Why are left handed guitars more expensive?
As left handed guitarists, we’ve all been there…
You walk into the local guitar store to check out the selection of lefties on offer. After spotting the model you clocked on the website earlier in the day you take it to the booth for a quick test drive.
It’s perfect! Looks great, plays great, and sounds great! Seems like a new guitar day is on the cards! Nothing can spoil your excitement about getting a shiny new axe.
Then you notice that the right-handed version hanging next to it is $50 cheaper… You knew this was a part of southpaw life before you signed up, but it’s still a bit of a kick in the teeth!
So why is it the case that lefties sometimes cost a little more than their right handed brethren? Let’s take a look!
Why Are Left Handed Guitars More Expensive?
Left handed guitars are generally more expensive than their right handed counterparts because they often require additional time and therefore money to craft. Lefty guitars are also produced in much lower numbers which is far less economical.
Unfortunately, this means that left handed guitars can cost more to produce per unit, and this additional expense is often reflected in the retail price.
Roughly 12% of the world is left handed, but how many of those play guitar that way as well? 2%? Less? So, to remain economically viable most big brands will produce a far smaller number of lefties than righties, choosing just a few of their most popular models.
This means that bulk savings that can be applied to manufacturing right handed guitars are far less when crafting lefty guitars. Obviously, this is going to have a much bigger impact on larger brands that mass produce when compared to smaller names and independent luthiers.
To give you an example, a brand focused on rock and metal might equip many of their guitars with Floyd Rose-style tremolo systems. This means that they can buy a huge number of tremolos and enjoy a healthy discount from the manufacturer/distributor on their bulk purchase.
Since they will probably offer a much smaller range of left handed guitars, they won’t be able to viably buy the same number of left handed tremolos, so they will end up costing more per unit.
And because the tremolo manufacturer sells less left handed models, the cost per unit of these will probably already be higher than the right handed version before you even factor in bulk discounts.
Multiply this over the several ‘flipped’ bits of hardware needed for a left handed guitar and you can begin to understand why the southpaw axes are generally a little more pricey.
I spoke with a Fender representative who told me the following:
There are many factors that go into the construction of left handed models. Bridges, nuts, pickguards, pickups all are required to be reconfigured for LH orientation.
The number of guitars proposed to be built as well, the additional cost must be distributed among the number of units, the less units produced, the more cost absorbed into each guitar.
Another factor that contributes to why left handed guitars cost more is the time and money spent on retooling and reprogramming CNC machinery.
I spoke with a representative from PRS who told me the following:
Retooling costs is a huge consideration when introducing any new product to the market. The cost of the retooling must be amortized over a length of time and the number of units produced.
Since lefty models tend to sell at about 1/10 of the rate of right handed instruments, the amortized cost of the tooling on a lefty is considerably higher than that of a right handed model.
I also contacted Schecter who told me that:
The main reason is that you have to make a completely different jig for a left handed guitar since it is a mirror-image of the righty version. It simply adds to labor costs.
Additional Human Costs
Over time a craftsperson will become very efficient at completing their part of the production process.
For a luthier or employee who spends probably 90% or more of their time building right handed instruments, having to suddenly perform tasks mirrored can really slow down production time. I mean, it probably takes me double the time just to restring a right handed guitar!
I spoke with a helpful PRS employee who was able to give me some interesting insights into this:
Building lefty models also requires more time because of the uniqueness of the instruments. With 90% of the guitars being righty models, people get used to the choreography of movements needed to complete the job. When building lefty models, that muscle memory just isn’t there, so the process just takes longer.
I started with PRS 19 years ago as a body sander. A lefty took about 30% longer to sand than a righty, just because of the muscle memory wasn’t there and the process didn’t flow as smoothly as sanding a righty model.
Will They ALWAYS Cost More?
As manufacturing methods advance perhaps we could see a time when the cost of left and right handed guitars are equal for all brands.
For now, we have to live with the fact that some left handed options are going to cost more than their right handed counterparts.
Keep in mind that many brands do not charge extra for left handed models. For example Suhr told me that since they run a ‘build to order’ business model and treat each guitar as an individual instrument, there is no additional cost involved in making a lefty.
Plenty of other brands do not upcharge for lefties, for example Squier, Fender, ESP Ltd, Gibson USA, Taylor and Martin to name just a few big players.
Left Handed Guitars Are WORTH More
Look at it this way. If left handed guitars cost more in the first place, they are also worth a little more! You’ll pay a little extra to own the guitar, but you’ll also most likely get a little more back if you ever sell it.
For example, looking at a popular guitar like the Squier Classic Vibe 50s Telecaster on eBay we can clearly see that the lefty regularly sells for roughly 10% more than the righty.
So when all is said and done, it doesn’t really bother this southpaw! At the end of the day would you rather pay a little extra for a guitar or have no guitar at all?
I’m just happy that the option is there in the first place!
Responses From Other Brands
Here are a few more responses I received from various other brands who were kind enough to give me some insight into their left handed ranges.
This insider information might further help you to understand why, sometimes, it can be hard to find a left handed guitar.
Costs and demand are both of the reasons why we don’t make many left handed guitars. When we go to build our left handed guitars, the whole factory literally needs to be shut down and re-tooled. The machines that cut the bodies, necks, and pick guards all have to be reprogrammed to do so. Even some parts of those machines need to be changed.
Once they are built, they will go to our warehouse and if they are not sold right away, it costs us money to keep them on the shelf in the warehouse. In other words, it wouldn’t make financial sense to build “x” amount of guitars and have them sit on a shelf for “x” amount of time. We try to look at market demand and see what lefty players would use the most.
Tom Anderson Guitars
We offer most everything we do left handed at the same price as right handed even though in most cases the outsourced guitar parts cost more because we buy them in smaller quantities. I always felt bad that lefties had to pay more for the same product, but i’m sure if I had to justify to bean counters we would not make them.
For all the in house made parts, which is most of the guitar, it really isn’t any harder to make right or left handed parts if the tooling is made to do both. There lies the rub. It is often hard to justify the time spent on a fixture or program you’re only going to occasionally use. If you were talking about high production you could be talking about much more expensive tooling that might be even harder to justify. Of our 800 or so guitars a year that we make, only 30 or so are left handed.
The other x factor about anything you don’t do often or make lots of is that it usually takes longer to do everything when you have to “relearn” every time you do it. So the labor of a left handed guitar is higher to go along with the potentially higher material costs.
All our guitar bodies are cut using computer controlled machinery. The computers must be re-programmed to cut left handed models. On acoustic guitars, all the internal braces have to be reversed. Electronic parts and smaller parts such as nuts and saddles must also be reversed.
We only offer basic models in LH versions as basic models are usually our best sellers. That’s why we don’t offer any high-end LH models.
For us to produce our entire line in LH versions, we’d have to increase the price tag of all our models (including non LH models) to cover for the expenses. It’s not something we wish to do at this time.
Another concern is that our factories are currently at 100% production, so producing more LH guitars would slow down the production of other models.
Basically it is down to cost and demand. Manufacturers need volume in order to produce economically. All CNC machinery and tooling has to be set up completely differently when making LH models. The cost is higher on electrics and basses than acoustics as the bracing pattern and bridges just need to be reversed.
We choose the most popular models RH to make LH but usually restrict colour options due to small demand. Cort try to manufacture all LH models 3 times a year in order to produce the quantity.
Production costs are generally 10% to 15% more for LH models.
However, large manufacturers like Cort (we are actually the biggest with nearly 20% of world sales) do realise that LH players do offer a market area worth providing for and will offer LH models in pretty much everything as long as the Distributors in the various countries order in large enough quantities usually a minimum of 60 to 100 pieces.
The answer I’m sure you’ll be getting or have gotten already from most manufactures regarding the availability of lefty models is mostly down to the cost of production and the fact that there are more players out there righty than lefty, or at least willing to play a righty model. Lefty guitars require a different string setup between the nut and bridge. Also, as many acoustic guitars are a cutaway body in today’s markets, this means added costs of production to replicate these cuts ‘flip-flopped’ to the other side.
I’m not sure of the exact difference in costs since all of that is on our factory level, but as far as choosing which models are offered in leftys, it is based on the more popular and standard righty models. Many manufacturers that offer customized models are generally more adapted to produce any lefty model imaginable, but it is at the custom outfitted price.
I cannot speak for other companies but Martin Guitar does offer our entire product line left handed at no additional cost.
The things we change on the body to make a guitar left handed are reversing the bracing on the top, reversing the pickguard on the top, reversing the cutaway on the sides, and reversing the saddle on the bridge.
On the neck we have to reverse side dots and slot the nut for left hand playing.
When we create a model the research cost must be sprayed over the number of instrument sold. If the amount is small, then it makes it impossible to recover these costs.
Other problems are parts, for example, the bridge, have to be made specially and it cost a lot to make small series.
Another aspect to take into consideration is the manufacture tools. Even if today one part of the production is made with a CNC, a lot of tools must be specially designed per models, which increases the price, if you cannot spray the cost over normal sales it makes it impossible to produce.
Finally when we decide for a left hand model, it is usually because we think this model will fit most of the musician.
For us the issue is a non-issue because we offer everything we make in a left handed version, regardless of expense and without additional cost. We believe that anything else is in essence discrimination. For some models the cost is huge! And we’ll literally spend 2000-3000 dollars to make one $2000 instrument. With Larrivee, lefties usually just face a larger delay than their right handed counterparts. This is because right handed models are stocked, where as the lefties often have to be pulled from production to ensure a fresh un-aged guitar.
Acoustic non cutaways are extremely easy to make lefty, because no special tooling or minimal tooling is required. Cutaway lefties require new tooling to be built for the cutaway. The tooling is usually in the form of CNC jigs, or medium density fiberboard jigs.
Electric lefties are far more challenging because we don’t manufacturer all the parts ourselves. We have limitations of other manufacturers. For example, potentiometer manufacturers do not manufacture long shaft lefty pots, so we have to custom make the pots. Also plastic injection mold companies don’t want to make lefty knobs, etc. We had to do A LOT of research and duplicate left handed versions of ALL of our jigs. It was a $30000 endeavour.
Mandolins we also extremely complex because of their 3d curves.
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- Should You Play Guitar Left or Right Handed?
- Famous Left Handed Guitarists
- 9 Left Handed Guitar Advantages
- 8 Left Handed Guitar Disadvantages
- The Best Lefty Guitar Stores In The World!
How Much Does A Left Handed Guitar Cost?
A left handed guitar can cost anywhere from less than a hundred dollars for a budget model, to many thousands for a custom guitar. Price will depend on a variety of factors such as brand, the quality of materials used, as well as where in the world the instrument is built.
If you are new to guitar, check out my beginner left handed guitar guide for a selection of instruments that won’t break the bank.