Why are left handed guitars more expensive?
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, sounds great! Seems like a new guitar day is on the cards! Nothing can spoil your excitement of 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 money to craft and are 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, and 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.
This means that bulk savings which 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 which 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 where the cost of left and right handed guitars are equal for all brands. For now we just 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.
Left Handed Guitars Are WORTH More
Look at it this way. If left handed guitars cost more, 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?
Just be happy that the option is there in the first place!