Restringing A Right Handed Guitar Upside Down

Neal Beedie April 5, 2014 30

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!

30 Comments »

  1. Gemma August 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    Gosh this website is really useful! My friend found me a guitar that is right handed and told me I can just string it the other way, but good thing i read this article!! Im going to look for a proper leftie guitar now!! I just subscibed to the RSS also, yay! xx

    • LeftyFretz August 18, 2010 at 10:12 am - Reply

      Hey again Gemma. Sounds like you dodged a bullet there, thanks for subbing :)

  2. Chuck August 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    Been there, done that. What I hated the most was the volume nobs. They would always turn the volume up and down as I strummed, LOL! Great memories though.

    • LeftyFretz August 20, 2010 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      Could make for some interesting sounds though! Or at least some interesting bruises on your forearm…

  3. Chuck August 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    I can relate to Wayne, my first guitar was a mini acoustic with a hole in the body. I custom made the nut with a piece of plastic (The strings we're so far from the neck, lol). Right handed turned left handed of course, as soon as I got my SG, I ran in the street and smashed it Kurt Cobain style. I kept the neck for a while… Once again, great memories!!!

    • LeftyFretz August 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      Haha, you guys are crazy, i've no interesting stories like that. I did buy a 3/4 size righty acoustic during my gap year in Australia, took that thing all over the place with me. I was lucky if I could manage to tune it almost to pitch though! :)

  4. David Ray September 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    I played on my friends upside down strung Epi Les Paul Special II for a few months, that was hell. The cable would always shove into me and the E and A strings would pop out of the nut. I DEFINITELY wouldn't advise flipping a righty. lol

  5. Phil Knight October 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    You’re absolutely correct in all your points but it’s not always a nightmare, sometimes it works out well. For some electrics it’s quite easy to get them sorted out, providing the bridge is adjustable enough. I’ve got a couple of conversions – a Danelectro 59DC and a cheap Stagg telecaster. I got a professional to do the job, each cost 20 UK pounds for the adjustment and nut replacement. I do have the usual trouble knocking the controls but a bit of gaffa tape sorts that out.

    The only difficulties I encountered were that I couldn’t find anyone who could make me an aluminium nut for the Dano, and eventually they’ll both need checking for truss rod adjustments. (but I’ve had both for a couple of years and they’re fine so far).

    Provided the bridge is adjustable enough or easily replacable, restringing’s a perfectly valid option. For instruments with no lh version it’s the only economic way of getting one.

    It’s best done by a professional – I’ve really messed up guitars having a go myself. And some just can’t be converted without practically rebuilding the guitar.

    • LeftyFretz October 3, 2010 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your input Phil, nice to see that it's not all doom and gloom – £20 is very reasonable! Funnily enough I've happened across several right handed people lately who have bought left handed guitars to play upside because they think it looks cool. It's definitely not for me though, if I can't get what I want left handed I'll take my business elsewhere.

  6. Jonathan December 14, 2010 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    A right handed Gibson Flying V ('67 style) converts quite easily and the controls are not in the way. Plus you have all the upper fret access of a left handed V since the body is symmetrical. I recently made such a conversion: I had a new bone nut, side dot inlays, and strap pin moved for $100 from a local luthier. I will go so far as to say that it is as playable as any of my left handed Flying Vs.

  7. Steve EF-15 February 27, 2012 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    THIS is right up my alley!
    As a lefty who tried learning on a restrung righty acoustic a long time ago the best advice I can give is do not waste your time. An experienced lefty can play this way, but a beginner doesn’t have a shot at progressing. The action for every string is off, and you’ll kill your virgin fingertips trying to get clean tones from the low strings that are too far from the frets, and get all kinds of buzzing from the high strings that are too close to the frets… and unless you read this you’ll think it’s your fault, and just give it up out of frustration the way I did. Now, over a decade later, and thinking about all those years lost to my own ignorance is very upsetting.

    Only when I was lucky enough to happen across someone(thanks Ed) who had the very wisdom Neal is imparting here, and who was generous enough to set my acoustic guitar up properly did I try again, and;
    A) begin to ejoy the instrument instead of feeling like I was fighting it
    B) begin to make some actual headway because I enjoyed playing beyond the first ten minutes.

    Take the lesson being taught here to heart. It’s worth heading if you want to make the guitar a lifetime journey that will be rewarding for you. Get an instrument that is built for YOU, as a lefty.

  8. Azrai February 27, 2012 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    The best thing is i dont re string, just flip the guitar and play. U see, i’m like eric gale n doyle bramhall II…only the knobs get in the way. Those were the times…

  9. Andrea Caccese May 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Interesting article. It is a real mess to restring some kinda guitars, but I’ve done it a coupe of times. When I learned how to play I just started to play upside down, I tought myself and had no idea the low strings were supposed to be up ahah. I did fine and I actually still play really well that way, but some chords are easier to access with the standard voicings, so I restrung my old epi les paul (Now sold). I flipped the bridge around and the nut, but I actually felt it was pretty comfortable to play with and didnt have big problems. Looked like this:

    http://a8.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/378_33718189371_616089371_1022981_1715_n.jpg

    It didnt have tuning problems and it never failed me, but then again I played in a punk rock band at the time, so it’s not that i needed to do more than 4 bar chords :-)

  10. Raymond Smith October 18, 2012 at 1:51 am - Reply

    Now would a mustang be good or no

  11. Phil October 23, 2012 at 1:50 am - Reply

    This is a fantastic and helpful article, thanks.

    When I picked up a friend’s right-handed acoustic 10 years ago, as a lefty it felt natural to flip it around and play it like a lefty (high E string on top). Fast forward 10 years and I’m now starting to take this music stuff a bit more seriously. Problem is, I’ve learned EVERYTHING (chords, solos, fingerpicking) playing this strange way. I don’t want to re-learn the instrument, but I need an instrument that fits me better.

    Specifically what I want is an acoustic-electric dreadnaught style guitar (so I can each high frets). My tentative plan was to buy something like this:
    http://www.takamine.com/guitars/g_series_dreadnoughts/eg340clh

    and have a local luthier switch the nut and bridge. This article scares me a bit though. What are the chances of totally screwing this up? E.g. ending up with a guitar that will never stay in tune, warp, etc? Granted it’s not a hugely expensive guitar but still, I’d like to try to do it right.

    Glad to hear there’s other weirdos like me around. Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.

  12. Phil October 24, 2012 at 2:51 am - Reply

    Update: after some sleuthing I found on that Taylor, for their higher end models (300 series and above) offers the option to get the guitar as a lefty strung righty:

    http://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/acoustic/310ce

    Of course this is a guitar which retails for around $1600. I was hoping to get something below $1000.

    Has anyone heard of other brands that offer this option?

    • upside down February 11, 2014 at 11:57 pm - Reply

      I too am looking for a custom build in this configuration: A left handed guitar set up with the strings as they are for a right hander, i.e. when held left handed, the low E is near the floor and the high (tone) E is near the ceiling. I have played a right handed Gibson 335 upside down for 40 years. No problems other than the volume control moving without my permission!

      • upside down February 12, 2014 at 12:02 am - Reply

        I bought an Ibanez 335 copy and had all the controls moved to the opposite side for $250. He did a beautiful job with the move but I needed to take it to a finish expert to repair the old area where the controls used to be. Took me awhile to get used to quickly adjusting the volume and tone during a song.

  13. Alex December 8, 2012 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I’m left handed and have flipped strings on right hand guitars for years. Some guitars can switch over surprisingly well and others can’t. I’ve switched over a 80′s Charvel, a low end Ibanez and a 76 Les Paul Deluxe. The Les Paul was a nightmare. The action was terrible, and I always had slight intonation issues. The Ibanez had to be slightly adjusted but played way better than the Les Paul. The Charvel felt amazing to me, and didn’t need any adjusting of any type. IMO the point in the article about about owning a lefty is better for resale is a moot point because you are cutting out 90% of the potential buyers market by selling a left handed guitar. Just from my experiences switching over floyd rose equipped shred guitars turns out pretty good. Something with a slanted bridge, is a bad choice….

  14. Nicola Wooding February 7, 2013 at 10:39 am - Reply

    My 5 yr old son has started guitar lessons this year (very young I know but he was so keen & I don’t want to discourage!!). He’s left handed but the teacher has him playing right-handed. I’m going to get him to play air guitar for me & see what he still does, even after a few lessons, and if he plays lefty, the instructor is being ordered to teach him lefty! Thanks for your articles as this has been bothering me for a while now & since I hate confrontation I was going to leave it, but not any more :)

  15. Conor March 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    seeing as i know a band that have aleftie that plays a right handed guitar upside down so i dont think its all that bad, im now 14 and been playing since i was 5-6 and is left handed but the fact is, there are more nicer guitars right handed so i might just re string it the guitar i was originally looking at was the Ibanez GRG170DXL but think im gonna look at a right handed one and just re string it

  16. Erik February 25, 2014 at 12:33 am - Reply

    are there any lefties that just decided to play righty? and how did it go? for me i am just struggling with wanting to strum or pick better than i can with my right hand. seems like the dominant hand is the one needing to do this .. thats how the right handed guitar is built.. so.. even tho i am having no difficulty learning the chords with my left hand, currently on a righty guitar, i am finding myself just wanting a lefty guitar. thoughts?

  17. jmaiyer February 28, 2014 at 1:34 am - Reply

    It’s good to know that this is possible despite the drawbacks – I plan on restringing a guitar this way this week. I have two distinct reasons, though:

    -I usually play guitar righty, but injured a finger on my left hand. I can’t really play guitar for a couple of months, and I’m slowly going insane here. I don’t have any reason to shell out for a lefty because I don’t plan on playing lefty forever, but I need to play *something*.
    -I have a really, really terrible 10 year old Strat copy that needed a good restringing and a nut replacement anyways, so the cost to me is effectively nil.

    I’m modifying it at the moment as it is so I can leave the knobs out of the pickguard and avoid the issue entirely, but I was thinking for others here you can get around the awkward knob placement by just taking the knob heads off entirely. You probably won’t create enough torque on just the axle to move it while playing, but you can still adjust it when you need to. The pickup switch is an issue I’m still mulling over.

    • Neal February 28, 2014 at 8:19 am - Reply

      If accidentally knocking the knobs is an issue, what you can do is place a rubber washer between the scratchplate and the bottom of the knob. If you find the right thickness this will create enough friction to prevent them accidentally being moved, but you can still use them.

  18. JBFairthorne April 8, 2014 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Years back I had a right handed tele which I converted to left. The biggest issue…the knurled knobs gradually started digging a hole in the inside of my left forearm…literally. I had to have a friend grind the knob down and re-chrome it.

  19. Sam April 9, 2014 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    On a 335 the main problem I ruining value of the guitar regardless of brand, I was wondering the other day if instead of drilling out new inotation holes, by far the biggest problem in terms of selling again, you could instead put on a floating tune o matic bridge? Would this work anyone??

  20. 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!

Leave A Response »