Restringing A Right Handed Guitar Upside Down

Can you restring a right handed guitar upside down and play it left handed?  The answer is of course ‘yes’, but the question ought to be ‘should I string a right handed guitar upside down?’.

In my opinion you should only be considering this if it is the only available choice to you, i.e you have limited cash but do have access to a right handed guitar.  And even then I’d suggest selling the guitar if possible and using the funds for a bona fide lefty 😉 The reason I don’t recommend this is due to the plethora of issues that can arise as a result.  I’ve detailed just a few of these below…

The Nut Is Back to Front

Straight off the bat you will need to sort out the guitar’s nut (the thin strip of slotted material holding the strings in place just before the headstock).  The nut is designed to snugly accommodate each string, so if the guitar is restrung upside down the strings will be placed in the incorrect slots.  You will find that the thicker strings probably won’t fit into the channels at all, and the higher, thinner strings will vibrate around in their new slots causing all sorts of issues.

To remedy this you will need to either flip around your current nut, or preferably buy a new left handed nut, such as this one.  This is also a job which you would most likely want carried out by a professional guitar tech.

Adjusting the Bridge

The second thing you will need to look at is the bridge, as the intonation will now need adjusted.  With guitars such as Fender Strats it is for the most part as easy as readjusting the intonation screws.  This is due to the fact that Fender style bridges sit straight across the guitar’s body and so when flipped over, the inherent intonation points don’t change at all.

However guitars such as Gibsons may have bridges which are slanted at an angle and this makes correctly restringing upside down a more troublesome task.  When flipped upside down the intonation points will change to such a degree that they might be impossible to fine tune correctly. The same idea will apply to acoustic guitars as the saddle is also generally set at an angle.  If you decide to make the switch, a left handed compensated saddle such as this one is what you’ll need.

Hardware Problems

This is a drawback that is related to electric guitars more so than acoustic guitars, but consider where the hardware on a right handed guitar will be located when you hold it upside down.  The pots will be underneath your forearm, as will the pickup selector switch, and your tremolo bar will be on the opposite side.  This will lead to issues such as accidentally moving knobs whilst playing (see the comments section below for a DIY remedy). Likewise your front strap peg will be on the wrong side and will need to be moved.  Depending on where the input is situated you are also likely to have your guitar lead trying to stab your armpit.

The pots on an upside-down guitar will also operate in the opposite direction to what is considered ‘normal’.  Not a big deal, but you can fix this with some very simple rewiring.  Either that, or you can actually buy special left handed pots such as this one.

If the guitar is an electro-acoustic the EQ/tuner controls would also be hard to read/reach.

Acoustics Are More Troublesome

Acoustic guitars are braced internally to accommodate the thicker low strings on one side and the thinner high strings on the other, so if you mess with the string order you will eventually warp the guitar. The inner bracing is also designed to optimize the guitar’s tone, so flipping the string order will also adversely affect tone.  Check out the video below which shows the effort that goes into correctly converting an acoustic guitar.

Resale Value

Also keep in mind that if you mess with the layout of a guitar you are likely to adversely affect its resale value.  For example as mentioned above, if you move the strap peg you will be left with a gaping hole where it used to be.  Finding another lefty who is happy to play with a crippled guitar is going to be tricky and selling to a righty will involve reverting the guitar back to its original state ($$$).

The Tip of the Iceberg

These issues are the main points to consider when thinking about restringing a right handed guitar left handed, but they really are just the tip of the iceberg.  I could go on but I feel I should have made my point already.

It is not worth the hassle and added expense of going to the effort of re-jigging a right handed guitar for left handed playing.  Left handed guitars are generally no more expensive than right handed guitars these days so it makes no sense to switch around a righty unless it is just a quick fix.  Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago it would have been the norm for a southpaw to restring their dad’s old guitar, but this is 2014…why suffer?

If it’s your first guitar and the only thing you have access to is a right handed axe, then by all means go ahead and restring it, but keep in mind it will never be perfect.  You don’t absolutely have to change the nut, bridge etc just to try out guitar for a few weeks.  Hopefully it will be good enough to give you a decent introduction to guitar and then you can feel confident in buying your first left handed model later on down the line.

TLDR : Buy A Left Handed Guitar!

Check out our 8-part Newbie Guide for a list of some excellent left handed guitar options that won’t break the bank!

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  1. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I have a 4 year old that wants to play the guitar and he is left handed. My problem is the only left handed guitars for a child are really very expensive and I don’t want to buy a guitar and then he decide it’s not for him. Does anyone know of a cheap (under $50) left handed guitar for a child? Or would it be easier to restring a right handed one for him to decide if he really wants to play?

  2. Frydaddy
    Frydaddy says:

    Short answer is get the cheapest guitar and re-string if needed. Kids wont even care about keeping it in tune so don’t worry about minutia of bridge, intonation, nut, etc. Your child will be playing it out of tune anyway, so it won’t matter. But my rambling from here out has to do with all of the left handed people trying to make a decision. I play left and right handed guitars left and right handed. That’s right. I play both ways on both guitars. I keep 6 guitars left. I keep 6 guitars right. I feel like I may be one of the best guitarists in the world at playing left and right handed guitars (lots of folks can do this). But I can play left or right handed and with string low to high or high to low which makes me a weirdo. Sounds like I am bragging but…. Why do I play both ways? Because my hands, wrist, back, you name it start to hurt. Instead of getting up to get another guitar, I turn it upside down. I love playing …so my desire to keep playing makes me flip it and drive on. Also, I never play for too long at one time. Again, pain is the reason. I don’t play both ways to be some sort of show off, trust me I am not. I do it out of necessity because my hands start cramping, carpel tunnel, etc..Never keep yourself from playing as long as you are having fun. This is the key. You must have fun. In fact, it is the only requirement and the best way to get better. it is not ez to listen to yourself at first but don’t worry and be patient with yourself….trust me, you will get there. One day you will hit some notes and you will have that transcendental moment. Because learning instruments is difficult I was dismissive about being able to play when I was young…I really regret that I didn’t stick with an instrument when I was younger. But part of the problem was it was lesson oriented and not fun. Part of it was due to pain in hands and fat fingers that mute strings constantly…SO I THOUGHT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO PLAY IF MY FINGERS DON’T FIT….WRONG… t I made those things part of my playing style. I lift my fingers really high ..why, because orthopedically (not sure if word but going with it) it helps as i play. I mute strings on accident but have gotten good at mixing it into whatever I am playing (all you have to do is OWN the wrong note and you never hit a wrong note). i have been playing for 6 years now. I still can’t play a C chord I don’t care how you string it and I play it, so I cheat and just hit the E string and A string leaving off that stretch. Guess what?, I do the same thing with the G chord…Guess what? Most of the guitar is that way…Remember Django? He only had 2 fingers, didn’t let it hold him back…Major inspiration for folks like Willie Nelson , Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, and on and on….I started with toys r us guitar for $30. I got it for my daughter for Christmas, yea right. I used my daughter as an excuse to buy a toy guitar that I didn’t trust myself to be able to play enough to get an adult guitar. But it worked. I wanted to see if I could just get the G chord down, worked on it one week. The A next, C, etc. I am just letting you know that it is ok to start small, build from there, but don’t get frustrated and quit. You will start entertaining yourself before long and that is a key milestone. Don’t worry about entertaining anyone else. Keep it between you and the Lord and it all works out.

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