The Best Left-Handed Guitarists
Southpaw six-stringers flying the flag
Apparently only 10% of the world’s population are left handed. It’s reasonable therefore to assume that one in ten guitarists would also be left handed. So how come it never seems that way? As a right handed person I realise I’m on the outside looking in to the world of the lefty. I don’t know the struggles you guys have over basic things that I/we take for granted.
When researching this article it struck me just how many lefties – if you don’t mind me calling you that – had struggled on with learning to play a right handed guitar. Noel Gallagher, Gary Moore, Mark Knopfler and Billy Corgan are all left handed guitarists who overcame the mental block of playing their instrument the ‘wrong way’.
What I did learn, however, was that while the quantity of confirmed left-handed players was low, the quality was something else altogether. Let’s take a look at five of the best left-handed guitarists ever to pick up the instrument.
Not a bad one to start. In many people’s eyes, Jimi is, and will forever be, the greatest player to ever pick up a guitar. His unique playing style, based more on intuitive feel and instinct, still to this day dispels the myth that you have to be technically excellent to be recognised as a good player. Seriously; he himself admitted his chording was sloppy, and his use of his thumb to play root notes was either revolutionary or lazy, depending on who you believe. But what you can’t deny is the influence he had on countless players.
Gear-wise, Jimi is mostly associated with Fender Stratocasters. With a severe lack of suitable left-handed versions at the time, he simply took a right-handed one, flipped it (and the hardware) over and made it his own. This ‘reverse headstock’ variation became hugely popular in its own right, with right-handed versions of a left-handed guitar (converted from a right handed guitar – keep up) attracting people who wanted to emulate Jimi.
Jimi was also associated with the Gibson Flying V, which probably proved a more comfortable fix for switching due to its symmetrical design. But it’s his revolutionary re-purposing of a right handed Strat which gave life to a thousand rock-star dreams.
See when we mentioned about quality of leftie over quantity? How does going from arguably the most influential guitarist ever onto the (almost undeniably) most influential heavy guitarist ever? There might not be many famous left-handed players but the ones there are…
Tony Iommi is/was, of course, guitarist and founding member of Black Sabbath. What made Tony even more unique as a lefty was that he doesn’t actually have fingertips on his main playing fingers. So, not only is he a lefty, he’s a lefty with a severe physical handicap compared to ‘regular’ players.
Of course, time has told that this didn’t hold him back. Armed with his Gibson SG (now available as a signature model), Tony wrote some of the most instantly recognisable riffs the worlds of rock and metal ever heard. Their beauty lay in their simplicity. Due to his finger problems, Tony was never going to compete with the widdly-widdly players. Instead, he focused on slow, crushing riffs which were almost childlike in their approach. If you can hum it in your head, you can play it.
From one legend to another. As one of the principal songwriters in the biggest band of all time, Paul McCartney was always going to feature on this list. Whlie clearly Macca is known as a multi-instrumentalist musical monster, it is with the Hofner violin bass he is most closely associated.
Originally, Paul had tried playing a right-handed instrument and was making extremely slow progress. It wasn’t until he saw a picture of American country music player Slim Whitman playing a proper left-handed guitar that he realised such a thing was possible. So there you have it. If it wasn’t for obscure American roots music, there may never have been the Beatles we all know.
The final name on the list is another big one. Another name plucked from popular music’s hall of fame: Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana.
Perhaps he was keen to progress using his natural left hand because it marked him out as a minority, a non-conformer, against the treachery of the right handed ‘man’. Or maybe it was just more comfortable. Probably the latter, in all honesty. Whatever it was, Kurt was usually found sporting a Fender Mustang or, more commonly, a Fender Jagstang,
For many people, the above list of people would make a fairly succinct shortlist of greatest, or certainly most influential, guitarists of all time. It just so happens they are all confirmed lefties. So, if you find yourself in this same boat, don’t let it put you off learning the guitar. Plenty of today’s best known models and styles come in left-handed variations. You can also rest safe in the knowledge that you are one of a very select group of musicians like the legends we listed up there.