How to Play the Guitar Left-Handed
Want to learn how to play guitar left-handed? Start nailing down the basic techniques of playing as a lefty with Fender's comprehensive guide for beginners.
By Ben Nemeroff
When it comes to playing guitar, only 10 percent of guitarists play left-handed. Much like everything else in the world, guitar is typically overwhelmingly dominated by right-handed people. But that’s not a reason why you can’t learn to play guitar left-handed. That never stopped legendary left-handed guitarists like Jimi Hendrix or Paul McCartney from mastering their craft and setting the bar for future musicians.
It can be difficult to find left-handed guitar lessons, focusing on the unique concerns southpaws face when picking up their instrument. In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the considerations involved with left-handed guitar playing for beginners, as well as a few tips and tricks for lefty musicians.
Learning To Play Guitar Left-Handed
If you’re naturally left-handed, it may make perfect sense for you to play the guitar left-handed. Much of the dexterity involved in playing guitar -- and where the action happens -- takes place on the fretboard. In fact, most right-handed players use their left-hand to finger frets to make chords and hammer out scorching guitar solos.
However, if you’re more inclined as a lefty to pick up the guitar and use your right hand to maneuver up and down the fretboard, when you pick up a guitar, you’ll often find that it’s strung and tuned for right-handed players (with the Low E string facing closest to you). Similarly, most guitar tablature will be oriented toward corresponding with a more traditional right-handed guitar format.
But necessity is often the mother of invention! The drive to want to learn to play guitar may prompt new guitarists to get innovative. Some of the greatest guitar players of all time were left-handed and each took their own unique approach to making music and honing their skills.
So, for all you lefties looking for inspiration to pick up the guitar and start playing, look to such guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, blues legend Albert King, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, folk and blues pioneer Elizabeth Cotten, The Beatles’ Paul McCartney, and surf rock innovator Dick Dale.
If you think lefty guitarists don’t get quite enough love, check out Fender Play Live’s crash course in surf rock, featuring left-handed guitarist Ian Fowles and his interpretation of some of fellow-lefty Dick Dale’s most memorable riffs.
Feeling inspired? Try your hand at playing Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” (which you might remember from the film, Pulp Fiction). A free trial of Fender Play unlocks this song lesson and thousands more.
Does a Left-Handed Person Need a Left-Handed Guitar?
Every guitarist is different -- regardless of whether they’re left-handed or right-handed. Left-handed guitars are made with lefty players in mind. On a left-handed guitar, the Low E string (the thickest string) is the one furthest to the right. On a right-handed guitar (the most common type of guitar), that Low E will be the very first string on the left. A left-handed guitar is made so that a southpaw can hold their guitar neck with their right hand and use their left hand to strum.
Similarly, a left-handed guitar also reverses the placement of features such as volume and tone controls, switches, and tremolo bars so that lefties can easily access them to lend more color to their playing.
But is it necessary to buy a left-handed guitar? Can you restring a guitar to be left-handed or simply play a right-handed guitar upside down? Of course you can! Some guitarists -- such as Jimi Hendrix and Albert King -- simply restrung a right-handed guitar to invert the strings or played a right-handed guitar upside down. While these techniques might have worked for these musical geniuses, choosing a left-handed guitar might make learning to play guitar a lot easier for left-handed musicians.
How to Hold a Left-Handed Guitar
When you first start learning to play guitar left-handed, using a left-handed guitar can help you more easily master chords and build up speed and dexterity with your fretboard technique.
While right-handed players use their left-hand to finger notes on the fretboard, you might think that it would be natural for lefties to excel by just training themselves to play a right-handed guitar. However, as you advance and learn more as a guitarist, you’ll find that it’s actually your picking hand that becomes more dominant in your playing.
Your dominant hand (if you’re left-handed) is where technique comes into play and your picking hand will be what lends more color and depth to your guitar playing as opposed to your non-dominant hand on the fretboard. For this reason, learning to play with a left-handed guitar (if you’re a lefty) may open new doors for you and allow you to work with what you’ve got.
Holding a left-handed guitar is no different from holding a right-handed guitar. However, in this instance, you’ll hold the neck of your guitar in your right-hand and use your left-hand to strum your guitar. Beyond this simple tweak, the same tenets apply to left-handed guitarists as it does their right-handed compatriots:
• Relax! Loosen up your shoulders, neck, arms, and fingers. Staying loose and limber -- while maintaining good posture -- is essential to playing well.
• Holding the neck of your guitar. Have a comfortable -- but not too tight -- grip on the neck of your guitar with your right hand. Keeping your wrists loose, limber, and free from tension can allow your fingers to more easily navigate up and down the fretboard. Keep your thumb on the back of the neck of your guitar.
• Place your fingers directly behind the fret. When learning to play guitar left handed, you’ll use your right hand to finger notes on the fretboard. Placing your finger directly behind the fret will give you the cleanest tone. Avoid putting your finger directly on the fret or ahead of it, otherwise, it might create an unpleasant or buzzing sound and you won’t get the true resonance of the note.
• Relax your left-hand when strumming. Holding your guitar flush against your body, your right hand may rest against the pick guard when strumming or striking the strings when playing individual notes or arpeggios.
If you’re playing a left-handed guitar, much of this will feel natural. The more you practice and play, good posture, fretting, and strumming techniques will be second nature to you.
Learn To Play Guitar Left Handed
Part of learning to play guitar is learning the lingo and using a variety of tools -- such as chord charts and tablature. These tools provide players with diagrams and “shorthand” as to where to place their fingers on the fretboard when playing a piece of music.
One of the biggest benefits of playing a left-handed guitar is that all of the chords and tabs you’ll see online will be the correct way around. If you, as a lefty, decided to restring a right-handed guitar or turn a right-handed guitar upside down, you’d have to mentally invert chord charts and tabs in order to place your fingers on the correct frets. Using a left-handed guitar made with your needs in mind eliminates the need to seek out specific left-handed guitar tutorials and tips. If you’re playing a left-handed guitar, all of the chord charts, tabs, and tips will be just as relevant to you as a new player as they would beginner right-handed guitarists.
In short, a left-handed guitar helps you to level the playing field and make your musical journey a lot easier, giving you access to the same tips and tricks as your right-handed counterparts.
As a guitarist, one of the most rewarding things about picking up your instrument is using it to play a song -- putting those chords and tablature knowledge into practice. Check out Fender’s New Player Songs Collection, packed with easy songs for beginner guitarists to learn.
Looking to Learn on Your Left-Handed Guitar? Check out Fender Play Lessons
If you’re left-handed, there are plenty of great guitarists to look to for inspiration. Fender Play lessons allow you to take that inspiration and make your musical aspirations a reality. Packed with bite-sized lessons, techniques, and songs that allow you to watch and play anywhere, Fender Play is a great fit for lefty guitar players, giving them the benefit of viewing the videos as a mirror image. In a world of right-handed players, this gives left-handed guitarists more options and advantages.
Sign up for a free trial of Fender Play today to take that first step on your musical journey and learn more.