Left-Handed Guitarists: The Famous And The Facts

Around 10-15% of the world's people are left-handed. Why so few? No-one knows. Let's look at guitar's left-handers... some obvious, but others you'd never even know.

Left-Handed Guitarists: The Famous And The Facts
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Around 10-15% of the world's people are left-handed. Why so few? No-one knows. Yet studies show that mathematicians, musicians, architects, and artists are more commonly left-handers than would be expected. When it comes to guitarists, that certainly seems to be true. Let's look at guitar's left-handers... some obvious, but others you'd never even know, Gibson reports. The obvious biggies first Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney and many more play left-handed. But it wasn't always easy for some of them...

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was naturally left-handed but his father, Al, initially tried to force the young James to play right-handed. Al Hendrix reportedly believed playing left-handed was a sign of the devil. Why so? It has its roots in language. "Sinister", in ancient Latin, means "left" and also "unlucky" in modern times someone "sinister" is un-trusted or even evil. These linguistic oddities persist. "Right" means "correct" in English, obviously. In French, "gauche" means both "left" and "awkward". So, even in language, left-handers get a bum deal. Jimi Hendrix tended to write right-handed - there are photos of Jimi signing autographs and writing lyrics right-handed. And Jimi did learn to play guitar right-handed, as demanded by his father Al. Jimi modified his first (right-handed) guitars for his natural leftism - restringing and changing the nut. But when Al was around, he felt he had to play a right-handed guitar simply flipped over (treble E at the top). So Jimi taught himself to be "both-handed". Free's Paul Kossoff, when he was a young guitar salesman in London, once recalled Jimi circa 1967 trying a guitar in the shop where Koss worked, and simply flipping it over so the treble E was closest to his face. And Hendrix still played brilliantly. Maybe all this explains why Jimi could play just about anything on the guitar?

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney's "handedness" has become something of a legend. Philip Norman, author of "Shout!", the 1981 biography of The Beatles borrows heavily from Hunter Davies (their authorized biographer) and muddies the myths about McCartney. In Davies's (1968) book he says: "His [Paul's] guitar cost £15 and Paul couldn't get anything out of it at first. There seemed to be something wrong with it. Then he realized it was because he was left- handed. He took it back and got it altered". And here's Norman (1981): "Paul, strangely, made little progress [at the guitar]. His left-hand fingers found it irksome to shape the patterns of black dots shown in the tuition book, and his right hand, somehow, lacked the bounce necessary for strumming. Then he made the discovery that, although right-handed for every other purpose, he was left-handed as a guitar player". But the myths never went away. In #7 of The Beatles' Anthology movies, Paul is seen playing right-handed. Which led some to believe the myth that Paul is Dead, and that the man playing is a lookalike stand-in. Now that's just weird... Yet Paul McCartney in 1963 said: "The only thing I couldn't cure myself of was being left-handed. I do everything with my left hand, and no matter how I try I can't change the habit. I just seem to do everything back to front. I used to even write backwards". McCartney eventually answered questions about it all. In 1986, he simply stated, "I'm quite definitely left-handed". Then again, McCartney is able to sign autographs with his right hand. Some even suggest the way Paul folds his arms implies a natural right-hander. Like Jimi Hendrix, maybe McCartney doesn't care too much and he has more talented hands than most of us? Gibson Les Paul trivia? Paul McCartney's left-handed 1960 sunburst Gibson Les Paul is one of only a few made in that year. Gibson didn't even reverse the "Les Paul Model" logo on the lefty headstocks back then (so the logo is upside down). So, a 1960 sunburst Les Paul = very rare. Left-handed = super rare. Owned and played by Paul McCartney = mega fab rare. If McCartney's 1960 Gibson Les Paul ever came up for auction, you'd pay your right arm for it. Or would that be your left arm?

Albert King

Blues legend Albert King was not only left-handed, he was an upside-down player. King played right-handed guitars (usually Gibson Flying Vs) simply flipped over, so the low E string was nearest his feet. He also used unorthodox tunings, as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends. And techniques differ. Since King played his guitar upside down and not restrung, he would pull the high-E down to bend a note. Many medical studies suggest this makes more sense anyway, as human fingers are "better" at gripping than pushing away. In most ways, King did everything in reverse guitars, stringing, bending techniques and chord voicings. That he managed all that and still cemented his place in blues legend is impressive indeed. "I knew I was going to have to create my own style because I couldn't make the changes and the chords the same as a right-handed man could", King recalled.
Otis Rush was the same but he often played left-hand made Gibson ES-355s but modified them for "upside down" stringing. So Rush got the controls on the ES-335's lower bout, even if his strings were reversed. Surf legend Dick Dale and Doyle Bramhall II (Eric Clapton's band, Arc Angels and solo artist) also play "upside down" stringing.

Lefties take a swerve

You'll see Duane Allman, Mark Knopfler, Danny Gatton, Billy Corgan, Michael Bloomfield, Gary Moore and Noel Gallagher play guitar right-handed. So which is naturally left-handed? Answer = all of them. Guitar can be a strange instrument in many ways. If you are right-handed, your more-dextrous right hand often does less work (unless you are a devoted fingerpicker or classical player.) Why is it "normal" for guitar players to fret notes/melodies/chords with their "weakest" hand? For Mark Knopfler it was the way he was taught he started as a young musician playing violin right-handed violin, and when he took up the guitar it seemed easiest to continue. Michael Bloomfield remembered, "I was left-handed and I couldn't play well. I took lessons for about a year, a year or so. I learned rhythm". When he played right-handed, he got better. Billy Corgan can sign autographs with his left-hand.

Does leftism matter?

Possibly not. But left-handedness can get you places. Of the last five U.S. Presidents, three (Obama, Clinton, Bush Snr.) are lefties. The downside? Lefties are apparently three-times more likely to suffer from alcoholism. Any right-handers out there who play guitar left-handed? Or vice-versa? Or both? Scientists believe preferred "handedness" is established at six months of age in an infant. So we guess that if you want to find out you favored way of playing guitar, you better pick up that axe very early... Goofball fact of it all? Avenged Sevenfold's guitarist "Synyster Gates" is not even left-handed, despite his stage name. But Avenged Sevenfold's co-guitarist "Zacky Vengeance" is. What other famous left-handed guitarists can you name? What is your opinion about leftism? Do you think left-handed players should be retrained? Let us know in comments.

180 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Lagunaguitar
    I can only do one thing well with both hands...
    BoredHippie
    fap fap fap Fap Fap FAp FAp FAP FAP!....fap....fap.....sleep.
    TheWarpRider
    What ambidexterity? No love? I play guitar right handed, write left handed, do most things right handed but I can also write ok right handed and do many things I do left handed right handed.
    sroze478
    Technically, ambidextrous means you can use either hand for everything, not do some things with each hand. I used to say I was ambidextrous but then found out the proper definition and don't feel as cool anymore, please don't hate me. I'm in the same boat as you though, play righty, write lefty, throw things righty, eat lefty...I think they call it being both-handed or something. But since you usually decide your handedness by what hand you use to write, I'm a lefty.
    Hyacinth House
    I'm the exact same way, play righty, eat lefty, throw/punch righty, eat lefty etc... I've always figured it's because my right arm is stronger but my left hand is more dexterious
    miregal
    Technically "Sroze478" You should pick up a dictionary before making claims....
    sroze478
    I left my dictionary at home this semester, so here's something from dictionary.com; "Ambidextrous (adjective): able to use both hands equally well: an ambidextrous surgeon ." Does that satisfy my "claims"? Ambidextrous means you can use either hand equally well, as in, for the same tasks. Mixed-handed, on the other hand, means that you use your right hand for some tasks and your left hand for other tasks. Only about 1% of the population is ambidextrous, about 10% of the population is left handed, and not everyone who is left handed (as in, writes with their left hand) is considered to be strongly left handed, meaning uses their left hand for every/almost every task. Check out the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory if you're interested.
    miregal
    This is ridiculous haha I'm a lefty and I know more right handed drunks.
    miregal
    I meant for that second comment to go under all the other ones. My bad.
    Challenger440
    lefties may be 3 times more likely to be drunks but only about 10% of the population IS left handed
    ryan_nadon
    Just because you can move both hands does not mean you're ****ing ambidextrous. You're just an idiot.
    dgdugand
    I also do every thing with my right hand exempt righting and playing baseball, I thought I was the only one.
    dennis.1960
    I'm left handed but play righty...to me using your strongest hand on the fretboard always made more sense. To make things more bizarre, I throw a baseball with my right hand but a football with my left...go figure...
    BASSrise
    I agree...I'm left handed, and seem to have so much more dexterity in that hand that it seems far more natural to form chords with my left hand. Although I can't use my right hand to write with, I can do other things well with it, including using pistols and rifles. But a left handed guitar seems really odd to me.
    BlueIceBox
    I'm a lefty but I play righthanded The thought of buying a lefty guitar and playing with it never crossed my mind. I just picked up the ol' guitar that was lying around my house and started practising with that I don't think you should think of the guitar as a "righty" or a "lefty", just pick up a regular guitar and start practising with that. In my opinion, anyone will feel comfortable with the instrument they first started. If a right handed player first started with a guitar for a "lefty" and kept on playing with that, then they will feel comfortable with that guitar. The same way it works when us lefties learn to play with "regular" guitars
    CateringCowards
    I'm lefty also, but play lefty, but I sometimes wish I didn't because of certain guitars, like the Billy Corgan sig strat... Or the john mayer strat... Or that new ace frehley epiphone budokan! My one regret in life.
    MrDo0m
    I bet that applies to writing, eating, and anything else as well. You just use the hand that you started doing it with.
    darkunderworld
    I'm naturally right handed, but I'm lefty on guitar... It's annoying to explain it everytime someone sais ''WOW, YOUR LEFT HANDED?''
    TombOfHorror
    A few years back I modified a cheapo Squier Strat into a lefty, and tried to learn it. It gave me the oddest headache. Even after my hands started becoming somewhat adept at their new roles, I'd still get this dull ache in my head, right above the eyes.
    NeutralFan
    I'm the same. At least, that's my excuse. I haven't actually tried it since I'm afraid of the possibility of confirming that I'm simply crap at guitar.
    sevarian
    I do the same, naturally right handed but play lefty guitar. It's more out of necessity for me though since I don't have a left hand. Instead, I had to devise a way for me to "hold" a pick so that I could play. It's somewhat interesting and annoying to attempt to learn things that may be extremely easy to others. Palm muting for instance, not so simple without a palm I do like to tell people that I'm left handed and watch as they puzzle it out. The "wait a minute..." look people get can be quite amusing
    nickzippelli
    Naturally right handed and lefty when playing hockey which really isn't related to this at all
    icanhasgodmode
    I read somewhere that Kurt Cobain was ambidexter, except when it came to playing guitar
    SSaxdude
    He played lefty but was righty for everything else, such as writing. He even smashed his guitars against things like he was swinging a baseball bat right handed.
    yoman297
    I'm also play right handed but am naturally lefty for everything else.
    mxrblind
    me too... I was too lazy for moving all the strings first day with first guitar, so that's the reason
    repoTHEemo
    Same for me! It's probably the only things I do right-handed, now that I think about it.
    HeavyMetalSonic
    Zacky Vengeance is the stupidest damn name...
    JPMann
    So is The Edge, or many other names. They're just stupid stage names. It's not even that bad either. It could be worse.
    dennis.1960
    Just thought of a left-handed guitarist nobody mentioned...Elliot Easton of The Cars. I've always thought he was under rated...a versatile player who can handle most any style...check out his solo on The Cars 'Tonight She Comes'...
    JBTheLefty
    This is true. One of my favorites (and influences) not mentioned is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta.
    Syn166
    Herman Li is a lefty but learned how to play right handed cause lefty guitars were too expensive.
    sideslick
    I'm lucky I used Ctrl+F for Herman Li. I was about to post that, leading to a duplicate-post. He mentioned it in a video explaining the making of his signature EGEN18 (incredible instrument!).