Right-Handed vs Left-Handed Guitars (Differences & Considerations)

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Why should you buy a right-handed or left-handed guitar? Surely it just depends on what hand you write with, you wonder?

Generally, that is the case, but in this article, we’ll look at why you might decide to go in the other direction.

In this article, we’ll look at what goes into manufacturing left-handed guitars, why lefties have more choice than ever, and which famous guitarists play a left-handed guitar vs flipping a right-handed guitar.

Let’s dive into this discussion to find out if left-handed guitars are the best option for left-handed players.

Left vs Right Hand Guitarists: Who Has The Upper Hand?

Left-handed guitars are seldom seen on the new and used markets. 

It’s not just guitars – of all the popular instruments out there, most of them are built only for right-handed people, including pianos, drums, violins, and brass instruments.

As a result, left-handed guitar players are left in the dark, and for many, the easiest option is to repurpose a right-handed guitar.

This entails switching the nut of a right-handed guitar 180 degrees and installing the guitar strings upside down, like Jimi Hendrix’s famous CBS-era Fender Stratocasters.

Along with this conversion process, it is also worth noting that a number of other left-handed players of this era opted to play upside-down guitars with fewer alterations.

Albert King, Elizabeth Cotton, and Dick Dale are all left-handed guitarists who opted to play right-handed guitars strung righty without any alteration whatsoever.

Merely flipping the instrument upside down so that the bass strings would be situated on the treble side of the fretboard and the unwound strings the opposite.

Despite these solutions, guitar teachers will often encourage left-handed players to invest in an instrument that is made for left-handed people.

The Introduction of Left-Handed Guitars

Over time the increased demand for left-handed guitars saw most major manufacturers including Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez introducing left-handed models to their respective product lines.

This means you no longer have to seriously consider modifying a right-handed guitar just to get by as there are plenty of options.

Introducing left-handed models had some interesting consequences for manufacturers, even though it meant they reached new customers.

Manufacturing guitars for left-handers required some tools and jigs to be reworked within the production line. This means that in some cases production will need to be halted to produce left-handed instruments whilst these changes to the machinery are implemented.

Some large manufacturers will go through long periods of not producing any left-handed instruments at all. For example, Gibson had halted production of left-handed instruments for much of the 2010s, finally resuming production in 2017.

Purchasing hardware for left-handed guitar players is also more expensive for manufacturers as left-handed items such as pots, and bridges will be purchased in smaller amounts than the other hardware that is generally purchased in bulk.

Purchasing in bulk will generally command a lower price than buying smaller quantities of specialized units for left-handed models.

Some guitar technicians find it difficult to perform maintenance and repairs on left-handed models for similar reasons. Despite left-handed instruments being the source of many a disgruntled guitar tech, a lefty should never be something to derail any professional technician entirely.

This is due to the fact that all procedures from setup to fret dressing and beyond remain the exact same, they just may require some more patience from the person working on the instrument. 

All these factors mean most guitar manufacturers produce fewer guitars for left-handers and subsequently fewer used left-handed guitars hit the second-hand market.

This means less variety in instruments available for left-handed guitar players with the instruments also demanding a higher cost for both the manufacturer and consumer due to being more expensive to produce, and in some instances requiring an altered or separate production line. 

Who Has Followed The Left-Hand Path?

Despite the slight drawbacks that loom over guitar for left-handers, many players have refused to let these issues hold them back and in turn, have utilized left-handed guitars over the course of their careers.

Like the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain spent years reverse modifying right-handed guitars to be slung left-handed before eventually donning true left-handed guitars as the Nevermind album broke.

Tony Iommi is another notable guitarist who has long used left-handed guitars wearing his left-handed SGs for many decades with Birmingham doom bringers, Black Sabbath

On the other hand, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Joe Perry of American rock n roll band Aerosmith are two notable guitar players that found the task of securing a guitar for left-handers to be too frustrating of a task during their formative years.

They in turn both opted to learn to play in a right-handed orientation adjusting their finger placement and guitar strings to the direction opposite of their dominant hands. Both utilized right-handed Les Pauls and a plethora of other models over the course of their careers.

Regarding options, it is safe to say that it may be better for left-handed beginners to learn right-handed guitar. This means many more guitars are available for you to use in the long term.

But the reality is there are many more options on the market these days for left-handed guitarists. Left-handed guitars will never be as popular as right-handed models for obvious reasons, but compared to a few decades ago, it’s a much better time to be left-handed.

Despite the relative scarcity of left-handed guitars compared to their right-handed counterparts, it is worth noting that numerous dealers have taken it upon themselves to specialize in left-handed guitars.

Southpaw Guitars, Jerry’s Lefty Guitars, and Leftyguitars.com are all dealers specializing in left-handed instruments accommodating huge ranges with some offering worldwide shipping on the items they sell.

Even more common non-specialist chains such as Sweetwater and Guitar Center have lefty-only sections in some stores with more sure to follow suit in the future.

Make sure to watch that posture when playing guitar! Here’s our guide on the 7 Best Guitar Stools (That’ll Save Your Back!).

How To Decide?

If you are still struggling to decide whether a guitar for left-handers or right-handers is right for you, there are a few things you can do to make this decision easier for yourself.

  1. It is worth taking the time to visit a guitar store in your area to check out both styles. Check online or call ahead of time to ensure that the retailer has a selection of lefties in stock before you visit.  
  2. Once there, take a left-handed guitar, place it in your lap, and note how finger placement feels. Strum of the muted strings to see if this motion feels natural and then repeat the same process with a right-handed instrument.

Most guitar retailers should at least have lefty and righty models of more common instruments such as Stratocasters and Les Pauls.

Inevitably, one instrument will feel easier for you to hold and play, even if it takes a while to figure out which one it is.

It is not unheard of for someone to begin learning on a lefty guitar and later try a right-handed model and notice an immediate improvement in their ability to play the instrument.

It is also worth noting that many ambidextrous people may not have any preference.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, your dominant hand will decide the guitar for you.

If you’re a lefty, you should get a left-handed guitar, as it will be more comfortable to play and less hassle to set up.

However, repurposing a right-handed guitar may be the best option if you don’t have the money to get a new guitar and you’re having trouble finding a decent second-hand one.

Before you go, check out our guide to the best parlor guitars for all budgets.