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 one altogether. 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.
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.
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.
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!