Going lefty on guitar
July 7, 2005 8:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm a left-handed guy who's been playing guitar, right-handed, for about 4 years. I'm thinking of going lefty and wondering what other people's experiences with the switch have been.

How and why did you make the switch? How did you try out playing left-handed before going and shelling out for a lefty (or leftified) guitar? How did you teach yourself? Were you able to build on what you'd learned as a righty? Were there any resources that were particularly useful to you in making the switch? Did you continue to play righty?
posted by MonkeyMeat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
I never switched. I'm a southpaw who learned to play lefty. My brother-in-law gave me great advice when I started, before I had picked up a guitar. "Play air guitar. Which hand strums?"

On the other hand, there's the school of thought that says they don't make left-handed pianos, or left-handed saxophones, or left-handed violins. (Maybe someone does, nowadays.) That's valid. I don't plan on switching, but I respect the logic.

My question would be, "Why switch?" Does playing righty feel awkward? If not, you're just making your life difficult. Aside from the challenge of relearning technique, southpaw guitars are more expensive, and you'll have far fewer options.
posted by cribcage at 9:09 PM on July 7, 2005

I can't answer your question directly, but as someone who must play lefty due to amputated fingers, finding a quality left-handed guitar is a long, exhausting and frustrating endeavor. It took me 20 years to find a "magic" Strat, and those guitars I played in the interim required expensive setups and constant maintenance.

Guitar shops have to completely retool to produce a run of lefty guitars. Apparently Fender does this once a year for Strats and Teles, Gibson does it when store inventories reach a low, and Rickenbacker does it every two years. I heard a rumor (unverified) that many of the senior luthiers schedule their vacations around these periods.

Carvin is the only manufacturer that can produce a lefty on demand, short of ordering from the Fender or Gibson custom shops and those wait lists are both quite long. Rickenbacker waits to produce a custom Rick for you only when they retool for other lefties. I bought a Carvin in 2002 and the quality of that instrument made me kick myself for not ordering from them decades ago. If I had, I would have saved a lot of money and heartache.

I strongly advise left-handed people to learn to play a right-handed guitar because of the lack of quality instruments, and if you need another reason consider this: a lefty playing right-handed is fretting with their dominant hand.

If you want more feedback than you may get here, try the Carvin or Guitar World forums.
posted by mischief at 9:21 PM on July 7, 2005

I'm left-handed and play like a righty. Besides, my left hand is the one doing all of the stretching and most of the work since I don't fingerpick often. I wonder why right-handers don't switch to left.

If your guitar can handle it, you can try a temporary solution and "Cobain" your axe and just string it for a lefty and see if you like it before diving in.

I've seen some Larrivee lefty guitars at the same price as the old regular right-handed versions.
posted by FakeOutdoorsman at 9:46 PM on July 7, 2005

It's worth adding: Consider how seriously you plan to play. If you're learning to strum for cookouts and camping trips, the expense might make left-handed guitars impractical. If you're hoping to turn pro, on the other hand, figure out which orientation seems the most natural, which your body will have to fight the least -- which might carry you the farthest.
posted by cribcage at 10:35 PM on July 7, 2005

Speaking of Larivee, I just went to a store in my area that stocks them. I played every Larivee in the store. They are are all well-made guitars, but I must say a few sounded exceptionally good, especially for the price range. The right $1200.00 Larivee could cost three grand from another manufacturer, in my opinion. I was very impressed.
posted by wsg at 10:59 PM on July 7, 2005

The point being that if you can get a lefty Larivee that sounds as good as a righty for the same price, you would be doing well. Play some lefty Larivees. (I am not in the employ of, nor do I own any of their instruments. I am not going to be buying one anytime soon either, only because I have too many instruments as it is.)
posted by wsg at 11:11 PM on July 7, 2005

I wouldn't, personally; especially since you've already learnt on a right-handed instrument.

The thing about a left-handed guitar is, they're such a rare breed. What I tell people when they ask me (they do! I swear!) is that you'll primarily be cutting yourself off from the opportunity to ever play someone else's guitar. No more spur of the moment jamming, no more walking into the guitar shop and playing six or seven guitars in a morning, etc.

Additionally, and this is just speculation, every time this discussion comes up the predominant answer seems to be "Play a right-handed guitar." Circumstantially, it seems like the biggest left-handed guitar scene was the mid-sixties (probably thanks to McCartney). My point is, sure there are scarce options now, but what if they're only getting scarcer?
posted by electric_counterpoint at 12:08 AM on July 8, 2005

I think there's something to the thought that a leftie playing right-handed IS using their dominant hand on the fretboard. The best guitarist I've ever met (by a long shot) is a switch-hitting leftie.
posted by COBRA! at 7:25 AM on July 8, 2005

The consensus on the guitar board I frequent is that there's an advantage to fretting with the dominant hand, but I don't actually believe it. I think people underrate the difficulty of what they're doing with their picking hand.

The major problem is choice and selection of left-handed guitars. When you get beyond the beginner-level instrument, it's for crap. And you're really in trouble if you start developing guitar-collector instincts and begin to appreciate things like a nice finish, quilt maple tops, or worst of all that 'certain mojo' that some instruments seem to have and some definitely don't. Restricting yourself to lefty instruments means you'll probably never have the guitar you want with respect to these characteristics.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:34 AM on July 8, 2005

I am a right handed person who plays left handed. This is due to the fact that I learned from my father, on my father's guitars, and although HE is right handed he suffered an injury to his hand when he was young that made right hand play impossible. Ironically I injured my hand badly when I was about 20 and tried to make the switch but found it too difficult. So I play left handed still with a few limitations. Mostly you wouldn't notice, particularly since I've built it into my playing style.

There are so many disadvantages to playing left handed, all mentioned above. I wouldn't do it if you already know how to play right handed.

A note to people who are already stuck on the left though, like myself:

* There are such things as left handed guitar stores. They often have a TERRIFIC selection of great guitars. Southpaw's in Houston is a good example. I drove there from Dallas, played all the guitars, and left with a very nice epiphone joe pass model.

* Most instruments other than guitars do not come in left hand versions. I play mandolin, bouzouki, ukelele, etc. I had to have all of these modified by a luthier and even then there are some bothersome aspects about them.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:49 AM on July 8, 2005

I have yet to find a left-handed banjo. Damn you, Steve Martin! heheh
posted by mischief at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2005

Left handed banjo?
posted by wsg at 9:50 AM on July 8, 2005

You just made my day!
posted by mischief at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2005

As a righty who plays lefty (missing left hand fingers made it a requirement) think about this: If you go to a party, a jam session or camping you MUST take your own guitar, or learn to play "upside down." It can be a pain. I actually do play a little "upside down" in these situations, but it sucks.

The Baby Taylor can be had as a lefty. It is an amazingly good sounding guitar, and a delight to play. And it's really affordable. Worth looking at.
posted by cccorlew at 9:27 AM on July 9, 2005

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