What is the difference between a left handed guitar and a right handed guitar? Regular visitors to the site will know this, but i’m guessing that if you are reading this you stumbled across us after a cheeky Google search.
I wanted to write this article because at the time of writing the current top result on Google which answers this question is just flat out wrong! For example the author claims that left handed guitars are strung upside down as standard, which is absolutely not true. Some lefty players will string their guitar this way, but they are in a tiny minority.
So let’s clear some things up for those who might be wondering…
What Is The Difference Between a Left and Right Handed Guitar?
In terms of orientation, it’s as follows…
- Right Handed Guitar – left hand on the fretboard, right hand strumming
- Left Handed Guitar – right hand on the fretboard, left hand strumming
Visually a left handed guitar is the opposite of a right handed guitar.
The easiest way to think about this is to imagine a lefty guitar as being a mirror image of a right handed guitar. So if you were to hold a left handed guitar up to a mirror, the flipped image in the mirror would be a right handed guitar.
Aside from being a mirror image of their right handed counterparts, left handed guitars are exactly the same! The thickest string is still at the top, the order of the tuners doesn’t change, the control layout is identical.
Quickly Tell The Difference
An easy way to tell the difference between a left handed and right handed guitar is to hold the instrument up in front of you vertically and look at the strings. If the thickest string is on the right the guitar is a lefty. If it’s on the left then the guitar is a regular right handed model.
When i’m in my local guitar store I also find that a good way to quickly scope out where the left handed guitars are is to look at the pickguards (if they have one). This is especially handy when browsing acoustics as left and right handed models can otherwise look virtually identical from a distance!
Is My Guitar Left or Right Handed?
So let’s take a look at this in a little more detail and make you a bona fide expert. How can you tell for sure whether a guitar is left or right handed? Electric guitars are generally pretty easy, but depending on the design acoustics can be a little more tricky to figure out.
Also! Your guitar may be strung left handed, but it could potentially just be a right handed guitar strung upside down. Eek!
I’ve been in this situation myself! Many years ago I bought what I thought was a cheap left handed classical guitar on eBay only to discover that it was actually a right handed guitar strung upside down! I kept the guitar because it only cost me 40 bucks, but it was still pretty annoying!
How do you tell the difference in this case? A few other tell-tale signs will unveil the truth!
Check out the diagram below and then continue reading for an in-depth explanation of each variation.
Strings. The obvious starting point is to look at the direction of the strings from thick to thin. Hold the guitar vertically in front of you and look at the strings. If the thickest string is on the right the guitar is a lefty, and if it’s on the left it’s a righty.
However! The guitar could just be strung upside down, so let’s keep going…
Pickguard. As I mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to identify the orientation of a guitar is to look at the pickguard. On a left handed guitar it is on the left, and on a right handed model it should be on the right (when facing you).
However! Some guitars won’t have a pickguard, so…
Nut Orientation. Another part you can investigate is the nut. This is the thin strip of material near the headstock end of the fretboard which holds the strings in position. Each slot in the nut is a different width so as to accommodate each string snugly. So if the thick string is sitting proud of the nut and the thinnest string is rattling around in a wide slot, then this is a good sign that the guitar has been strung upside down.
However! The previous owner may have flipped the nut 180 degrees (or installed a new one), so this method might not be totally accurate.
Strap Pegs. A better indicator might be the position of the strap pegs (the little metal feet that you slot your guitar strap over). On most guitars the rear peg will be in the centre of the body, but the front peg will be on the top side. If your front strap peg is located on the bottom half of the body then your guitar has likely been flipped.
However! If the strap peg has been moved to the correct position by the previous owner, they may have filled in the old hole and refinished it. So once again, this visual aid might not be a completely reliable source of information.
Fretboard Side Markers. The side markers are the little dots you’ll usually (but not always!) find on the side of your fretboard to indicate fret positions. You will find these on the top side of the fretboard, facing you when in a playing position. If they are on the bottom side then your guitar has likely been flipped.
When I bought my upside down right handed guitar it was the side markers facing the floor that revealed what the guitar actually was.
Saddle Angle. On an acoustic guitar the saddle is the thin strip of material on top of the bridge which the strings sit on. One of its functions is to correctly set intonation on the instrument. To do this the saddle is set at an angle to slightly alter the length of each string. On a standard guitar the saddle is angled so that the thickest string has the longest length.
If it is the opposite way then that is a good sign that your guitar has been flipped. Check out the diagram above to see the correct angles on both left and right handed models.
Investigating one or more or these areas should unveil the truth. So hopefully you now know whether your guitar is right handed or a lefty!
Take the Quiz!
Just for fun, why not take our quick quiz below to test out your newfound knowledge?
Finally, let’s answer a few more questions you might have before we wrap up this article…
Left Handed Upside Down Players
Where it gets a little confusing is when it comes to upside-down left handed players. A very small minority of players play guitar in a left handed orientation, but with the strings upside down! I.e. the thickest string is nearest the floor when in a playing position.
This is usually because when they started playing they just picked up a friend’s right handed guitar and held it left handed. These players tend to have a mix of guitars, some being regular right handed guitars which they hold upside down, and some being left handed guitars which they string upside down.
This method of play style makes sense because it means that as a left handed guitarist, you can walk into a guitar store and play almost anything in the store (upside down of course).
However the downside is that there is almost zero learning materials available for this style of play, so these players are pretty much on their own when it comes to figuring out how to learn to play!
For a good example of a top-tier player who uses this style check out Eric Gales.
Do Left Handed Guitars Cost More?
For the most part, no. Some brands might charge a small up-charge for lefties of maybe 10%, but that means your guitar is worth 10% more if you come to sell it later. It’s a moot point.
Is It Harder To Learn Left Handed?
Again, no! Check out this article for an in-depth explanation.
Are They Harder To Find?
This is the only area where right handed guitarists win. Far more right handed guitars are available then left, and more often than not your local store will only stock a small handful of southpaw models for you to try out.
This means that as a lefty guitar player you’re probably going to be doing most of your shopping online where the choice is much richer. The good news is that online the options are almost endless. You’ll find that there are plenty of left handed guitars to choose from – besides, just how many guitars do you actually need? And when a brand doesn’t offer the guitar you want in a left handed version, there is usually a bunch of others who will offer something similar or better.
It’s also worth pointing out that the situation is improving. In the 10 years I’ve been running this site there has definitely been a rise in the number of left handed guitars on offer. Hopefully this will be a trend that carries on in the years to come!
Which Way Should You Play?
So now that you know the difference between a right handed guitar and a left handed guitar, you might be wondering which of these two you should be picking for yourself. The honest answer is that everyone is different, but read our article here for a little helping hand in deciding.
If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me an email.