard
July 26, 2006 11:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm left-handed, but I'm torn as to whether I should invest in left or right-handed instruments. Any musicians care to provide some direction?

I'm basically talking guitars here.

On one hand (pun intended), it would feel more natural to play left-handed. On the other, I could very much cut down on costs and play anytime, anywhere with any odd right-handed guitar sitting around.

I met an incredible musician who advised I go righty because he felt he could have been even better with his dominant hand on the frets. Billy Corgan's dad raised his son to play that way. Hendrix played a righty guitar upside-down. Paul McCartney looks odd playing his lefty.

Anyway, this is something I hope to extend into playing bass as well.

Help my confused little soul before I plunge an investment down on the lesser of two good choices.
posted by Mach3avelli to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total)
 
In my opinion, since both hands would be doing large amounts of work, going with a lefty instrument wouldn't make that much of a difference. I would even put forth that the benefit is outweighed by the obvious hurdles: the greater expense/rarity of lefty instruments, not being able to gack around on someone else's guitar, and possibly some issues with tab music (though I don't know if/how that would apply). And really, whichever way you learn will end up being most natural for you.
posted by internet!Hannah at 11:25 PM on July 26, 2006


I'm right-handed and fretting with my left hand felt quite awkward at first. I agree with internet!Hannah that whichever way you learn will end up feeling natural and that playing right-handed instruments will make it much easier (and less expensive) to purchase instruments that you like.
posted by clarahamster at 11:30 PM on July 26, 2006


I'm left-handed, but learned both piano and guitar in the usual way. (Most of us lefties are ambidextrous enough for the regular right-hand-dominant piano style, and chord-strumming on the guitar relies on the left hand to create the chords by holding down the strings.) I suggest that you try to adapt, at least at first. If you can, it'll save you time and effort because you can use the general-audience sheet music.
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:38 PM on July 26, 2006


Forgot to include the follow-up...what are some good online music retailers that deliver both reliability and savings?
posted by Mach3avelli at 11:47 PM on July 26, 2006


You may want to check out this thread, or this one for similar questions/answers.
posted by stovenator at 12:06 AM on July 27, 2006


It is not even a question:

*save money
*save time
*be able to play anywhere you want


There is no reason to play left handed. Just play righty...after all, all you need to do with your nondominant hand is strum (easy).

As for online music retailers, I have had great experiences buying gear from musicians friend. However, when buying a guitar, I strongly strongly strongly recommend that you do not buy it online. Every guitar is different, you need to strum them (even if you only know a G chord, or even have someone else strum them) to know which one to buy. Do not buy an acoustic guitar online (electric maybe...but it is still risky).
posted by benji at 12:12 AM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


This may sound dumb, but what's the difference between a left and right handed guitar, apart from the strings?
posted by tomble at 12:16 AM on July 27, 2006


I bought and learned a left handed guitar a few years ago. I think I got a lefty because my instinct as a non-player I had always been to pick up a right handed guitar upside down. As others have pointed out you need pretty much equal dexterity in both hands. I am planning to make the (no doubt tricky) transition to a right handed instrument on the grounds of sharability. Would recommend you avoid all this and start with right handed. Use the peculiar configuration of the instrument to blame for some of your faults.
posted by rongorongo at 12:21 AM on July 27, 2006


I am right handed and play left handed. This is because my dad had a bad injury when he was young and could not fret with his left hand, and I learned from him/his guitars. Ironically I injured my hand some years ago, and gave thought to switching but in the end stayed with playing left-handed.

If I had it to do all over again I'd do it right handed, for ease/cheapness/etc. Playing a left handed guitar as a right-handed person has not impeded my ability to play, so I think you'll be all right. Also, note that other similar instruments do not typically have left-handed variations, like violin.

tomble: On electric guitars everything is upside down. The pick guard, the jack is always in the way, the knobs are always in the way and getting turned. The cutouts on both electric and acoustic guitars (which let you reach further down the fretboard) are on the wrong side so you can't reach as far.

There are more subtle differences, also. Take a close look at a guitar... the "bridge", which is where the strings terminate, often slants towards one side. This has to do with the fact that strings of different thicknesses react differently to being pressed down, so it's typically an adjustment for intonation. Many guitars can have this replaced or fixed to adjust for the other-handedness.

Also, the "nut" will sometimes have to be replaced, it's the bit at the top of the guitar, by the tuning knobs, which the strings are slotted through. This can usually be replaced for $50 or so, or you can do it yourself with a blank and some simple tools.

I've owned a number of converted right-handed guitars. None of them felt as right to me as "real" left handed guitars, which are rarer.

Musician's Friend and most other online retailers sell leftys. The best deals are on ebay. The best store to buy them in person in "Southpaw Guitars" in Houston, TX.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:27 AM on July 27, 2006


Anoher option is to play right-handed guitars lefty, i.e., without switching the strings. Albert King played like that. And Hendrix, although he switches the strings on his own guitars, reportedly could and did play regular right-handed guitars and basses flipped over.

The advantage of playing that way is that you get to use your dominent hand for picking and can still play any instruments you encounter without having to restring. The disadavntage is that you'd have to mentally translate any chords or tablature for your playing.
posted by timeistight at 1:43 AM on July 27, 2006


I'm left handed, and am playing a right handed guitar with no problems. I didn't even consider playing a left handed one, because it would put me at such a disadvantage to play if I didn't bring my leftie guitar with me all the time.
posted by Meagan at 5:31 AM on July 27, 2006


Stringed instruments are unique in that both hands need to do something completely independent and different to make music on the instrument (although, this is techincally incorrect - if you watch a good brass player on a valved s/he makes constant adjustments with the left hand on slides to adjust intonation). Inherently, playing a stringed instrument is an ambidectrous activity.

I've played lefty instruments for grins, but learned on righty. I played in a band where the bass player learned guitar lefty, but played bass righty.

As for on-line purchases or purchases by mail Elderly has set a pretty damn high standard and have in the past been great people to call for answers to questions like yours.
posted by plinth at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2006


And by the by - the Elderly link above is a link to their search engine with "lefty" in it.
posted by plinth at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2006


My comment in the previous thread: "The kid can learn either way - it makes no difference. However, the world consists of about 99 right-handed guitars for every left-handed one. So, if he learns left-handed, he'll only ever be able to use HIS guitar, which he won't have brought with him, so he'll be left out of the fun. If he learns right-handed, he'll be able to use anyone's guitar, which will be the one available at the party/friend's house/whatever. Don't restring it, teach him the right-handed guitar."
posted by jellicle at 6:24 AM on July 27, 2006


Speaking as a long-time guitar teacher who has dealt with several "lefty" students of varying ages: just go with the set up that is most comfortable for you and makes you feel the most enabled to play the music you want to. In the long run it really makes no difference, as jellicle says. If you go lefty and want to play on other peoples' guitars then there is a lot to be said for learning to play a guitar "upside down and backwards" in terms of being a better musician. it is also a nifty party trick.
posted by persona non grata at 6:46 AM on July 27, 2006


If you're really starting, never played before and everything, go with the stream : buy right-handed. Cheaper, easier to find at your friends' homes, less trouble reading tablatures and chords charts... Nothing to lose. I was going to cite Billy Corgan but you did it yourself - and you can say that he didn't limit himself to strumming.

The odd story here is, my g/f is a righty, but for reasons that elude me, when her parents offered her a guitar for her maybe 9th christmas, it was a lefty acoustic. She couldn't be bothered to learn to invert tabs and chords from the books (her various bands always had to show her the chords to the songs, which she regularly forgot, but hey, a girl in the band!), so not only is she now stuck with playing as a lefty (=two guitars to pack when going on holidays), but she can't even play that well - says she'd rather improvise her own songs.

Really, go righty, save yourself the trouble.
posted by XiBe at 6:52 AM on July 27, 2006


Forget about all of these comments telling you to "go right!" - or "go the normal way!"

There are a few of us left-handed people that simply cannot play right-handed instruments. I'm one of them. I can pick a few tunes out right-handed, but my timing is always way off.

I play left-handed banjo and guitar. Both instruments are easy to find ( despite what many people have said here) in a left-handed model. Many companies are now putting out lefty instruments, and I have never had any problem finding what I wanted.

In the end, go with what is most comfortable to you.
posted by bradth27 at 6:53 AM on July 27, 2006


As for everyone stating that left-handed instruments are hard to find - I have a lefty Martin guitar, and a lefty Deering banjo... and have owned a number of others over the year. Never had a problem finding one.
posted by bradth27 at 6:55 AM on July 27, 2006


bradth: I guess you just went down to the local guitar center and there it was, a broad selection of left-handed guitars? Do I sound bitter? Oh, right, I have to go to a specialty store 300 miles away (when I live in texas that is, when I lived in CA I don't know where I'd go) to be able to actually play an instrument before buying it. Oh, and it costs $250 more than than the right-handed version.

Would I have been a better guitarist if I had chosen a right-handed guitar? Maybe, but I don't think so. I've seen enough cases of people playing with their "off" hand to think that it's easy enough.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:38 AM on July 27, 2006


There's an important difference between being able to locate some sort of left-handed guitar and being able to find the guitar you want in a lefty model.
posted by cortex at 7:52 AM on July 27, 2006


I'm left-handed and I'm learning the guitar right-handed.
The biggest reason for this is that my husband is teaching me on his guitar, but the auxiliary reason is that there are just more right-handed guitars around in general.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:04 AM on July 27, 2006


I play left-handed banjo and guitar. Both instruments are easy to find ( despite what many people have said here) in a left-handed model.

That's not what was asserted. What was asserted was that lefty instruments are hard to come by at the party you are at, a different issue entire.
posted by baylink at 8:06 AM on July 27, 2006


Just chiming in here in agreement with many of the previous posts.

I'm strongly left-handed and have played a regular right-handed guitar for twenty years. I've always considered it an advantage to do intricate fretting with my dominant hand, while my right hand just strums or picks.
posted by umbĂș at 8:10 AM on July 27, 2006


Speaking as a righty, I'd advise buying a lefty guitar. A good friend of mine (a lefty) learned on righty guitars. and it definitely shows. In any playing more complicated than chord strumming, the picking hand needs far more dexterity then the fretting hand. Most expression comes from the picking hand.

I suppose it all depends on how strongly left-handed you are, and on what you intend to be doing, though.

(By the way, did you know that when you call someone sinister, you are quite literally calling him left-handed.)
posted by Zero Gravitas at 9:56 AM on July 27, 2006


bradth: I guess you just went down to the local guitar center and there it was, a broad selection of left-handed guitars? Do I sound bitter? Oh, right, I have to go to a specialty store 300 miles away (when I live in texas that is, when I lived in CA I don't know where I'd go) to be able to actually play an instrument before buying it. Oh, and it costs $250 more than than the right-handed version.

Nope. I live in Texas too. I had to drive a long ways to get the guitar as well - but then again, I would have had to drive the same distance for a right handed guitar. If you live in Texas, you should be used to driving all over the darn place.

There's an important difference between being able to locate some sort of left-handed guitar and being able to find the guitar you want in a lefty model.

I found exactly the guitar and banjo that I wanted. No problem.

That's not what was asserted. What was asserted was that lefty instruments are hard to come by at the party you are at, a different issue entire.

Read the first comment in the thread for an example of what I was referring to.
posted by bradth27 at 10:14 AM on July 27, 2006


I found exactly the guitar and banjo that I wanted. No problem.

That is awesome, but it doesn't change the fact that lefty models are harder to come by, especially for less common or out-of-production models. Practically speaking, playing left entails a greater risk that you'll have to compromise on guitar selection.
posted by cortex at 10:29 AM on July 27, 2006


True, cortex. I will admit that. However, if the person feels more comfortable playing left-handed, then they should just do what feels natural. In my lifetime, I have known far more lefties who simply gave up trying to learn right-handed - or just ended up not that good - than people who learned to play it right-handed.
posted by bradth27 at 10:55 AM on July 27, 2006


i'm a lefty who plays guitar & bass right handed. when i started playing 20 years ago i tried both ways. since they were equally awkward i chose to play righty. reasons why i'm glad i did:
*availability! even if you can find decent lefty instruments, they will cost more. plus, i love vintage, slightly funky stuff like vox & danelectro - they're almost never available in lefty models.
*dexterity/strength. your left hand does most of the 'work' no matter what style you play. i think it actually gave me an advantage over righties who started playing at the same time.
*practicality. you'll learn much faster not having to mentally reverse tab, chord diagrams, or your teacher's fingering.
plus, it just looks wierd.
also, mark knopfler is one of us...
posted by aquanaut at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2006


you should go righty. this hits musicians on many levels. they dont make - or atleast i havent found - left handed, F-Attachment trombones or dual triggered bass trombones. french horns are naturally left handed, and us right handed folks just deal

its something you get used to. i'm left handed and playing right handed is all natural.
posted by Davaal at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2006


Just another data point: my father is a musician and professional guitar/banjo/mandolin teacher of 40+ years, and he always insists on teaching people to play right-handed, for all the reasons already mentioned.
posted by Famous at 5:07 AM on July 28, 2006


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