The guitar is a strange instrument in that it offers configurations for those who are left handed and those who are right handed. The piano and violin on the other hand are played almost exclusively right handed while the French horn is played entirely left handed. But does being a left that plays right handed have some sort of advantage over those that are right but play right such as Slash or left and left like Kurt Cobain?

Gary-Moore-at-Pite-Havsbad

The late, great Gary Moore- One who defied the belief that because you’re a lefty that’s how you should play.

I am one of those left-but-right guitarists as it so happens. I write, eat, use a fork and throw with my left hand. However I hold a cricket bat and play the guitar right handed. I am not alone in this however, as there are a plethora of other guitar players including Mark Knopfler, BB King, Duff McKagan, Gary Moore and Duane Allman who do/did the same. Perhaps back then it was easier for them to do so as left handed guitars were not as affordable/available as they might be now. And even then- A good one is hard to find without adding at least five hundred quid to the price tag…

Are there any benefits to being a lefty who plays righty? There is an argument to suggest this amongst guitar players although it has yet to be scientifically proven. Mark Knopfler stated in an interview about the writing of Sultans of Swing that he found it pretty easy to play the signature riff with one-finger triple stops with vibrato because the muscles in his left hand are stronger than the right (see video). It is also something I personally do all the time and always have yet never found I had to build up any strength in my muscles. Comparing the guitar to the piano where your hands are doing the same sort of thing, the guitar relies on the fretting hand to do most of the work while your right hand is keeping time and picking when needed*. Of course, the left hand can also help with the rhythm and the right can add some creativity. My left hand already has an advantage in the coordination needed to fulfill its role and my right hand does not suffer since the skills it needs to learn are based on wrist development, precision, and stamina, all of which do not require dexterous fingers. On the down side, I find it pretty hard to hold a pen these days because of the muscle memory. Thank Christ for iPads…

Me in 2008. A lefty playing right handed.

Me in 2008. A lefty playing right handed.

* Using rock guitar playing as a basis here. Guys like James Taylor or Andy McKee will most undoubtedly have pretty dextrous left and right hands.

We’re used to seeing the lefties of yesteryear simply taking a right handed guitar and restringing it as a modern left handed instrument would be (looking at you, Jimi) although some left handers either never bothered or looked at it in a different way: Blues legend Albert King was an upside-down player in that he played a right handed (usually a Gibson Flying V) but just flipped it over so the low E string was pointing at his feet and requiring him to bend the high E string down when soloing. Looking at this from a biology point of view, human fingers are better at gripping than pushing away, therefore his bends should be easier and more under control. Dick Dale on the other hand played left handed Strats yet strung them in the same way King did, claiming the sound was better that the slanted bridge pickup meant the higher strings were less trebley than the lower three (Again, like Hendrix). Then there are guys like Macca and Cobain who just played a left handed guitar.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. But you knew that already, right?

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. But you knew that already, right?

Paul McCartney- Probably the most famous left handed player along with Hendrix

Paul McCartney- Probably the most famous left handed player along with Hendrix

People often wonder why I, like many other guitarists will play right handed even though it’s our left hand that is dominant. You’re going to suck at guitar straight out of the blocks whether you’re playing left or right handed, so by starting right handed as a left handed player in the long run allows you to jump on any guitar that you come across as well as having more options open to you when you go out to buy one. It might take longer to get used to playing right handed as a left handed player but it pays off years down the line. The same could be said about people who are right handed that play right handed: Why use your weaker hand to do the job that requires the most dexterity? The way you hold the guitar shouldn’t matter yet if you use your dominant hand to fret it should be a little easier at the beginning as the muscles are already strong even if it’s weird at first to use your non-dominant hand to pick. Some were/are even able to play both ways. Hendrix was rumoured to be able to flip the guitar to a right handed orientation and carry on playing whenever his dad entered the room as he was a righty who played left.

They say being left handed gets you further in life. Of the last five US Presidents (Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr and Reagan) three of them (Obama, Clinton and Bush Sr) are all left handed. Current British Prime Minister David Cameron is also left handed as were three of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michaelangelo), Aristotle, Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Queen Victoria.

On the other hand, you are more likely to become an alcoholic… Rock n’ Roll!

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