Relearning guitar right to left, or is it left to right?
September 13, 2021 11:37 AM   Subscribe

My left elbow hurts.(1) I'm right-handed, and I play guitar. I fret with my left-hand, but pain is making it difficult.(2) Worried this may be long-term, I'm thinking about relearning guitar to fret with my right-hand. Looking for advice on set-up, technique, etc.(3)

(1)The pain is right at outside edge, like the bone feels bruised, and in the area between the bones, like in the muscle/tendon, extending a bit into the forearm. Had it for about 3 weeks, and it's been getting better. Most of the time it doesn't hurt unless I get to full extension. But...

(2)I can play and type and such with only a little discomfort. But if I stop and try to extend my arm at all, it cramps up somethin' fierce. Not so much after typing, although it feels sore, but after even a few seconds of playing guitar, it is really, really sore. Incidentally, any advice/references on pain relief and/or rehab options etc. would be appreciated, but that's secondary to the main issue, which is...

(3) Some of the specific questions I have:
if I'm switching to fretting with my right-hand, should I still string the guitar low strings to high, top to bottom, or should I reverse so that the high E is at the top, low E on bottom?
Should I get an actual "left-hander" guitar that's mirrored, or just flip my strat around (and possibly restring)?
Any good reasonably priced left-hand guitars you'd recommend?
Any advice on picking with the left-hand?
And, of course, any personal experiences with this or similar relearning experiences!

Thanks all.
posted by Saxon Kane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been playing guitar for the past three years and have had the same problem. You are probably developing tendinitis. I would suggest going to your Dr. and a physiotherapist. It's probably caused by pressing too hard with your fretting hand. Make sure the action on your guitar is low and perhaps use lighter strings. Also only fret with as much pressure as needed to produce a clear sound. Are you playing lots of barre cords? That's when it started for me. If you haven't had any in person lessons, book one to make sure your technique is solid.
posted by trigger at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Justin from Justin Guitar relearned to play guitar left handed to help his students follow along with what he was doing so it seems it's possible at least. He documents his experience here
posted by hazyjane at 12:40 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm a right hander who had always played left handed because it's the only way that feels right to me. It's just weird strumming with the right hand. Not sure why you'd have the high strings at the top. Keep it as normal with the low E at the top. The diagrams for chords, scales, everything left-handed will have been adjusted to mirror that set-up.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

General health: Massage your forearms. Drink more water. Swap to a better mouse, keyboard and desk layout and take more breaks.

Your elbow might need 6 weeks to calm down and heal.
posted by k3ninho at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

The reason you'd need to get a left-handed guitar is if you want to reach the top few frets on the neck; when you rotate 180 degrees, your fretting hand will be blocked. So it depends on your playing style and goals (I played for 15 years on an acoustic with no cutout at all and it only started being an issue for me when learning jazz guitar).

Either way, I would restring if I were you so the low strings are on the top when you flip the guitar. It's possible to play "upside-down", but you will need to figure out your own fingerings for everything, and there's no guarantee that you'll be able to find a workable fingering for a given chord shape. Another reason to play with the low strings on top is, if you play fingerstyle, you can still have your thumb play the bass line.
posted by goingonit at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

if I'm switching to fretting with my right-hand, should I still string the guitar low strings to high, top to bottom, or should I reverse so that the high E is at the top, low E on bottom?

As a lefty who plays right-handed (for the same reason as ihaveyourfoot, that's what feels natural), I agree with them that having your guitar strung normally only left-handed, low E closest to your face, seems the way to go. Barre chords, scale fingering, all that will still be the same only reversed. If you string your guitar with the high E closest to your face everything will be reversed and upside down.

just flip my strat around (and possibly restring)

Note that if you flip your righty Strat around and restring "normally", your nut slots will be the wrong sizes - your thinnest string will be in the slot for the fattest string, etc etc etc. This might not be a big deal in the short term, but if you keep at it you'd definitely want a new nut put in.

Any good reasonably priced left-hand guitars you'd recommend?

Depends on what you mean by "reasonably priced", but the "budget" lines of the big names - Squier for Fender, Epiphone for Gibson - have been getting rave reviews for a decade or so. I literally just bought a Squier Paranormal Cyclone a couple of months ago and it was pretty great right out of the box, just some minor action & intonation tweaks needed. So a lefty version of those brands should be fine, I would think.

If you're looking for lower price than that, the guitar forums in general seem to like the offerings from Rondo Music and the Harley Benton line sold by Thomann Music. (Although it's worth noting that if you're in the US, while Thomann does have a US version of their site all their stuff is imported from Germany, so between shipping & import costs the final price is notably more than the often super-cheap price of the guitar.)
posted by soundguy99 at 3:26 PM on September 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm a lefty who plays right-handed. So please take my comments with as much salt as is needed.

If you switch, put the Low E string on top.

Whether or not you switch, get your guitar set up by a reputable tech. Discuss with [him] the various features of a guitar's neck: radius, scale length, and the recommended height of strings above the fingerboard. Talk with [him] about string gauges and other string things. The varieties are many; subjectivity is in play.] Knowledge is good.

Whether or not you switch, don't grip the neck so hard with your fretting hand. (An electric guitar is usually easier to fret than an acoustic guitar, but you should caress their necks when you play, not choke them. )

Whether or not you switch, use barre chords sparingly for a while; for a while, shorten the duration of your practice sessions.

If possible, check with a physician, tell him your issues. I had a really intense and active trigger finger for a while. I was worried, so I got it treated. One steroid injection at the knuckle cured my problem, but it was two years before everything settled down.

FWIW Billy Strings plays left-handed or right-handed guitars with equal wizardry.

Good luck
posted by mule98J at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2021

I just want to wish you luck as an accidental left handed fencer, it was what was left when I showed up late to class. It gets weird after a while when you have a strange let's say intentional sort of left/right and which and what each hand can do just fine vs the things you still can't do with one or the other (like not long/early ambidextrous). Fencing equipment is mirrored so I'd go like "if pinky holds this string for this" then the other pinky holds the same string at the same point. After that I have even less than nothing about guitar playing other than wishing you a big Good Luck.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:47 PM on September 14, 2021

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