Why Aren’t ALL Guitars Available Left Handed?

Neal August 31, 2010 45

One of the burdens associated with being a left handed guitar player is reduced choice when choosing your next instrument.  In general it’s not a huge issue as there are plenty of great options out there, but sometimes you can’t help but wish that certain dream model you lust after was available lefty!

Have you ever pondered why some companies make seemingly all of their guitars as a southpaw option whilst others are happy to make none at all?  Have you ever wondered how brands decide which guitars to make left handed?  Let’s see if we can find out…

Left Handed Guitar Being Made in the FactoryLast month I emailed around a few well known brands and asked them “Why don’t guitar manufacturers produce their entire product line with a left handed option?”. The obvious answer is cost and lack of demand but I was hoping they could elaborate a little more on this – and boy did they!

A big thanks to all of the companies who took the time to reply to my question.  The responses from each brand are listed below – those  who are missing either weren’t able to supply any detailed information or just flat out ignored me.  I’m guessing the companies who didn’t reply were perfectly aware of their discriminatory ways and didn’t want their name to appear in any articles on the topic.

Tom Anderson Left Handed GuitarsTom Anderson Guitars

First of all let may say how impressed I was at the level of customer service received from Anderson Guitarworks.  Not only were they the first to reply to my email (literally within minutes!), but it was Tom Anderson himself who took the time to answer.  Out of all of the replies I received his was probably one of the most useful in answering the big question.  Here’s what Tom had to say…

I can only speak as a small manufacturer and not all I say would apply to a larger company.

We offer most everything we do left handed at the same price as right handed even though in most cases the outsourced parts cost more because we buy them in smaller quantities. I always felt bad that lefties had to pay more for the same product, but i’m sure if I had to justify to bean counters we would not make them.

For all the in house made parts, which is most of the guitar, it really isn’t any harder to make right or left handed parts if the tooling is made to do both. There lies the rub. It is often hard to justify the time spent on a fixture or program you’re only going to occasionally use. If you were talking about high production you could be talking about much more expensive tooling that might be even harder to justify. Of our 800 or so guitars a year that we make, only 30 or so are left handed.

The other x factor about anything you don’t do often or make lots of is that it usually takes longer to do everything when you have to “relearn” every time you do it. So the labor of a left handed guitar is higher to go along with the potentially higher material costs.

Vigier Left Handed GuitarsVigier Guitars

What you write is correct; the main reason why all models are not available left handed is simply the lack of demand.

When we create a model the research cost must be sprayed over the number of instrument sold. If the amount is small, then it makes it impossible to recover these costs.

Other problems are parts, for example, the bridge, have to be made specially and it cost a lot to make small series.

Another aspect to take into consideration is the manufacture tools. Even if today one part of the production is made with a CNC, a lot of tools must be specially designed per models, which increases the price, if you cannot spray the cost over normal sales it makes it impossible to produce.

Finally when we decide for a left hand model, it is usually because we think this model will fit most of the musician.

Cort Left Handed Guitars LeftyCort Guitars

Basically it is down to cost and demand. Manufacturers need volume in order to produce economically. All CNC machinery and tooling has to be set up completely differently when making LH models. The cost is higher on electrics and basses than acoustics as the bracing pattern and bridges just need to be reversed.

We choose the most popular models RH to make LH but usually restrict colour options due to small demand. Cort try to manufacture all LH models 3 times a year in order to produce the quantity.

Production costs are generally 10% to 15% more for LH models.

However, large manufacturers like Cort (we are actually the biggest with nearly 20% of world sales) do realise that LH players do offer a market area worth providing for and will offer LH models in pretty much everything as long as the Distributors in the various countries order in large enough quantities usually a minimum of 60 to 100 pieces.

Fender Left Handed Guitars LeftyFender Guitars

You’re absolutely correct, costs and demand are both of the reasons why we don’t make many left handed guitars. When we go to build our left handed guitars, the whole factory literally needs to be shut down and re-tooled. The machines that cut the bodies, necks, and pick guards all have to be reprogrammed to do so. Even some parts of those machines need to be changed.

Once they are built, they will go to our warehouse and if they are not sold right away, it costs us money to keep them on the shelf in the warehouse. In other words, it wouldn’t make financial sense to build “x” amount of guitars and have them sit on a shelf for “x” amount of time. We try to look at market demand and see what lefty players would use the most.

Larrivee Left Handed Guitars LeftyLarrivee Guitars

“ For us the issue is a non-issue because we offer everything we make in a left handed version, regardless of expense and without additional cost. We believe that anything else is in essence discrimination. For some models the cost is huge! And we’ll literally spend 2000-3000 dollars to make one $2000 instrument. With Larrivee, lefties usually just face a larger delay than their right handed counterparts. This is because right handed models are stocked, where as the lefties often have to be pulled from production to ensure a fresh un-aged guitar.

Acoustic non cutaways are extremely easy to make lefty, because no special tooling or minimal tooling is required. Cutaway lefties require new tooling to be built for the cutaway. The tooling is usually in the form of CNC jigs, or medium density fiberboard jigs.

Electric lefties are far more challenging because we don’t manufacturer all the parts ourselves. We have limitations of other manufacturers. For example, potentiometer manufacturers do not manufacture long shaft lefty pots, so we have to custom make the pots. Also plastic injection mold companies don’t want to make lefty knobs, etc. We had to do A LOT of research and duplicate left handed versions of ALL of our jigs. It was a $30000 endeavour.

Mandolins we also extremely complex because of their 3d curves.

Takamine Left Handed Guitars LeftyTakamine Guitars

The answer I’m sure you’ll be getting or have gotten already from most manufactures regarding the availability of lefty models is mostly down to the cost of production and the fact that there are more players out there righty than lefty, or at least willing to play a righty model. Lefty guitars require a different string setup between the nut and bridge. Also, as many acoustic guitars are a cutaway body in today’s markets, this means added costs of production to replicate these cuts ‘flip-flopped’ to the other side.

I’m not sure of the exact difference in costs since all of that is on our factory level, but as far as choosing which models are offered in leftys, it is based on the more popular and standard righty models. Many manufacturers that offer customized models are generally more adapted to produce any lefty model imaginable, but it is at the custom outfitted price.

Martin Left Handed GuitarsMartin Guitars

I cannot speak for other companies but Martin Guitar does offer our entire product line left handed at no additional cost.

The things we change on the body to make a guitar left handed are reversing the bracing on the top, reversing the pickguard on the top, reversing the cutaway on the sides, and reversing the saddle on the bridge.

On the neck we have to reverse side dots and slot the nut for left hand playing.

Schecter Left Handed Guitars LeftySchecter Guitars

Schecter couldn’t offer me much information because apparently customer service can’t forward an email to someone with the know-how!  Anywho, Schecter are so good to us lefty guitar players I had to at least show they replied!

You are correct in guessing that cost of production versus demand is the number one reason.  Schecter is proud to offer more left-handed versions than many other companies, due to our commitment to providing more options for our customers despite the added cost.

Godin Left Handed Guitars LeftyGodin Guitars

All our guitar bodies are cut using computer controlled machinery. The computers must be re-programmed to cut left handed models. On acoustic guitars, all the internal braces have to be reversed. Electronic parts and smaller parts such as nuts and saddles must also be reversed.

We only offer basic models in LH versions as basic models are usually our best sellers. That’s why we don’t offer any high-end LH models.

For us to produce our entire line in LH versions, we’d have to increase the price tag of all our models (including non LH models) to cover for the expenses. It’s not something we wish to do at this time.

Another concern is that our factories are currently at 100% production, so producing more LH guitars would slow down the production of other models.

So there you have it guys.

What can we take from this?  It certainly seems that being a lefty acoustic player isn’t nearly as big of an issue as being an electric guitar player.  Most of the predominantly acoustic companies who replied do seem to offer the majority of their line as a left handed option.  I know for a fact that Taylor shares the same business model but unfortunately I couldn’t find an email address to contact.

Electric guitars are a lot more restricted due to their more complex hardware and designs.  According to Fender, the entire factory has to be shut down in order to re-tool for left handed models!  You just can’t argue with cold hard facts – the demand is much less and the cost is high.  Until newer, more efficient production methods can be introduced we’ll just have to make do with what we’re given!  Ah well, certainly saves on G.A.S right? ;)

45 Comments »

  1. charles March 31, 2013 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    The manufacturer’s problem is what every company’s problem is…How to we make the most profit being the fastest, most efficient and cost effective. And producing lefties are a hassle and slow things down a little bit. So they would rather not put forth any effort and forget the small demographic of lefties.

    I call BS on Fender’s claim that the whole factory needs to shut down and re-tooled. CNC machines are non-discriminatory…They need to be re-tooled with every different model or job. they don’t need to be re-tooled and reconfigured just to do something mirrored. Their cutting implements and blades don’t favor one side over the other. it is strictly a computer programming issue. And a huge corporation like Fender has the best machines on the market and professional technicians to configure software to do anything you ask of it.

    Orders on lefty parts I can see being a little more expensive because of the bulk discounts. But if a big company orders all the pieces in bulk, I’m pretty sure they add different styles. FOR EXAMPLE: Say Jackson orders 150,000 bridges from floyd rose, 50,000 black, 50,000 chrome, 40,000 gold, and 10,000 lefty. of course the gold is going to cost a little more than the black (and it does) the lefties will cost more than the gold….but not by much. Because I’ve bought a lefty floyd rose bridge and it cost like $20 more than a righty. If I bought 10,000 of them I bet there wouldn’t be any markup. So they are saying that a big companies with huge buying power won’t get a good deal on parts? yeah right. and a floyd rose bridge can sit in a bin for the next 5 years, because the designs haven’t changed much in the last 30.

    There are lots of ways to streamline the lefty model making process, they just don’t want to put forth the effort….how about when the company updates to new machines they save one older one configured strictly for lefties. And hire one or two guys to produce just the lefty models. That way you have the machine already setup, you have minimal specially trained staff to fill the orders, and it doesn’t slow down your regular production line, and you corner the market on lefty sales. Boom, I just made you 100,000 new, loving, and loyal customers and I’m an idiot.

  2. moe April 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    There are lefty friendly companies.Carvin comes to mind. I think if i save my money i should be able to get what instrument i want. Not what they wanna sell me.Thats why i won’t waste my time or money even looking at fenders guitars.

  3. Kevin July 15, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

    The most annoying part of being a left handed guitar player is the lack of models and high prices of them indeed. So the same as you, I cant just go to a guitar shop and try get the guitar of my dreams, I just look around for what I can get and try to make it work. After all im not really picky when it comes to the sound and all of that, as far as it sounds nice and the action is smooth enough then im happy, but I really wish I could actually get any guitar I liked. But I understand the reason so I dont blame the manufacturers. They still do somewhat of an effort to provide us an option….even if its very very limited.

  4. Richard Brodsack October 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    If a budding manufacturer of guitars would simply duplicate side by side the tools for both RH and LH when designing their manufacturing facilities, then a major portion of the production cost problem would evaporate. (( ie. No machine would then need be reset to switch from one hand to the other )) A COMPLETE manufacturer would manufacture EVERYTHING … knobs, nuts, bones, bracing, hardware, etc. RH and LH made in the SAME facility …, not parted out. It is the MODERN manufacturing paradigm that is at true fault here. Manufacturers are fixed on thinking inside the box rather than outside of the box. It is just plain too damn inconvenient to step beyond convention and do it right in the first place. I have worked in industry with wood, steel, brass, copper, electrical, and plastics. A manufacturer might consider being its own supplier. Specialization is for insects (Robert Heinlein). Of course, I will likely get some adverse feedback because I do not buy the arguments presented by the otherwise well intentioned manufacturers in this article. Oh Well … Society does (to some extent) need the deviant (Lenny Bruce).

  5. marty burke February 23, 2014 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    just order a martin they make everything in a lefty. even the ones I can afford and they sound the best.

  6. T McMahon March 14, 2014 at 12:56 am - Reply

    It’s kinda sad that it’s still legal to discriminate based on handedness. It’s due to this, that I would gladly prefer to support Chinese counterfeiters over the companies that make the real deal.

  7. Tim G March 31, 2014 at 2:10 am - Reply

    Hmm, no reply from PRS? Strange…

  8. Brent Shepard November 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    My next electric choice was a Tom Anderson. Now it most certainly will be!!!!!! Thanks for taking the time to write this and contact the companies!

    • Neal November 23, 2014 at 6:37 pm - Reply

      Great choice! :)

  9. Matthew Webster November 26, 2014 at 4:44 am - Reply

    prs didn’t respond? They’ve been quite lefty friendly lately.

  10. david machin November 27, 2014 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    Warwick basses make all models in lefty at no upcharge, as a production engineer, the reprogramming thing is a red herring, i am not suggesting there is no reprogramming to be done, but one a cnc programme is written, its written and with cadcam software, it is even easier once the design is done in 3d cad software, its is easy to flip and a new programme created at the click of a mouse.
    I understand about stockturns and work in progress costs and appreciate these days keeping minimal inventory. My first bass was the only lefty in the store…….some choice. Anyway, nice article and interesting responses from manufacturers.

    • Neal November 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the info David :)

  11. Kevin December 9, 2014 at 8:29 am - Reply

    I play a Maruszczyk Frog Omega Custom and all of their guitars (and Mensinger their sister company) are available left or right-handed at exactly the same price and availability … the rub is that it takes 8 weeks from order to delivery on any custom guitar from them but that’s normal for hand-built guitars.

    Their main dealer Public Peace in Germany also has a selection of left-handed models available off-the-shelf.

    AND .. their instruments, even the built-to-order ones, are cheaper than MIA Fenders in Europe !!

    • Neal December 9, 2014 at 7:26 pm - Reply

      I have a Mensinger myself, great guitar. Adrian at Public Peace is perfect to deal with.

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