Left Handed Guitar vs Right Handed Guitar: What is the Difference?

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Left-handed people can have a hard time of things in a world that’s mostly geared for righties. If you’re right-handed, try using a pair of scissors with your left hand, and you will get some idea of their challenges.

Spiral notebooks, keyboards, and handheld can openers are similarly designed with a right-hand bias. And not many people (lefties included) realize that guitars also come in right- and left-handed versions.

If you’re a lefty looking to buy a guitar, read on to find out more about left-handed guitars to see if it is a change that you would like to make.

What is the Left-Handed Way to Play Guitar?

Right-handed guitarists use their left hands on the fretboard and their right hands to pick or strum the strings. In contrast, left-handed guitarists fret with their right hands and pick or strum with their left.

Why is Strumming/Plucking Typically Reserved for the Dominant Hand?

If you’re a beginner guitar player, it may seem odd that your dominant hand is used just for strumming while your non-dominant hand has to struggle with the positioning of chords and techniques like bends and hammer-ons. But as you advance, you will find that your dominant hand has to cope with complicated and speedy plucking sequences.

Ultimately though, it depends on what kind of genre you will play. Folk, pop, rock, and blues guitar music emphasize fretting, so right-handed guitarists in these genres can land up working more with their non-dominant hand.

However, classical, country, and jazz players rely on their plucking hands for the complex coordination of plucking sequences these genres require.

Left-handed Guitar Player

Is a Left-Handed Guitar Essential?

A strong school of thought claims the hand and finger movements required to play the guitar are so novel that they have to be learned from scratch no matter what hand is dominant. If you look at other musical instruments, they are not generally either right- or left-handed. Learning to play a musical instrument is equally awkward and uncomfortable no matter what your dominant hand is.

Also, many lefties are not universally left-handed. You may find that you write with your left hand but are right-handed when you play the guitar. Pick up a guitar and see what comes naturally to you. There are many left-handed guitarists who comfortably and competently play right-handed guitars.

Billy Corgan, Johnny Winters, Elvis Costello, Mark Knopfler, and Gary Moore are all lefties who play right-handed guitars. Whereas Coco Montoya and Albert King played with right-handed guitars turned upside down. And Beatle Paul McCartney is a righty who chooses to play a left-handed guitar!

Whatever your choice, most instructors are adamant that you shouldn’t try to change hands after learning one way.

Are There Disadvantages to Playing a Left-Handed Guitar?

Before committing to a left-handed guitar, there are a few disadvantages to consider. Firstly, you will have a much smaller choice of instruments because not many left-handed guitars are manufactured (some brands don’t make them at all.)

Secondly, left-handed guitars are more expensive than right-handed guitars precisely because so few are made. It’s expensive for manufacturers to reconfigure production lines for small unit production.

And finally, you won’t be able to pick up just any guitar and play. This is an important consideration because music is a social skill, and bringing people together to enjoy it is probably one reason you want to learn to play in the first place. Do you want to take your guitar everywhere you travel, for example?

Right-handed Guitar Player

How Can You Identify a Left-Handed Guitar From a Right-Handed Guitar?

Your musical instrument store will be able to show you their left-handed guitars. However, buying a left-handed guitar second hand can be tricky because it’s quite common for left-handed players to modify a right-handed guitar.

Look at each of the indicators below before you make a decision either way.

The Strings, Nut and Saddle

Holding the guitar vertically in front of you, the thickest string should be on the right for a left-handed guitar. A common modification, though, is to string a right-handed guitar upside down. In fact, the legendary Jimi Hendrix did this with his famous restrung Fender Stratocaster.

To check if your guitar has been strung upside down, look at the strip near the fretboard’s headstock end where the strings are fitted to hold their position. This is called the nut, and each of its grooves is sized differently for its particular string. If the thick string isn’t fitting into its groove, the guitar has probably been strung upside down.

On an acoustic guitar, you can also check the angle of the saddle. The saddle is the thin strip of metal on the guitar’s bridge that slightly alters the length of the strings to give them the correct intonation. The thickest string should be the longest.

The Pickguard

Not all guitars have a pickguard, but where they do, it should be on the left (when facing you).

Fret Markers

Not all guitars have fret markers, but where they do, the markers should be visible to you in the playing position. If they are on the underside on the fret, your guitar has been flipped.

The Strap Pegs

Your strap pegs position could also indicate your guitar has been flipped if they are on the underside or bottom of the body. If they aren’t, but you suspect the guitar has been flipped, look for indications of the original strap placements being filled.

In Summary

If you have a strong inclination to play a left-handed guitar, it is likely the best choice for you. If, however, you are ambidextrous (even if just with the guitar,) learning on a right-handed instrument will leave you more options in terms of purchasing choice and being able to play with other people’s guitars.

We hope that this guide, “Left Handed Guitar vs Right Handed Guitar: What is the Difference?” has helped you make your decision when it comes to choosing the ideal guitar option for your needs.