Restringing A Right Handed Guitar Upside Down

Neal April 5, 2014 48

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. 

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.

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!

48 Comments »

  1. Clarence Williams April 15, 2014 at 1:52 am - Reply

    In response to the “Restringing A Right Handed Guitar Upside Down” topic, Jimi Hendrix did exactly that, to all his guitars. Jimi was a true left handed player, but left handed Stratocasters were not readily available when Jimi was around. I personally have played upside down all my life (30 plus years) like Albert King, Otis Rush, Eric Gales, Coco Montoya…..ect. This method means using a right handed guitar and simply flipping it over without changing anything, except the strap button. The low E string is on the bottom and the high E string is on top. Believe it or not, as Jimi Hendrix discovered, there are advantages to playing a Stratocaster style guitar upside down. I have listed the advantages below. 1. The volume and tone knobs are easily visible and easier to reach when on top. On Stratocaster style guitars, I have found no problem with the forearm or elbow accidentally or involuntarily moving the knobs. 2. Ergonomically, the reversed headstock is a clear cut advantage as it becomes easier to reach out to tune the guitar when the tuning keys are in the downward position. 3. When the whammy bar is positioned on top, whammy bar action is very easily accessible and controllable for great whammy bar action…ask Jimi Hendrix….and he would have said the same. 4. I personally started out playing right handed guitars upside down (reversed left handed) and eventually I switched over to left handed guitars and on Fender Stratocasters and I found that flipping the nut and repositioning the bridge saddles isn’t a tough task. 5. With the guitar cord jack on top, it is far more easy to insert the guitar cable as opposed to reaching down to insert the cord.

    My first left handed Stratocaster was done by a luthier, and afterwards I took care of the task on the future left handed guitars that I bought, so now I play left handed and right handed guitar……but after 30 years of playing Stratocasters, I have found that playing upside down has more advantages.

    I do agree that none of this would work on Gibson style guitars or acoustic guitars!

    • Tim G June 1, 2014 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Clarence, the points you’re making here are simply nonsensical. If it was actually true that knobs, whammy bars, tuners and jack sockets were more conveniently-placed on righty guitars that have been converted to lefties, then right handed guitars would be manufactured that way by default.

      • Clarence Williams June 2, 2014 at 7:57 am - Reply

        I fully understand why you would say that the reversed configuration makes no sense, but remember that Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush the great Albert King made no complaints about playing right handed guitars upside down in these reversed configurations. I do play left handed guitars as well and I am well experienced in either or, but I have fully adapted to both. Right handed guitar players have never had to adapt to playing in a reversed confirguration because right handed guitars have always been readily available. Only lefties have had to adapt, so in the process of adapting, we can simply get use to it, to the point that it seems perfectly normal.

        • Chris September 19, 2014 at 3:19 am - Reply

          That is true that you can adapt and develop your whole technique around it being that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better way to have it, it means you’ve adapted to it so that it works for you despite not being ideal.

          Jimi got so used to using it that way that he may well then have found it harder to use one the right way around because he developed his technique around using it that way.

          But your first comment suggested the upside-down method was better for many of those things which is very different from it being something you can adapt to, get used to and build your technique around it so that it doesn’t cause you problems.

          • Clarence Williams September 25, 2014 at 7:22 am -

            Chris, point well taken, but I’ve been playing upside down all my life and I do play both left handed and right handed instruments. Being that I’ve played upside down all my life, the reality is, that it is ideal, as least for me, because that’s the way I first picked up the instrument.

  2. upside down April 21, 2014 at 1:49 am - Reply

    For the beginning left hander who restrings a right handed guitar and plays it upside down: Do you then view your MelBay guitar book in a mirror to see the chord diagrams the way you need to play them?

  3. Clarence Williams April 26, 2014 at 8:37 am - Reply

    From my beginning stage of learning up to this present day, I read chord diagrams and music notation the same as any coventional right handed player. The difference is that everything is visually and physically positioned in reverse. No need to use a mirror.

  4. Aaron June 20, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    If the bridge is slanted, can it be changed and become playable? or should i settle on not having an electric that i want?

    • Clarence Williams July 3, 2014 at 8:26 am - Reply

      Aaron
      Gibson style guitars and acoustic guitars that have the slant bridges leave no option for any reverse string position options.The attempt to reverse the strings would not allow proper intonation and additionally on acoustic guitars, reversing the strings would jeopardize the structual integrity and stability of the instrument as the bracing of the body is structured for the tension of the strings being that the low E string is on top. So, I would suggest finding a alternate guitar such as a Fender style instrument that doesn’t have a slanted bridge and is easy to convert to reversed string position without the worry of jeopardizing the integrity of the instrument.

    • Chris September 19, 2014 at 3:30 am - Reply

      It’s always “possible” to do it, but not necessarily reasonable to. What guitar do you really want that you can only get as a righty? Or do you just have a guitar hero of yours who is someone who played upside-down and you really want to play an upside-down guitar?

      An acoustic bridge can have the nut removed, the hole filled with a strip of matching wood, and a new slot cut for left-handed intonation. And you could even conceivably add some strength to bracing and things if you wanted to really make it work.

      An electric that has a slanted bridge could have it removed, the peg holes filled in, new ones drilled and the bridge put in the right place for lefty intonation.

      So all this can be done, but it hacks up the guitar a bit and likely leaves it looking pretty scarred, costs money, and still leaves you with all the other issues noted.

      Pretty much any style of guitar you could want is available in lefty these days. Not all brands do everything, but between them all you can get almost all types of guitars for all types of budgets as a lefty. So the real question isn’t whether you can but why would you want to?

      The main difficulty as a lefty is you often can’t do what righty’s say is a must when buying a guitar, which is to play the actual instrument before you buy it, as if you try out a bunch of supposedly identical guitars they aren’t always the same when it comes to playing them. But generally most issues there can be fixed with a bit of effort in the set up.

  5. David September 2, 2014 at 1:27 am - Reply

    i want to restring a old(mostly broken) righty electric to lefty JUST to learn how to play
    and then plan on getting a legit lefty
    advisable?

    • Neal Beedie September 2, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      As mentioned above, it won’t be ideal, but it should get the job done as far as learning some basics is concerned. Do yourself a favour and upgrade as soon as you decide that guitar is something you’d like to continue with. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘mostly broken’, but it does sound as if you will be making things a little harder on yourself.

    • Chris September 19, 2014 at 3:32 am - Reply

      You might find that it’s detrimental to learning too. If you have the wound strings basically sitting out of the nut grooves, that’ll make them higher than they should be at the nut, and make fretting those strings in the first couple of frets that bit harder, make it less comfortable to play and therefore possibly increase the chance that you won’t like it and will give up sooner.

  6. Jude Spaulding September 7, 2014 at 6:42 am - Reply

    I have a slight issue. The guitar I received was a gift, not just some guitar he bought at a store, but a guitar this man played for quite some time and poured a small piece of his soul into. He gave it to me expecting me to put it to good use. Its a Yamaha CG 111 S. Is there anything I can do? How much would it cost me to make the augmentations necessary for it to work for a lefty? I’m willing to go Hendrix on this if I have to.

    • Neal September 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm - Reply

      If you have to pay someone else to do the modifications I would suggest that it would not be worth the effort. Correctly flipping an acoustic will not be cheap, and this is already a budget guitar. The guitar is also internally braced for right handed stringing, so stringing it upside down will affect the tone and eventually lead to warping.

      I would suggest stringing it upside down and seeing how you get on. It may be good enough to see you through the beginner stages until you are ready to upgrade to a bona fide lefty classical. Then you can give back your friend his unmodified guitar :)

  7. upside down September 11, 2014 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Everyone that has changed their strings, and all the other acrobatics involved with playing left handed are at a disadvantage at an impromptu jam if you don’t have your own customized guitar with you. If a right handed guy says here, play a few tunes with my guitar…I’m all set. I just turn it upside down and away we go!

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