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.

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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?

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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.

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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

    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.
    Challenger440
    lefties may be 3 times more likely to be drunks but only about 10% of the population IS left handed
    miregal
    I meant for that second comment to go under all the other ones. My bad.
    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.
    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.
    yoman297
    I'm also play right handed but am naturally lefty for everything else.
    repoTHEemo
    Same for me! It's probably the only things I do right-handed, now that I think about it.
    mxrblind
    me too... I was too lazy for moving all the strings first day with first guitar, so that's the reason
    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!).
    TombOfHorror
    My parents and sister are lefties, but I'm a righty. I do most things right handed, but when it comes to a new skill... As the saying goes, I'm equally incompetent with either hand so it doesn't matter which one I use. I play guitar right handed, but I think that's partially due to the scarcity of lefty guitars. If that cheapass bass I got for Christmas all those years ago were a lefty, I'd probably play lefty.
    M_G
    I am a lefty and do everything lefty (including guitar). To be honest if I had the choice I think I'd switch to right handed, it really is the worst feeling having such a small choice of guitars to choose from, and they are often more expensive as well. Fender have released a steady stream ofnew guitars, like the Pawn Shop series, yet not a single left handed version is available
    Cazman
    I wish I could play right-handed so I don't have to go through the trouble of buying a lefty guitar, but it just doesn't feel right. The only thing I forced myself to use the right hand with is the computer mouse.
    rockme99
    If I am correct, Joe Perry is also left-handed but taught himself to play right handed.
    Slash-96
    You missed John Petrucci, MAB and Rusty Cooley. Even though they play orthodox guitars, all are lefties.
    makuserusukotto
    The reason that guitarists traditionally play with their non-dominant hand fretting notes is because your dominant hand is much better at keeping rhythm, which is needed for strumming.
    Logan_B
    To respond to the claim of Zacky Vengence being left handed: in fact, he is right handed. I remember reading an interview where he said that in fact the reason he plays left handed is that when he was a young kid he broke his arm and couldn't play right handed with the cast on so he learned left handed and just kept going with it ever since then. About 90% positive I heard that in a video interview as well.
    Leybick
    I used to play air guitar left handed, until I started playing guitar. Now I dont play air guitar.
    BleachedNirvana
    I write left-handed. But I play guitar right-handed. I do some other things left-handed, and some right handed. I'd actually like to learn guitar lefty and play both ways.
    TombOfHorror
    I tried learning lefty a few years back... I'd get the oddest headache doing it.
    BleachedNirvana
    I can imagine it being a serious headache. I think the only reason I play left handed was because I started out playing guitar hero when I was little. Im pretty sure I picked it up left handed and my friend told me that was the wrong way hahaha
    joecobhcmaggot
    I'm lefty and I've been playing the guitar since I was 15....its so dificult to find a good left-handed guitar...I'm from mexico but I live very near the border so i can go to US to buy instruments and its awful go to guitarcenter and watch a whole univere of cool guitars but just one small section for us. another pain in the ass is when you're looking for a floyd rose guitar...its so damn expensive....fomous lefty guitarrist....the biggest of all...Tony Iommy, my favorite: jim root but he plays right handed...
    iommi600
    How many left-handed guitarists does it take to screw a light bulb? The same number as right-handers, they would argue about how they would have screwed it faster anyway.
    -Annihilation-
    I'm a lefty but I play a right handed guitar with the strings flipped. I picked it up that way when I first started and thought nothing of it. It'd probably be uncomfortable to have my strings flipped the correct way now.
    Eifler121
    What does Synyster Gates have to do with being left handed? Did people think he was?
    Blargaha
    If you had read it closely, you'd seen that they brought up the latin word "sinister", which means left. Synyster is just "sinister" with another spelling, so it would have been fitting if he were left handed, which he is not apparently.
    Brewah43
    Ummmm..... Why isnt Kurt Cobain on the list or even mentioned?? i claim fail.
    shatteredcore
    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... He was... In the second paragraph.
    nido
    Left is the Devil! Burn em all!
    dennis.1960
    When I was a kid I had a baby cousin who would reach for things with his left hand, his mother would slap him so he wouldn't use 'the devils hand'...funny how religion screws with people's heads...
    Parab0la09
    didn't they do that on American Dad? Not saying you are full of it, I just thought I heard that from somewhere before this.
    dennis.1960
    American Dad??? I saw this happen about 40 years before there even was an American Dad.
    JD Close
    I don't see why everybody thinks that the fret hand has a harder job. Seriously guys, remember learning? Picking is the truly important part. I've known guys to play 3 chords but play them cleanly and put on a better show than a technical sloppy player. That being said, I'm a technical player
    iwannabesedated
    I'm left handed but play guitar right handed. I've always found it easier to fret with my strong hand.
    DimeSatch
    From neuroscience experiments, the following interesting facts are generally speaking: The left side of the brain controls the right side of your body and vise versa. During rhythmic exercises, the left side of the brain is very active. During melodic exercises, the right side of the brain is very active. If you're a smart fella, then you can see how right handed guitarists would have an advantage. Your left hand for the most part plays melodies and you right is mostly rhythmic. (for right handed players) Obviously there are great left handed guitarist you can complete rhythmic and melodic tasks with both hands.
    Guitarlicker
    I'm Left-Handed playin right. That's cause Left-Handers were impossible to find so I just tried it out and went from there. Now I have trouble playin left whenever I find one. Silly.
    guitarnut_xiix
    I'm naturally left-handed, but when my parents got me my first guitar, they got me a righty and told me I had to learn it that way. The shop owner had told them it'd be easier to learn. My response? "If it's easier for a lefty to learn on a right-handed guitar, why don't righties learn of left-handed guitars?" So, I spent my first three years playing with it upside-down; never did flip the strings on it. Came in 'handy' though: I got to win money in high school betting right-handed kids I could play their guitar backwards better than they could LOL.
    antisaint182
    Kris Roe of The Ataris is an interesting one. Plays a right handed guitar Lefty, with the high E closest to his face, like in the last paragraph about Hendrix, But all the time.
    MrKyran
    I started playing left handed, as I write left handed and do everything else pretty much at random. But when it came to guitar my grandad bought me a right handed guitar, straight away I picked it up "wrong" and he was very confused, he wanted to go into the shop and get it swapped over for a left hander. The shop next to us said it would be very, very, very costly. So I just taught myself to play the other way around. I've since learned that the guy behind the counter was an ***** and in fact just couldn't be bothered to switch it around. Spoke to the other music shop owner in town he said "Hell, dude, I would of done it for free!"
    Grace Slick
    i'm right-handed, but i play lefty for vvhatever reason. and vve get screvved vvhen it comes to options. you'd think if a guitar costs 1800 US dollars, they could at least make it in a different color....
    hellchild101
    I think that left handed pianos should be more readily available for guitarists who play "right handed" It makes sense to me because your left hand is going in the same direction to go higher up the scale but just upside down...anyone else agree?
    melvin_86
    c'mon. im right handed but play guitar with my left. just because when i bought my very first guitar, i chose a left handed one to prove a point to a friend that it was possible lol its no big deal. hows about some real news please?
    linkaara
    I have a question in some way related to this... I think... I play guitar and I am right handed. but like a year ago I cut my anular finger of the left hand, so I cant use it at all. I have been thinking that I could start playing with the left hand so "the lack" of my finger is not a problem because I play with a pick mostly, but, how hard it would be to me start playing with the left hand instead the right? I know it would be like start all over again but it would be harder than that, since I am right handed naturally?... I wish I could explain it better, english is not my mother language