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Learning on a left or right handed guitar?

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Trying to answer the eternal question faced by every left-handed guitar beginner.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

If you are left-handed, the first question that you will ask yourself before starting to learn the guitar is whether you should start out with the guitar using your right hand or  your left hand. This is a legitimate question as the number of models made for lefties is limited, and they’re often priced higher than the models made for right-handed people. To top it off, there are very few tools available in shops for the left-handed: tabs, songbooks and chord progressions are always written for right-handed people. This is how you get THE question for the left-handed guitar beginner. .

First, being left-handed should not be considered as a handicap, but simply as a difference. Being left-handed does not prevent you from moving forward, everything is a matter of motivation and depends on the first decision that you make. Because the issue is that you have a decision to make when you are left-handed. Whereas a right-handed player wouldn’t even think about it, a leftie will consider choosing between a left-handed guitar, a right-handed guitar or a reversed guitar. And this initial choice is very important for the future because it determines the rest of your learning.

Here are the various existing solutions, each with its pros and cons.

The left-handed guitar path

For sure, a left-handed guitar is the most natural solution to learn to play as a left-handed. The problem is that this huge advantage is outweighed by many  disadvantages.

The first and probably the most important disadvantage, is that you will find way less guitar options and their price will often be higher than an equivalent model for right-handed players. Then, no matter what, you will have to learn how to play using methods for right-handed players. Even if, actually, reading chords upside down comes with practise, it will require some time to adapt to that before it becomes automatic. Similarly, this problem will follow you throughout your learning, whether you decide to learn to play the guitar alone or with a teacher. In most cases, you will need to reverse the examples that you see.

In the end, when choosing this option, you probably can’t borrow a friend’s guitar to strum it from time to time as 99% of the guitars you will find at your friends' houses or at the beach will be right-handed guitars. Although this is a not a learning issue, it can also be very frustrating and it should be taken into account (especially if your main goal is to play at the beach).

Here are some famous guitar players who play with a left-handed guitar: Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Paul McCartney (Beatles), Zacky Vengeance (Avenged Sevenfold), Andrew White (Rancid), etc.

The right-handed guitar path

A lot of lefties choose to play as right-handed guitar players to make their lives more simple. However, is this a natural position? Does one have a real predisposition to play more easily on one side than another? That is difficult to say, but what's for sure, is that this is by far the scariest solution for most lefties.

In fact, and based on the lefties' experience, if playing left-handed (so, from the fretboard side) does not seem to raise any major problem, they all more or less agree that strumming rhythm with the right hand is more complicated. But you know what? The vast majority of right-handed players also have a hard time strumming the rhythm with the right hand, it is just that they just did not realize this in the beginning. Most righties are immediately able to strum with their right hand and soon they realize that they strum the wrong way and they must learn a whole lot of unnatural movements. At least you have the advantage of knowing from the start that you will struggle on this.

In the first paragraph, I said that this was the scariest way because many lefties who play like the right-handed think that they fail to play well because of this "inversion". This is sowrong because all guitar beginners, no matter what "way" they learn, will come across issues. Do not be afraid, be aware that you will have to practise and you will improve just like anyone else.

Among the famous guitarists who have made ​​this choice, there is Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Albert King, just to name a few.

The hybrid option: the reversed right-handed guitar

This path is about using a right-handed guitar and playing it as a left-handed guitar. To be clear, it is playing upside down with the strings in the correct order (bass strings at the top). This technique, which might seem odd, is actually much more common than you can imagine. Its main advantage is to play as a true left-handed but choosing among right-handed models. This is an interesting half-way but the operation requires an additional investment because regardless of what happens, you will need to have a guitar shop resize the nut; and sometimes, you may have to change the easel.

Be careful though: if reversing the strings works quite easily for guitars that don't have any cutaway, this is not the case for other guitars… You may have a hard time accessing the lowest frets on guitars with a cutaway (you will generally stop at fret #15). Do not forget that by reversing the strings on an electric guitar, you will end up with your arm rubbing against the knobs and pickup selector, which may not be the best situation.

The most famous example for this is undoubtedly Jimi Hendrix and his famous right-handed Stratocaster. To get you even more confused, it is also worth stressing that, while Hendrix played as a left-handed, he would write as a right-handed.

The extreme path

As strange as it may seem, some lefties choose to play right-handed guitars without changing the string positions. Chords end up being in a completely reversed position (the higher strings are at the top) and it requires a specific training which is not explained by any book. This is really not recommended.

This original technique works, Glen Burtnik (Styx), Dick Dale or Bob Geldof are among the living proof that such guitar players do exist.

Conclusion :

As you can see, there is no traditional solution. According to the messages posted on this forum, 50% of lefties play like right-handed guitar players, 50% play like the left-handed. The important thing is to feel comfortable with your guitar above all,. Do not hesitate to try different guitars in the store before you make your decision because if you choose the wrong path, you will have no choice but to start all over again.


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