I have been hearing/seeing a lot, recently, in person and online about buying left-handed guitars or re-stringing a regular guitar for left-handed learners. The same ‘issue’ comes up with ukulele. My advice is don’t bother with lefty guitars unless the student had already learned it that way on their own. In that case they will likely have their own to play anyway. You would actually be doing your learners a disservice to teach them left-handed. I had considered just having the body of this article say “Don’t…Just don’t” but thought that wouldn’t be very helpful so here is why you should not teach—even a lefty—how to play their guitar left-handed:
1. Lefty Guitars are More Expensive and Rare
If you go into any music store that sells guitars, roughly 10% of them will be lefty—if at all. This means that they are automatically more expensive because fewer of them are produced. If they are electric, most of them will use righty parts like the tone and volume knobs and the pickup selector switch meaning all the accessories are just upside-down. In the more expensive lefty models, everything is the proper way but as mentioned, they are much more expensive and likely only expensive due to the specialized “lefty parts.”
2. They Won’t Be Able to Just Pick up Any Guitar and Play
One of the amazing things about learning the guitar is that you could pick up anyone’s guitar and just start playing. If you learn left-handed guitar, that becomes exponentially more difficult. Just imagine you or your learners are sitting around a camp fire after school and someone says “hey let’s grab a guitar and play some campfire tunes” you or your student, who learned to play left-handed says, “Sorry, I can’t because I need a specialized guitar that is designed for only me and I only have one that is too nice to be at a campfire because it is so expensive I can only afford one.” You know what I mean, it just makes situations like this more awkward and difficult. Essentially, it creates an obstacle for lifelong learning.
3. Both Hands Work Together
The argument I hear to defend left-handed guitar learning is that the left-handed person has an advantage. Have you, a right-handed person, ever tried playing a lefty guitar? Does it feel like you have an advantage? Probably not. Both hands work together to play a guitar. Having one hand more coordinated than the other, no matter which one it is, is not an advantage. If it isn’t your picking/strumming hand giving you the problem, it is your chording hand. A regular (righty) guitar player uses their weaker and less dextrous hand for chording and moving around the fretboard which is the most intricate part about playing the guitar. A lefty playing a lefty guitar has their weaker hand doing all the work. If they are flat-out beginners it won’t matter what side they play on because it will feel just as awkward either way.
4. Guitars are Designed to be Strung to a Particular String Tension and Gauge (Re-Stringing)
Do not re-string the guitar for left unless you are Jimmy Hendrix. I would encourage playing the instrument upside-down before I would tell someone to re-string it. Here is why:
- The white part of the guitar at the top of the neck (called the nut) where the strings sit are designed to take strings at a particular gauge. If you look closely at the nut, they are cut perfectly to take each string from thickest to thinnest. Re-stringing will severely affect the tuning.
- The saddle (where the strings sit at the base of the guitar) is designed in much the same way. If you examine the saddle on any acoustic or electric guitar, you will notice that they are made in such a way that anticipates a particular string gauge and tension for the perfect action (distance from the strings to the frets) and intonation.
- The headstock and machine heads are sometimes designed in such a way so that they too are anticipating a particular string gauge and tension. This is mostly true of Fender-style electric guitar headstocks.
This doesn’t even consider all the practical reasons for not doing it ie: Pick guard is on the wrong side, cut-away is on the wrong side, knobs are in the way (if electric).
5. You Don’t Play Clarinet Left-handed So Why Guitar?
Bottom line is that guitars—just like any other instrument—are designed to be played a certain way and that is OK. You would never consider playing the clarinet or re-stringing a piano left-handed so guitar is no different. There are some instruments that ‘could’ be played ‘left-handed’ like the straight tenor trombone but that would cause problems later on if they kept going with it (like not being able to use a trombone with a thumb trigger). Just because they could be, does not mean they should be.
Until next time, Happy Musicking!