Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

So you want to take up learning guitar but you’re unsure if you should be playing right or left handed?  Take a read through this article to hopefully find the answer to this tricky question!

I’m constantly wasting time correcting poor advice given by right handed players who think they know it all.  It really is unbelievable the levels of sheer stupidity I see spouted by misinformed players.  If you’d never owned a Porsche would you give advice to someone wanting to find out what it’s like to drive one?  No, you certainly would not!  The same principle applies to guitar.  The majority of right handed players are in no position to be giving advice about playing guitar left handed.

So here we go, hopefully this will clear everything up once and for all.

Should I Play Guitar Left Handed or Right Handed?

Should I Learn Guitar Left or Right Handed?

This is a simple question that you can only answer yourself.  Do not let anyone try and tell you that one way is better than another, because they are in no way qualified to tell you this.  Every single person in this world is unique, and will perform various tasks in the most easy and efficient manner for themselves.

How Do I Discover What Is Best For Me?

Stop what you are doing and play some air guitar for a second, don’t think about it, just do it.  Did you strum with your left or right hand?  If you strummed with your left hand you should play left handed, and  in the same way if you strummed with your right hand you should play right handed.  Simple, right?

Another easy test is to watch how you clap your hands – the hand that does all (or most of) the movement is the hand that you should strum with.  People often assume that your dominant hand should be performing the “more complex” fretting job – however I generally have found that this is not the case.  In my experience, the picking hand demands more precise coordination than the fretting hand.

The one piece of advice that really irks me is the old “you’ll have an advantage with your dominant hand doing the fretting, cos it’s erm…harder“. Think about how silly that advice is.  If that were true, why are all righties not playing left handed? Why is a left handed guitar not the norm? It’s just completely nonsensical.

But Another Left Handed Person Told Me He Plays Right Handed

This person is most likely not a natural left handed guitar player, has accepted some poor advice, or simply isn’t interested in reaching a high level of proficiency.  As I mentioned above, different people do things different ways depending on how their brain is wired.  For example I write with my left hand and play guitar that way too, but I use scissors with my right hand and shoot a bow that way also.  Just because someone writes with their left hand doesn’t automatically mean they are predisposed to playing guitar left handed as well.

The Guy In Guitar Center Told Me Just To Learn Righty

Why do you think he’s telling you this?  If you buy a right handed guitar you are far more likely to go back to his store and buy more of his product, because that is what probably 90%+ of his stock is.  He may be too small minded to keep more than a handful of left handed guitars, but he does have the brainpower to deduce that he’ll lose you as a potential repeat customer if he sells you a lefty.  After all, are you likely to go back for a second look at his one black Strat copy in the corner?  I think not.  Bottom line – don’t listen to the store clerks if they tell you this…as explained above, only you can decide to play right handed or left handed.

And another thing – SALES INCENTIVES. Sales staff receive bonuses for selling certain items over others, and unfortunately many will not hesitate to make a quick buck rather than sell you the product you actually want and/or need.

They Also Told Me It’s Impossible To Find A Left Handed Guitar!

Anyone who tells you this is in possession of an incredibly outdated point of view.  This is 2016, not 1976, and this wondrous invention called the internet makes it absurdly easy to obtain almost any left handed guitar you could wish for. Look at this – it would take you all day to trawl through that! And that’s just one site…

Sure, there are less options in general when it comes to choosing your guitars, but this is a terrible reason to possibly hinder your learning over.  There are plenty of excellent left handed guitars available, and as the internet is making the world increasingly smaller the choice is only getting healthier. Besides, how many guitars do you really need?

Jerry's Lefty Guitar Store, FloridaPhoto: Jerry’s Lefty Guitars, Florida USA

Isn’t Learning Left Handed Harder?

This is another myth I see crop up on a daily basis.  This idea is floating around purely because of misinformed right handed payers who think they are qualified to give advice on playing guitar left handed.  It is in NO WAY harder to learn guitar left handed. See this article on the Myths Surrounding Playing Left Handed Guitar.

The only real difference is that chord diagrams are mirrored, but it’s not too taxing to read something as simple as this backwards.  If you want to ensure you are reading them correctly, check out our left handed chord diagrams. Or, if you’re super awesome and would like to support the site, check out our massive new lefty chord book.  Tabs are not backwards, learning materials are not backwards, and it makes no difference to a guitar teacher if you are left handed – in fact, many say that it is easier to teach a southpaw due to the Mirror Effect!

Will Playing Right Handed Hurt My Playing?

If you are a natural left handed guitar player then of course it will (eventually).  If you want to advance beyond the basics and become the best player that you can be, then I strongly suggest you play the way in which your body feels the most comfortable with.  Alternatively, if you only want to learn a few camp fire songs then sure, you can get away with playing the wrong way around.  Most of us, who actually have some ambition would be unsatisfied with just settling for being an average player however.

Here is a great quote from Bruce Dickinson, head of the prestigious Brighton Institute of Modern Music:

I’ve seen many lefties who play right handed and have difficulties later on because their picking/strumming hand is the less sensitive and controlled of the two. Typically, if they are fully left handed, their sense of rhythm in the right hand will be less developed or just unmanageable. This problem, which does not build up until later along the learning curve, can be an insurmountable obstacle. This is why I don’t recommend that left handers learn to play right handed unless they feel very comfortable with it.

To further back up my point – world renowned shred maestro Andy James gave an interview where he answered questions from fans. One of the questions was from a lefty who had chosen to play right handed guitar. After six years of practicing for six hours a day he could still only play his favorite band’s songs at half speed. See the article here .. Andy James on Left Handed Guitar.

Over the years I have received countless emails and comments from people who have struggled (sometimes for years!) playing right handed, only to try out southpaw mode and suddenly have a complete epiphany. As if by magic everything falls into place,,= and they start progressing at a pace that they could only have dreamed about beforehand.  Left or right handed, play the correct way around and reap the rewards!

Please don’t feel that I am trying to push anyone to play guitar left handed. I am merely posting the facts because I am sick to death of reading the chicken scratch advice given to lefties on a daily basis.  The bottom line is to play the way that feels natural to you, do not listen to anyone but YOUR OWN BODY. If you decide that you are a left handed guitar player then go for it! Here’s a good place to start.

Newbie Guide

Now that you (hopefully) know which way you are going to play, check out our 8-part Newbie Guide where you’ll learn everything that you need to know to get started with your new hobby! This series of guides is relevant to both left and right handed players and includes gear recommendations for beginners.

Good luck, and feel free to leave a comment if you require any extra advice.

460 replies
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  1. mark
    mark says:

    Just taken delivery of the above guitar (Guild GAD-50L Left Handed Acoustic Guitar), having played a right hand one in a store previously. _Beautiful, just beautiful…Delivered within an hour window set out, houndstooth case, price £622 and most importantly straight out of the case, the sound is something else to believe (was even in tune). I've played left handed acoustics on Denmark street at twice the price that haven't felt or sounded as good. Fortunately (some would say unfortunately), I broke my leg just before christmas and I still have another 4 wks at home before I have to go back to work, some serious guitar playing to be done now on a guitar I can't recommend strongly enough.

    As to playing left handed, you were born left handed so play left handed, everytime I try to play right handed my brain hurts, simple as that. There are plenty of great left handed guitars out there.

    cheers mark_

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Thanks for the comment Mark. I'm definitely with you – there are plenty of excellent lefty guitars to be had, you just need to look a little harder. The longer I play the more I find myself moving away from the mainstream brands towards the smaller companies where you have more choice and often better quality. Glad to hear you loved the Guild as well, they may only offer one left handed guitar but at least it's a good one 🙂

  2. frank
    frank says:

    Im lefty and learning how to play guitar.
    Thanks for writing this interesting article, however I felt a bit let down with the arguments of why I should play with a left guitar…..
    specially in the part of "How Do I Discover What Is Best For Me?".
    Your argument sounds like flipping a coin. I have strummed in the air with both hands in a two different occasions… what should I do? do it a third time?.
    really is this the best way, if yes, therefore, is not that critical to play with a right hand guitar….

    Secondly you suggest that you should play according to the way your brain is wired… mmmmm..

    if this is the real argument, then I will tell you that I have no wires in my brain, but intelligent and fexible cells that can adapt and learn new things.
    If is just a matter of wires, then I accept your argument, stop playing around, lets follow the manual, and probably ask for a guarantee if the wires are not connected properly. But we dont have wires, our brain cells are flexible and can adapt amazingly to do new things.

    Therefore, after reading your article, I can see that the issue Is not that critical and I will learn how to play guitar using a right handed guitar, exactly as I have learn how to type in this keyboard, where there is no lefty keyboard, and you need both hands pretty active and accurate, similarly that you do in the guitar.

    thanks anyway, the article help me…

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Frank, this article is geared toward people who are left OR right handed guitar players, not ambidextrous people. For most people the simple test above will not be like 'flipping a coin' – they will play one way or the other, every time. As you are playing air guitar both ways I would suggest learning right handed as long as that feels natural to you.

      Comparing a keyboard (where both hands have the same job) to a guitar (which each hand has a unique job) is not an argument. Some people absolutely benefit from learning with a left handed guitar, however it sounds like you are not one of them. Best of luck.

  3. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    Hey just wanted to say great article and ask a question. I’ve played guitar off and on for several years since I was about 14 or 15 until now I’m 22. I’m traditionally left-side dominant in EVERYTHING, literally everything, down to my left eye being stronger than the right. Well, long story short I started guitar lefty and then quickly went righty because I didn’t want to have to always worry about having my guitar with me. Later, I tried lefty just for kicks for about a year after I was decent at playing righty. I found, for me, it was really no different in my mind its almost exactly the same just literally mirrored like you said, it was actually almost like an epiphany happened in my mind and I saw how they were exactly the same once my hands adjusted.

    I have stuck with right-handed because I’m just overall better and have a smoother style playing righty, but I tend to find myself wanting to anchor my palm to either the bridge(far enough back not to palm-mute) or above the bottom string on the pick guard and kind of resting on the string. I think this is where my left hand would’ve surpassed my right in the fine-tuned coordination, like the kind you need with writing almost.

    Now my real question is, I think my tendency to anchor my hand reduces my picking ‘freedom’ if you will. Not necessarily my speed, I actually almost HAVE to anchor to get good speed, but it makes it harder for me to play across multiple strings. Do you have any tips or exercises to get my right-hand more ‘fine-tuned’ I guess, where I feel comfortable with my accuracy and don’t feel a need to plant my hand. Or is it just a matter of forcing myself into better habits?

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      As far as i'm concerned there's nothing wrong with anchoring your picking hand, most players do it. The one player that comes to mind who doesn't is Paul Gilbert so maybe you'd like to check out his instructional DVD 'Intense Rock'. At the very beginning of this video he talks about how he changed the way he holds his pick because the traditional way was hurting his thumb when picking fast.

      I flip between the 'normal' way of holding the pick and Paul's method and I find that when using Paul's grip I naturally stop using my pinky as an anchor. So maybe you'd like to try that, i'm sure you'd be able to find a video on YouTube. I also find that I can pick faster for longer using Paul's grip, but the downside is that I don't have quite as much control (just a case of getting more used to it).

      But again, nothing wrong with anchoring. Look at John Petrucci, he anchors and he's one of the best… 🙂

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    My daughter is about to start bass guitar lessons – she is 5 years old and left handed.

    It may be 2010, but it is pretty much impossible to find a 1/2 size, left-handed, pink bass guitar. 3 minorities in one >.<

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Ouch, that's a pickle for sure. To be honest you'd be very lucky to find a RIGHT handed 1/2 sized bass in ANY color. Right now there are two right handed 1/2 size bass guitars on eBay, and you pay quite a premium for such a niche instrument. A 3/4 bass can be had for much cheaper if you think she might be able to handle that. Perhaps try RondoMusic – they have several lefty 3/4 sized pink bass guitars. You can always put a capo on if she can't reach the low frets for now – through the use of a capo you could make it roughly equivalent to a half size. Obviously there's the added advantage there that the guitar will last much longer = less money spent.

      PS, it's 2011 now 🙂

  5. Groove
    Groove says:

    Lefties should play with their strong hand where it belongs. There's a good reason why righties play with right handed guitars. Sure, I've played right handed for 30 years and can easily fingerpick, play jazz and rock with a pick, but I hit the wall when I tried Flamenco. After just 1 week on a lefty classical I was doing complicated strums and slaps that were giving me fits for months on a right handed classical. And after just 2 days my picking is coming along nicely too on a lefty strat. I can't wait till I reprogram my brain and burn in the new nerve pathways for lefty playing. I'm confident that I'll surpass my right handed playing and reach new heights of physical dexterity (SPEED) 😉 Please, Lefties, NEVER let right handed players advise you about what they have absolutely no clue! You can get pretty good as a righty but you'll never reach your potential peak. I wish I had switched years ago!

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Wow 30 years, that's a lot of experience to reprogram! Thanks for the great comment. It just annoys me to no end when I see right handed players telling leftys to play right handed so that the stronger hand is doing the more complicated fretting work. Sure for some people this may be the case, but as you've just shown, the fretting hand does not ALWAYS have the harder job. For the style of music I play it could easily be argued that the picking hand has the harder job due to the extreme efficiency and economy required to play cleanly.

      Hope your switch works out for the best. It's like going from PC to Mac – everything just works better :p

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