Left-handed musicians don’t have it easy. But most of them would agree that music, especially creating it, is worth the extra effort. All it takes is a bit of innovation, persistence and optimism. Many of the world’s greats have done it, and exceptionally well, when you consider such names as Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, David Bowie, Phil Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. This article is not meant to be a complaint, rather a way for lefties to feel a sense of solidarity in their struggles. It could also be a good platform for right-handed musicians to understand the frustrations of their left-handed band mates and maybe even a springboard for solving some of these problems.
1. Playing on a right-handed guitar
Sometimes a lefty has no other option than to switch the strings on a right-handed guitar and play the instrument that way. It happens to most lefties at some point or another, whether it’s for financial reasons, lack of instruments in their town or city or simply for the aesthetic preference of an instrument. But this choice comes with many flaws. Imagine this: you start playing and immediately your tone and volume start tweaking because your left arm is rubbing against the knobs, your left elbow is hitting the output jack cable and pretty much breaking its soldering, the tuning pegs are hard to reach because all 6 of them are on the underside of the headstock, the intonation of the strings is off because the bridge is slanted the other way, etc, etc.
2. A rush of excitement, then sadness
As any musician knows, as soon as you see the instrument you love to play you get a sudden shock of excitement, it’s a reaction that can be compared to that of a dog who gets excited when it sees a ball or a rubber toy. We often come across instruments at unexpected moments, for example when you are at a house party and you see a guitar (or violin) cradled in its stand in the corner of the room, your immediate reaction is to pick it up and play a tune or at least see how it feels in your hands. For lefties, these moments are very often, almost always, contrasted with a surge of disappointment when the instrument turns out to be for right-handers only. Party’s over, go home and cry.
3. Illogical chord charts
The average right-handed person has few problems understanding chord charts, because, in essence, what you see on paper is what you see when you look down at your fretboard and your chord hand (left hand). But for a lefty, a chord chart is simply illogical, we see the low E string on paper where the high E is on our fretboard when we look down. Left-handed chord charts exist, but they are created less frequently. If a lefty, learns how to read right-handed charts from the beginning of their musical training, “switching the strings mentally” becomes second nature. It’s usually only an issue if the person had started with left-handed charts.
4. Ascending & descending are reversed depending on instrument
This is especially true for lefties when you compare stringed instruments and instruments with a keyboard. The brain gets a little bit confused at first because ascending the scale on a piano means moving to the right and ascending a scale on the guitar means moving to the left. Maybe this is why some left-handed guitarists or bassist have a hard time being consistent on a keyboard if they start learning it later in life…
5. Lefty smudging
Every lefty will know what this means, at least since elementary school. You write on paper with ink and as you continue writing your hand smudges what you just wrote. Now there is ink on your hand and fingers but also a nifty “motion blur effect” on the letters and words you wrote. The same goes for musicians writing notes on a staff or writing out tabs by hand… Pencil lead is equally as annoying…
6. Playing live
If you play a left-handed stringed instrument (guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, etc.) and you are planning your live set you might want to consider positioning yourself on the “stage right” (“house left“) of your band’s configuration. If you don’t do this there is a higher chance that the headstock of your instrument will collide with the headstock of another. Headstocks are fragile and no fun at all when broken. On the other hand (no pun intended), if you position yourselves with headstocks pointing to stage center, it is somewhat easier to make eye contact with your bandmate(s). Oh, the complications…
7. Do your own setup & repairs
Not many guitar technicians are left handed or used to working with left-handed guitars. Think about it this way, to see if a guitar feels right (action, intonation, etc) you need to be able to play it for a few minutes and judge its playability. A lefty might only trust a left-handed guitar tech or luthier to set up or fix their guitar at a professional level, and these people are hard to find, or more expensive to hire. So the most common practice is to learn how to do it yourself. More work for us lefties!
8. Left-handed drummers work harder
If you are playing drums with the hit-hat on the right side of the kit and/or using the kick pedal with your left foot you either need your own kit or do a lot of switching around every time you get into the practice room or onto a stage. Those arm and back muscles though…
9. Reverse headstocks
All we lefties can do when we see one is cringe and ask ourselves “Why, why, whyyyyy?”. We dream about our favourite guitar and bass brands making a left-handed model and then they go and release a (right-handed) monstrosity with a reverse headstock. Everyone has their aesthetic taste, I guess. We’ll keep dreaming.
10. It’s “all-right”
You walk into a guitar shop and the walls are lined with beautiful guitars of all brands, models, shapes and sizes. You are in heaven. You look closer: You are in a right-handed heaven. It’s no secret: this world is … well, designed for right-handed people. This also applies to instruments. Right-handed people can expect a much wider selection because of a much higher demand.
At Thomann we do not forget our lefties and it is important to us that we constantly expand our selection in this area. If you need special advice, then you are more than welcome to call, e-mail or just come and try out instruments.
We hope that you were able to connect, recognise and even (politely) laugh with us at these struggles that left-handed musicians deal with on a regular basis. To soothe their pain, don’t forget to hug a lefty on August 13th. Happy music-ing!