I recently had the absolute pleasure of having the opportunity to read through what is undeniably THE definitive study of the world of the left handed guitarist. Uncommon Sound : The Left Handed Guitar Players who Changed the World, written by John Engel should be on every serious guitar fanatic’s bookshelf.
When these books first arrived at the office I was initially taken aback by the weight of the package. Had I accidentally been sent two or three copies? Nope! Uncommon Sound is a substantial product that weighs in at a whopping 7.7kg (17 pounds in old money) according to my bathroom scales. This isn’t an item you’d want to carry home on foot (like I did!).
The first thing you’ll notice before opening the books is the effort that has gone into their presentation. They are contained within a beautifully printed and incredibly robust display folder which in itself will look great in your bookcase. That is, if you have a bookshelf large enough to accommodate them (unlike me!).
The books are colour coded to help differentiate between the two. The red book focuses on players from the worlds of rock, pop, punk, reggae and metal, whilst the blue book details R&B, jazz, folk, blues, country and world music guitarists. Each book very thoughtfully contains a built in bookmark – which you will need, because there’s no way you’re reading one of these behemoths in a single sitting!
From the sheer size of the books you would think that they probably contain mostly image based content, but you’d be wrong. Whilst they do contain plenty of high quality images, the content is mainly text based. Each book is about 400 pages long and over a foot tall – a substantial amount of work has gone into the making of Uncommon Sound.
Also included inside the package is a CD which contains music from a select number of artists contained within the books – a nice touch.
Inside the Books
Each book follows the same format. The introductory chapters talk about left handed guitarists and left handed people in general. I particularly enjoyed the first chapter in the blue book which quizzed well respected guitar teachers about their stances on left handed players. Here is a great quote from Bruce Dickinson, head of the 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.
I like this guy!
After the brief introductory chapters the main bulk of the book begins – the artist biographies. This section makes up almost the entire book and generally consists of between 4-6 pages which detail the lives and achievements of each guitarist. Each of the two books contain a dizzying number of artists, complete with high quality imagery of press shots, gigging photos and album artwork. Even after running a website about left handed guitarists for several years I can safely say that I had previously heard of very few of the musicians that Engel chose to write about. Going through these biographies was a real eye opener for me!
The final 50 or so pages of each book is dedicated to showcasing some of the most incredible left handed guitars from years gone by. If you are anything like me you will have some serious G.A.S after ploughing through these sections!
Uncommon Sound by John Engel
THE definitive study of the world of the left handed guitarist. These books are just an absolute must have for any guitar fanatic’s bookshelf – left handed or otherwise.
At almost $200 Uncommon Sound is by no means a cheap product, but when you have the books in your hands it plainly becomes obvious that your money was well spent. A serious piece of literature for serious guitar enthusiasts.
Update : November 2017. I believe that the books are now out of print, so make sure to grab your copy before they’re gone for good. At the time of writing the books have been massively discounted, so there’s never been a better time to pick a set of these up. Check out the links below.