Right-Handed Guitar Vs Left-Handed Guitar, What Is The Difference?
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In today’s market, you’ll find a guitar for every type of player imaginable, including models for different hand dominance. Have you ever wondered what the differences between right-handed and left-handed guitars might be?
You’ve come to the right place, as you might find the differences are far different from what you’ve imagined. Read on to discover the truth behind these differences, and why they are the way they are.
The Obvious Difference Between Right-Handed and Left-Handed Guitars
For the most part, there isn’t an exact difference between the build of a right-handed model and left-handed variants. In fact, these types of guitars are essentially mirror images of one another.
That means if you’re right-handed and playing with a lefty, their hand positioning will be a reversed image. If you’ve never had that experience, take a moment to play to a mirror (we won’t make fun of you).
What you’ll find is that the left hand is the picking hand, while the right hand is the fretting hand. This is exactly the opposite of what occurs on right-handed guitars.
Aside from that, all of the strings are in the same order. Plus, much of the time, you’ll find they have the same components as right-handed models.
This is because particular models use certain specs, which are constant between hand orientation. The only difference is in the fact that the body shape is reversed, along with the orientation of components.
For example, let’s take a look at a guitar offered in both right-handed and left-handed models. You’ll see that there is essentially no difference between the components or build quality.
Right-Handed Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster
Telecaster purists are always looking for an authentic and traditional Telecaster playing experience. The Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster (see on Sweetwater, Amazon) is renowned for its affordable playability.
Over the years, the model line has become increasingly popular, largely due to its positive reputation. The guitar features a Pine body with a Maple neck and fretboard, with a 9.5” radius and a 25.5” scale.
For pickups, the guitar has a pair of Alnico single-coils designed by Fender. Knobs for volume and tone are provided, along with a 3-way switch.
The other hardware to be found on this Telecaster include:
- Bone nut
- 3-Saddle vintage-modern bridge design
Left-Handed Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster
Now, let’s look at the left-handed Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster (see on Sweetwater, Amazon). What you’ll find is that the build is exactly identical to the right-handed version.
- Pine body
- Maple neck at a 25.5” scale length
- Maple fretboard with a 9.5” radius
- Pair of Alnico single-coil pickups designed by Fender, along with identical electronics
- Bone nut
- 3-saddle bridge design
While it might seem redundant, this example shows that there is essentially no difference in construction between hand orientation variants. No matter your hand dominance, you’d still reap the benefits of this highly reputed vintage-inspired Telecaster.
The Subtle Differences Between Right-Handed And Left-Handed Guitars
While these guitars are essentially the same and consistent across the entire model line, there are some differences. Some of these differences wouldn’t be noticed if you didn’t look at each on a retail website.
The offerings available, along with the overall cost, are perhaps the biggest differences between right-handed and left-handed guitars. If you refer back to the example featuring the Squier Telecaster, this is something you’d likely become aware of.
Why Are There Fewer Offerings For Left-Handed Players?
Left-handed guitarists have often felt like they’re getting the proverbial shaft when it comes to guitars. If you search any retailer, you’ll often find that, between hand dominance models, there is a ratio of 1:5.
In other words, there tends to be about 5x the number of models available for right-handed players. To top it off, even the models that are offered for lefties tend to be severely limited in color options.
Why is this? Does the guitar manufacturing industry have a hatred toward left-handed players?
If you’re a southpaw, you might feel that way, but the answer is relatively simple. There are more right-handed people in the world than there are left-handed.
To put it another way, left-handed people are a special crowd. But, unfortunately, this often means they get the short end of the stick.
This is especially true when it comes to guitars, as not everyone in the world plays the instrument. Statistically, this would make the existence of left-handed guitarists a very small percentage of the total number of players overall.
Guitar manufacturers are in the industry to make money, that’s a fact anybody can understand. With that being said, do you think they would make more money specializing to the minority, or to the majority?
A greater number of offerings are available to right-handers because they are more likely to sell. This not only makes the most profit but cuts back on any unnecessary waste that could be possible.
With that being said, most manufacturers do try to provide the most popular models and color offerings. Some even provide unique guitars that can only be found in the left-hand orientation.
So, while there is some exclusion, there is also a bit of inclusion to balance things out.
Why Do Some Left-Handed Guitars Cost More?
The other thing you’ll likely notice is that there is usually a difference in the cost between the various orientations. As you might expect, it’s usually the left-handed guitarist that has to pay the extra premium.
In some senses, this could almost seem like a cruel practice. It’s not as if the left-handed guitarist consciously chose to be left-handed.
Many guitars are crafted by CNC machines, which are programmed to make bodies and necks to a set specification. It’s more efficient to have homogeneity across the products being made in relation to the number of machines available.
This is because all or most of the machines for a specific purpose can operate using the same programming. Likewise, workers become more efficient through familiarity gained from similarity.
Adding a left-handed variant requires different programming. This, in turn, takes up a certain number of machines, which are being taken away from the main profit-builders.
Of course, it may or may not be nuanced to such a degree, as every situation is different. The main point is that it’s more of a specialized product, regardless of if the right-handed model is only standard.
If you search the market of guitars, you’ll see that there is usually a premium paid for a specialized guitar. Luckily, the left-handed specialization doesn’t incur too much of an extra cost.
In the past, the difference tended to be much larger in comparison to what you’ll find today. You might even find some models that don’t have a price difference at all.
Would Switching My Hand Orientation Make Me A Better Guitarist?
Have you ever thought about whether switching to the opposite orientation would make your playing better? It’s usually a thought that comes up at least once, and for good reason.
People tend to associate the fretting hand with having the greatest need for dexterity. If the guitar greats didn’t optimize their dexterity, how were they able to play so fast and precisely?
This is actually a bit of a misguided thought, as guitar experience will start to unveil the truth. The picking hand is where most of the “magic” is when it comes to the actual playing of the guitar.
It’s easy to overlook, as the fretting hand tends to be the hand that draws the most attention. You can practically watch them play the note with their finger.
However, with the exception of certain techniques, a string generally needs to be plucked to make a sound. Because of that, a great degree of precision and efficient picking motion is required.
You’ll find that this necessity far outweighs the dexterity required to fret the actual notes themselves. Similarly, it will feel incredibly awkward to properly pick without using your dominant hand.
With that being said, it might not be such a bad idea to try playing on an oppositely oriented guitar. This provides the experience of having to learn the guitar all over again, from the very beginning.
It takes years for excellent muscle memory to form, and you’ll quickly see how much you’ve taken it for granted.
Plus, if you’re ambidextrous, it could be a great exercise and an easy tool to add to your toolkit. You never know, you could find yourself playing a double guitar, with both necks being played simultaneously.
So, for the most part, stick with the model designed for your specific hand orientation.
What Can I Do If I Don’t Have Access To A Left-Handed Guitar?
Let’s face it, having access to a left-handed guitar isn’t always going to be a reality in certain circumstances. Total cost or a lack of supply, in general, could easily deter the acquisition of such an instrument.
It’s not uncommon for smaller guitar shops to have very few left-handed guitars. This was especially true in the early days of the modern guitar’s history.
Though, in today’s times, the internet has helped to fill that void by offering the option to buy online. Even then, the actual cost of the instrument could be a gravitational factor preventing its purchase.
Does this mean that left-handed players are completely out of luck in these instances? In most cases, this is a resounding no, as you’ll find plenty of noteworthy examples throughout history.
What many have done is simply learn on a right-handed guitar, as they are cheaper and widely available.
Remember how these guitars are essentially mirror images? In the most ideal scenario, you could swap the nut and bridge/saddle to switch its orientation and string order.
Some models obviously are more accommodating to these changes, especially the non-cutaway acoustic varieties.
If you use Jimi Hendrix as an example, he just flipped the guitar and strung it like a left-handed guitar. Your mileage may vary, but the possibility is there and has been done.
Going Against The Grain
Of course, if locating a left-handed guitar is a struggle, it might be more difficult to find those components. Because of this, it might make sense to learn right-handed, based purely on necessity.
This has actually been quite common throughout history. More often than not, guitarists learned on a sibling’s guitar, which happened to be right-handed.
Let’s take a moment to recognize those left-handed guitar giants who opted to go against the grain. All of these guitarists play with right-handed mechanics, no different than a right-handed guitarist.
Mark Knopfler is usually known best for his involvement with the popular rock group, Dire Straits. In fact, he’s generally considered to be one of the most iconic Stratocaster players of all time.
Knopfler has a very expressive style that can be incredibly vocal and snappy. Part of this has to do with his fingerstyle picking techniques and vibrato.
For being a lefty playing right-handed, Knopfler has defied all the odds. The song Sultans Of Swing is usually thought to be a required repertoire piece for anyone playing lead guitar.
The Allman Brothers Band is one of the most fundamental groups of the southern rock genre. They created the sounds that would become popularized in the southern rock sound, including the sound of the slide guitar.
Of course, the slide technique had been used in blues music for decades before. However, Duane Allman’s fearless tenacity brought its popularity to a mainstream level.
Today, he’s generally considered one of the greatest slide guitar players in rock music history. And, like so many others of his generation, one that had too short of a life.
Doing The Unthinkable
History also has its fair share of guitarists who have decided to flip the guitar upside-down. These guitarists essentially play with the string order completely reversed, meaning all of their chord fingerings are different.
Eric Gales is a blues guitarist who started making waves in the 1990s, emerging with a flamboyant style. The guitarist has started gaining the attention of larger audiences over the past 10 years especially.
His playing has matured and become incredibly expressive. This becomes mind-bending when you realize his guitar is backward without any orientation adjustments.
It’s not a common occurrence for somebody to create an entire genre of music. And yet, that’s precisely what Dick Dale did in regard to surf music.
Dick Dale was one of the earliest pioneers of the Fender Stratocaster. His playing also gave rise to the invention of louder amps with more power.
Dale is unique in that his guitar is flipped upside-down, with the strings in reversed order. He’s also gone on record to say that his string gauges are insane, with the lowest string measuring 60-gauge.
Right-Handed Guitar Vs Left-Handed Guitar, Final Thoughts
It is an unfortunate fact that right-handers are more catered to than those with left-handed dominance. However, we’ve also seen that southpaws can be quite special, and not because of their statistical percentage of the population.
Left-handed guitarists have proved to be some of the most resilient and determined guitarists in modern music history. Anyone else would probably scoff at the idea of playing a guitar upside-down.
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