How to Learn Guitar Left-Handed

If you are learning to play the guitar left-handed there are a few things you should be aware of from the very beginning, including:

  • Availability and price of left-handed guitars (and why you shouldn’t just change the strings on a right-handed guitar)
  • Why scale diagrams and chord charts will appear backward to you
  • And, how to take advantage of guitar lessons as a left-handed guitarist

So, if you are ready to get started learning the guitar left-handed, stay tuned, the information below should help you avoid some of the problems I faced when first starting on guitar as a left-hander.

Buying A Left-Handed Guitar

The first hurdle a beginner lefty guitarist faces is finding a suitable guitar. As only 10% of the population is left-handed there aren’t as many options available and in some cases, well-meaning music teachers or friends may advise you to learn right-handed instead. This is a mistake in my opinion.

The next step is to find a decent left-handed guitar.

Right-handed guitarists can usually beg or borrow from a family member or friend. If you’re left-handed however chances are you will need to buy a guitar to begin learning on.

Acoustic Or Electric?

In my opinion, although I started on the acoustic guitar it doesn’t matter if you begin learning on acoustic or electric. Just keep in mind if you are interested in playing a specific genre e.g. metal, an acoustic guitar may not be the ideal choice. However, acoustic guitars do have the advantage of requiring less equipment (amps and cables) and the higher action and thicker strings help develop finger strength faster.

Where To Buy?

Your local music store is unlikely to have a large selection of left-handed guitars for you to try (if they have any at all). Being a left-handed guitarist (for more than 30 years now), I’ve long since accepted that I won’t be able to play most of the guitars I purchase before I buy and this hasn’t been a problem, provided the guitar is well-researched, including spending quite a bit of time reading reviews.

In general, if buying new, expect to pay up to 10% more for a left-handed guitar and also accept there will be fewer options available, although this is certainly changing in recent times, thanks to brands like SchecterESP, and Reverend who offer an extensive range of left-handed options, along with established brands like Gibson and Fender, not to mention acoustic brands such as Martin and Guild offering more left-handed options.

If buying new I’d recommend going through your local music store.

They will be able to order left-handed models for you and you have then established a relationship that is likely to be beneficial to you if you continue to play guitar for many years. You also have a reliable point of contact if there are any problems with the guitar.

If buying second-hand eBay is a good option, for both new and second-hand left-handed guitars. You will generally find a good range of both acoustic and electric guitars, and being left-handed you won’t usually end up in a bidding war due to demand.

Why you shouldn’t just change the strings on a right-handed guitar
I’ve already covered many of the reasons why flipping the strings on a right-handed guitar is a bad idea, Jimi Hendrix aside. But, in simple terms, the bridge on a guitar is angled to compensate for the additional mass of your bass strings. Flipping the strings over negates this. There are also the slots cut in the nut to consider. Flipping the strings will mean your thinner high E string for example will be seated in the low E slot on your nut, resulting in the string being closer to the fretboard which may result in fret buzz (the strings vibrate against the fret wires) not to mention buzzing from within the nut slot itself, due to the string having plenty of room to move around within the slot. There are also additional considerations including body shape and the location of the control panel on an electric guitar. 

Most Scale Diagrams And Chord Charts Will Appear In Reverse To You

We live in a right-handed world, and most left-handers are well aware of this when using everyday items such as scissors or even a humble can-opener, it’s annoying but we accept and move on.

Well, the same is true for scale diagrams and chord charts, which are essential tools for helping beginners learn the guitar.

Chord Charts

Take the example below of a chord chart (A major barre chord).

Right-Handed A Major Barre Chord Chart

While string thickness is not always represented in chord charts, as you can see the thicker bass strings are shown on the left-hand side, while the thinner treble strings are on the right. Chord charts are a visual representation of the guitar’s fretboard, only if the guitar was rotated so the nut is facing toward the top.

This is the opposite of what a left-handed guitarist would see.

On a left-handed guitar, the bass strings would always be on the left-hand side (not the right) making chord charts much less intuitive for us left-handers. Below is an example of the same chord chart, however, flipped so it represents a left-handed guitar.

Left-Handed A Major Chord Chart

Scale Charts

The same is true for scale charts, take the scale chart below for example.

Right-Handed Ab major Scale Chart

scale chart is also a visual representation of the fretboard of your guitar but it is shown as you might see it if the guitar was placed on your lap. As per the example above, in most cases, this means the nut is facing toward the left. But, if you are left-handed the opposite is true (see below).

Reading both chord charts and scale charts as a left-hander takes some time to adjust to, but its a hurdle most left-handed guitarists accept.

But, there. is another option.

Left-handed scale charts and chord charts are incredibly useful and you will find plenty of examples on this site.

How To Take Advantage Of Guitar Lessons As A Lefty

Lastly, I wanted to point out one advantage of being a left-handed guitarist.

The majority of the time (10% of the time anyway) if you take lessons or learn the basics from a friend they will be right-handed.

If you are left-handed, sitting opposite a right-handed guitarist becomes much the same as looking into a mirror. It’s an advantage to learn from a right-handed player as you won’t be required to convert what you are seeing to the opposite side.

So, while left-handed scale diagrams and chord charts can be problematic, taking lessons as a left-hander can offer a significant advantage.

Summary

I hope the information above helps you avoid some of the troubles I faced as a beginner left-handed guitarist. I fell into a lot of the pitfalls listed above e.g. my first guitar was a right-handed guitar, converted to left-hand orientation, and as a result, I was always left wondering why the guitar sounded out of tune the higher up the neck I went (due to poor intonation as a result of the bridge being angled the wrong way).

I also had a lot of trouble reading scale diagrams (in particular) as I didn’t understand they were in reverse at the time and stopped using them as they were unhelpful as I didn’t understand what I was looking at. There were times my frustration may have resulted in me quitting the guitar, which if I think about now after playing for so many years would be a tragedy.

About Marty

My name's Marty, I've been tinkering around on left-handed guitars for over 30 years.