Left Handed V/S Right Handed Guitar

by | Mar 19, 2021 | Musical Instruments, Tips

When getting started with guitar, every new guitarist often gets perplexed with the orientation of their guitar. 

Like many beginners, I have also faced the confusion between a right-handed guitar and a left-handed model. 

Although at the beginning you might not feel any difference between both the guitars. 

But once you go deep, you will know why a right-handed guitarist will prefer a right-handed guitar and vice versa. 

There is a lot more to the orientation than just its look and playing style.

So to clear the air of confusion, I decided to create this article and showcase the difference between the left-handed and right-handed guitar.

The Easiest Difference At A Glance

Left Handed V/S Right Handed Guitar

The quickest way to differentiate between left and right-hand guitar is by holding it upright and then checking the placement of the thickest string (6 No.)

If the guitar has the thickest string on the left, then it is a right-handed guitar. And if the guitar has the thickest string on the right, then it will be a left-hand guitar.

Basically, the right-hand guitar is like the mirror opposite of their left-hand countertop, and except the orientation, they are totally the same. 

Although the thickest string on both the devices always stays at the top but which dominant hand that gets into the plucking position defines them.  

In a right-handed guitar, your right hand will get into a strumming position, and you will have to keep the left hand on the fretboard.

Similarly, the left hand will get into strumming and right hand on the fretboard in a left-handed guitar.  

The Easiest Difference At A Glance

However, the string position isn’t the only factor that differentiates the two instruments, and there is more to it than meets the eye. 

If you look at an electric guitar, you will understand whether it is a left or right-hand guitar. 

But when it comes to acoustic guitars, it is a little more confusing. 

I have seen many left-handed beginners who have little idea about acoustic guitars have mistakenly bought a right-hand guitar. 

So to utilize it, many of them restringed the guitar and often played upside down. 

To prevent other people from repeating this same mistake, I decide to highlight the vital factors that will tell them whether it is a right or left-hand guitar, you can get them online.  

Primary Differences Between Left and Right Guitar

Primary Differences Between Left and Right Guitar

Let dive deep into all crucial factors that will help you to differentiate visually;

  • Nut position- The position of strings in the nut of your guitar will reveal you the orientation of your guitar. It is basically a thin bar located at the top end of the fretboard that positions all the strings before they meet the pegs on the headstock. The nut has six different slot widths for all the six strings of your guitar so that it can hold all of them comfortably. So if you take a close look at your guitar and if you find out that significant gaps are at the top, then you are holding a right-hand guitar. 

 In a simple manner, if the string has large spacing in the bottom, then it is a left-hand guitar. Although if you are buying a second-hand acoustic model, then it would be hard to differentiate with the nut position as the owner might flip the nut.

  • Pickguard- You can easily determine the orientation of your guitar by just looking at the pickguard. It is basically a plastic or laminated material located at the body near the bridge. So when you strum down, it protects the body from any kind of scratch from your guitar plectrum. A right-hand guitar will always have the pickguard on the right side while the left-hand model will always have it on the left side. But sometimes you can’t differentiate between two guitars based on their pickguard as not all of them come with a pickguard.

  • Saddle Angle- The saddle angle is probably the most critical factor that can help you to understand whether your guitar is right or left-handed. The saddle is basically a highlighting bar that sits on the bridge and maintains the position of each string. However, the primary purpose of the saddle is to set the pitch of the guitar. Saddles are always angled towards the pick so that the thinnest string has the shortest length while the thickest get the longest. If you are holding a guitar and the saddle is angling away from the pickguard, then it indicates you are holding it in an improper manner.

  • Fretboard Marker – The mark on the side of the fretboard also comes handy in identifying the orientation of the guitar. The markers generally utilized for fret positioning, and when you play the guitar, it stays on the top side. So if you are holding a right-handed guitar and the markers are at the bottom side, then either you are holding it wrong, or it has been flipped. However, you can’t solely rely on the fretboard as some acoustic models don’t get that marker, while some of them have the marker in the middle.

  • Strap Button- Almost every guitar, whether acoustic or electric, they come with a strap button. The position of the strap button serves as another highly useful indicator in finding whether the guitar is right or left-handed. While the rear pin is located at the lower end of the body but the front button is always located near the thickest string. Meaning it will stay on the top half of the body, which is closer to you. However, when you are holding the guitar and if it is located at the bottom, then there is a chance that your guitar has been upturned. 

Some guitarists often change the position of strap peg to recalibrate their guitar, so you need to check these factors.

So these are the significant factors that will help you to pick the right guitar orientation when you head out to the store. It will also be useful when you are about to buy a second-hand guitar for your learning.

While going by the differences, a question must have hit your mind whether you can transform a right-handed guitar to left-handed. Well, it is absolutely possible, and the easiest way is by restringing it.  

Restringing A Right-Hand Guitar

Restringing A Right-Hand Guitar

The process of restringing is  quite easy, and the following processes will assist you in accomplishing the task comfortably;

  • At first, you need to unfold the strings from the headstock by loosening the knobs. You should start with the thickest string as it makes things easier.
  • Then it is time to remove the string attached to the bridge. So if you are restringing an acoustic guitar, then you just have to take out the bridge pins to take out the string. However, for an electric guitar, you have to take out the string from the back of the body. Once you have taken out the strings, wrap the strings in the form of a coil so that they don’t get damaged. Else, you can opt for new strings if you feel that your guitar needs a tune overhaul.
  • Now comes the second stage where you need to flip your right-hand guitar so that you can transform it to a left-handed one. After flipping the guitar, you can just restring the guitar for left-hand play, but it won’t get you the desired quality. So you need to make some hardware changes to make it proper a left-handed guitar that will get you the desired tone output. But it is a costly affair as you make changes to the saddle, nut, and strap peg.
  • You can either hit a local store or an online e-commerce site to buy a high-quality left-handed nut. Now use an instrument hammer and small wood block to take out the nut. However, some nuts are attached to the Chanel, so you need to use a plier to take it out from the side.
  • After placing the new nut, you will now have to change the saddle angle as the previous angle would affect the string arrangement. Modifying the angle of the existing saddle is a painstaking process and quite expensive too. So it would be best to buy a new saddle that will match the setup of your guitar. Make sure the saddle is angled towards the pickguard. 
  • For more convenience, you can change the strap peg so that you play the guitar while standing. It is a tricky process, so we would recommend you to get the assistance of guitar hardware professional.
  • Now it is time to restring your guitar, and like the first step, you should start with the thickest string. Place the string in the manner of EBGDAE, so the thickest string is at the top while the thinnest one is at the lowest end.
  • Lastly, tune the strings using an electric tuner and start playing your favorite notes. 

However, if you want to go beyond the orientation and opt for a guitar that can be played in both ways. Well, an ambidextrous guitar could solve your problem and open up a new dimension the way you play the guitar.

Ambidextrous Guitar

Ambidextrous Guitar

Restringing a right-hand guitar to make it left hand may seem easy, but there are a lot of problems associated with it. Moreover, restringing with bridge and nut adjustment doesn’t give you the exact quality that the guitar used to produce. 

It would be more frustrating if you have a brother or sister who is also eager to explore their creativity. But they would have to opt for another guitar because they are right-handed.  

Well, the solution for all the issues is an ambidextrous guitar that gets symmetrical body with a uniquely engineered nut and saddle. A few months ago, Fender came up with a fantastic ambidextrous guitar by fusing both left and right-handed fret in a compact body. 

This genius design not only creates a symmetrical shape but also allows both left-handed and right-handed guitarists to play the guitar without any issue. It comes with a central control located in the middle, so one can easily use the guitar without requiring separate ones.

Apart from Fender’s guitar, there aren’t many high-quality ambidextrous guitars you will find in the market. 

Nowadays, some acoustic guitar manufacturers are coming up with prototypes of ambidextrous and most of them were highly useful. However you shouldn’t trust the ambidextrous models hailing from cheap Chinese which gives a terrible output. Moreover they are mostly right-handed or left-handed guitar marketed as ambidextrous models. 

Now, let’s check out some names of five famous guitarists who have left everyone in a trance with their left hand playing.

5 Famous Left-Handed Guitarists

5 Famous Left-Handed Guitarists

When it comes to left-hand guitarists, you will be surprised by the big names who have created magic with their left hand. Let’s check those names;

Jimi Hendrix

When you talk about famous left-handed guitarists, you can’t miss out on the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Probably the greatest guitarist to rock our music world, and he is well known for his modification of Fender Stratocaster.

Surprisingly he also knew how to play a right-hand guitar with the strings upside down, and the sounds he created are still a mystery for many.

Kurt Cobain

Well, who doesn’t know about the highly celebrated Kurt Cobain, who is not only a brilliant left-hand guitarist but also the founded Nirvana.

The music he created with his left-hand guitars is still legendary, and to this day, his songs have never gone out of fashion. He was well-known for playing left-handed Fender Jaguars and Mustangs.

He is one of the few left-handed guitarists who made it to the list of greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone.

Paul McCartney

If you have heard about The Beatles band, then you must know Paul McCartney. With 100 million worldwide album sales, he was basically a right-handed person, but he created magical tunes with his left hand. You will be surprised to know that Sir Paul faced difficulty in strumming with his right hand and playing notes with his left hand.

When he saw Slim Whitman playing with his left-handed guitar,  he decided to start playing with his left hand by reversing the guitar.

Albert King

Well-known as an influential Blues player, Albert King used his left-handed Gibson Flying V to create some magical tunes.

He is probably the only left-handed player who never used the sixth string of his guitar. Instead of using left-handed guitar, he used a right-handed guitar upside down to explore beautiful tones.

His unique way of playing helped him to create famous music for which he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Tony Iommi

Considered as the frontiersman of heavy metal in the world of guitar, Tony Iommi was a famous name in the rock genre. Although this left-hand guitarist didn’t have two fingers in his right hand, but that didn’t stop him from creating some famous songs for Black Sabbath.

He used to play notes with his prosthetic fingers, and everyone was surprised how he moved them on the fretboard flawlessly.

He mostly used his left-handed Gibson SG to create all his tones.  

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