Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Learning How To Play The Guitar

I've been through this subject of left handed guitar playing before but never went into much detail. The question is this. I'm left handed, I don't want to force myself to play right handed and I don't want to play a left handed guitar, so how can I learn how to play my own way? Or the question could be this. I want to play left handed but I only have access to a right handed guitar, how do I learn? All I can do is offer my own experience.

I was about eight years old when I first saw a real guitar as far as I remember. My older cousin owned one and was taking lessons. I loved the sound. A couple of years later, my father brought home an old F hole guitar that he borrowed from a friend. He intended for my older brother to learn how to play, but he showed no interest. Though the guitar only had five strings I picked it up when no one was around. This was in the mid 60's. I began playing melodies on a single string. I knew a lot of songs because my family owned lots of 45RPM and 33RPM records. I didn't have a clue about tuning or what chords were. I just played familiar melodies left handed on a single string. My father eventually had to return the worn out guitar.

My parents knew that I always wanted a guitar but with six kids they weren't rich and couldn't play favorites, but they did what they could. When I was in 7th grade they bought me a cheap single pickup electric guitar for Christmas. No amp. At about this time I was buying songbooks with chord diagrams. I never tried to play right handed. I was learning about Jimi Hendrix around this time and adopted his method of switching the strings around on a right handed guitar. I learned a few basic chords but found others more difficult or impossible to play. I lost interest and quit playing mostly because I had no amp to actually listen to the guitar.

The next Christmas my parents bought me an acoustic guitar, another cheap department store model but I didn't care. Instead of switching the strings like a left handed guitar, I decided to try to learn how to play upside down. I had plenty of music books with chord diagrams and directions for how to properly tune the guitar. I finally learned how to tune. I was learning songs from Peter, Paul, an Mary and David Gates And Bread to name a couple that I remember. I could now play all of the basic chords, but that cheap guitar was hard to play with the high action on the fingerboard. I quit playing again and concentrated on high school band. I was also playing Alto Sax at this time. Another reason that I gave up the guitar was because I was embarrassed that I didn't have a brand name instrument.

I started playing again at around age 20 when My brother bought a Sigma guitar and let me play it. Everything that I had taught myself earlier came back to me, so I got my own guitar and haven't quit since then. After a couple of years, I decided to find someone to give me "Fingerpicking" lessons. I found a teacher who was willing to teach a left handed upside down guitar player and took several lessons, enough to learn basic fingerpicking, then I went back out on my own.

If you want to learn how to play a right handed guitar left handed, you may have to do it on your own like I did. It can be taught by a teacher, but most aren't willing to do it. I was lucky to find one who took it as a challenge. He can put me on his resume', though I only took a few lessons, he did help me. I've offered to give lessons in past articles but I don't see it as feasible anymore due to lack of interest. I've only had a few replies and have actually only recorded a few lessons. Must be in my delivery. I don't know.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How To Find A Left Handed Guitar

For Real Left Handed Guitar Players

Yes this post is for real left handed guitar players who want to know how to find a left handed guitar, and an extension of my last post. Of course you can use this info if you play upside down and want to restring a left handed electric guitar like I discussed before.

The reason that there are fewer left handed guitars is obvious, there are fewer left handed people. In the old days it was nearly impossible to find a left handed guitar at the local music store unless you lived in a large city. They usually had to be ordered and took weeks to get, but things have changed.

Vintage Guitar Stores

This may be the easiest and cheapest way to find a guitar. There are more vintage guitar stores than ever within driving distance for most people. They sell used guitars and sometimes you can barter for a price. Some of these guitars will be as expensive as a new one especially high end models like Martin or Taylor. They may have one or two left handed models in the store but the choices will still be narrow.Chain stores like Guitar Center offer a wide variety of new and used guitars. Your chances of finding a left handed model in stock are good.The Internet has many easy to find web sites that deal in left handed guitars. There are only a couple of problems when ordering over the Internet. You can't hold the guitar before putting out your money. You can't inspect it and play it first. You can't barter or trade in an old guitar. You must pay shipping and repay shipping if you return it. Most of these web sites give you three days to return the guitar if it doesn't suit you, and offer to pay return shipping if it arrives damaged. Some will not refund your money but offer a store credit. Most of these sites offer reasonable prices that are comparable to right handed guitar prices.I've never seen a left handed guitar in a pawn shop. My guess is that they don't buy them because it would be difficult to resell.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Myth. It's Too Expensive/ How To Find A Left Handed Guitar/ Electric Guitars

When I was first learning how to play the guitar I had a cheap department store acoustic. It was a right handed guitar, so I filed the nut and saddle and restrung it for left handed playing. I tried to learn how to play left handed and maybe I just didn't give it enough time to get used to it but eventually gave up. I went to a music store that was owned by a friend and asked how to find a left handed guitar. He didn't have any in stock and said that it would take several weeks to get one. There also wasn't much of a choice back then. That was in 1981. I bought a right handed Takamine off the shelf on credit.

I used the Takamine to teach myself how to play upside down. After about a year with the Takamine I traded it in for a Martin. I have been playing Martins ever since. During that time a friend loaned me a right handed electric Les Paul. I fiddled around with it somewhat but never felt comfortable with it with the knobs being on the top of the body. They interfered with my picking hand. I'll talk more about electric guitars in a minute.

I read guitar forums occasionally and talk with other guitar players. Whenever the subject of left handed guitars comes up I read or hear the same comment. They are more expensive. That is a myth. It may have been true in 1981 but with the Internet where you can get most anything, I just don't see expense as being the case. You can even find cheap Basses on the Internet. For you strictly left handed guitar players (not upside down players like myself), Who don't know how to find a left handed guitar, there are plenty of web sites that sell them at reasonable prices. Most may be used but who cares. Sometimes used is better. Any Thing Left Handed is a site that provides links to several guitar sales sites. Southpaw Guitars may be the the one stop site to go to if you're looking for a left handed guitar. If you can find a quality left handed guitar for under $1000, that's a good thing. The two web sites mentioned above can do that. As for electric guitars, I get e-mails asking if this site is for acoustic only because of the title of the blog. I only use the word acoustic for the search engines, and I play an acoustic guitar so I know more about them than electric guitars. It doesn't imply that this is an acoustic site only. Which brings us to the problems of playing a right handed electric guitar left handed upside down. The dreadful knobs. They will most likely be on top of the guitar body where your hand and wrist are positioned. You will inadvertently turn the knobs while playing or they will just be in your way. Also there's a problem with the cord if it's plugged in the front of the guitar. It will be in the way. The cord problem can be fixed pretty easily by running it to the back of the body and securing it with ol' reliable duct tape. The knobs are a different story. When I played the electric guitar for a short period, I made sure that I was aware of the knobs and avoided touching them while playing. It takes getting used to but it can be done.

A more expensive way to customize an electric guitar for playing left handed upside down is to buy a left handed guitar and restring it for right handed playing. Problem solved. The great bluesman Albert King did this. You are playing comfortably and the knobs and chord are on the bottom of the body where they should be.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thanks For The Support

When I started this left handed blog a year and a half ago, I really didn't know what to write about. I thought that I would only have enough information to write a couple of posts, but here we are at 33 articles and getting bigger. I hope someone has benefited from at least one post.

I started writing this blog to share my experiences as a musician who plays the guitar in an unorthodox way, left handed upside down with a right handed guitar. I've since found that there are many "closet lefty's" out there from my e-mails and comments section. There are also many beginners who want to play the guitar left handed. I've said many times that the decision is up to you beginners. I have never said that you should play this way or that it is better than the alternatives. This is actually the alternative. The standard way to play the guitar is either by playing a right handed guitar right handed, or by buying a made for left handed guitar. Left handed guitars aren't as expensive as you may think. They're easy to find on the Internet. I would prefer to test drive one first which you can't do on the Internet.

I've had my share of criticism for not going with the fold and simply learning to play right handed or using a left handed guitar. It's too late. I've been playing upside down for thirty years and that ain't gonna change now. Just an aside for you guys who like to leave comments with snide remarks and a link to your guitar site. It won't be published. If you want a link from me just send an e-mail and ask. It's that easy. You don't have to Spam the comments section. I usually allow links from comments but I can tell when it's a phony comment just for the purpose of leaving a back link.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I want to thank my regular readers for their support and I hope that you are learning something. You don't have to go with the flow if you don't want to. If you have a particular problem let me know and maybe I can help. I didn't have help when I was learning because people looked on my style of playing the guitar as a novelty. I'm not the only one out there anymore because the Internet is bringing us together. Another note to the naysayers. We are not complaining or claiming to have a disadvantage. One more thing. This blog was rated number 24 of the 100 best guitar blogs on the Internet by the web site Street Musician based on Technorati and Alexa ratings, (as I pat myself on the back).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Left handed E-Mails

Well folks, I screwed up. I was going to publish several e-mails that I have received from left handed musicians asking different questions about playing a right handed guitar left handed upside down. I think that you can learn a lot from these Q and A's but I deleted most of them. I don't know how or when but they're gone. I did manage to save a few so I hope they help.

Kurt Say's

I have now read all your blogs and I am even more inspired to play upside down than ever. I have tried to play when I was younger, but was told that wasn't how a guitar was played. So, I never picked it up again. Now I have the chance to meet some extremely good guitarists in my genre of music and I really want to be able to play to some level that they are. Of course, I am 45 and learning how to play, but I read and have written music so I have the concepts of music down. Now I want to make it practical.
Having had to adjust my entire life to the "right" way of doing things. As a natural lefty, I have learned to play golf right-handed and in the game of baseball I throw left and I switch hit at bat. Because I grew up with pencils in grade school, I have taught myself how to write backwards and upside down so as not to get the lead all over my hand. I even tie my shoes right-handed. I am the only one in my family that is left-handed, so tackling and perfecting and upside-down, right-handed guitar is my new goal in life. Thanks for the pics of the basic chords, I will definitely be referring to them over and over again.

My Answer

I know what you mean by adapting to a right handed world. I recently
injured my right wrist. I am used to opening doors with my right hand to
turn the door knob. With an injured wrist I now have to use my left hand
to turn the knob. Being left handed I naturally turn the knob to the left
which causes my knuckles to rub against the door jamb which makes it
difficult to turn the door knob completely. Only one example.

Again Kurt says

I have been looking into ways to make my guitar learning experience a bit
more enjoyable. I ran upon this website where the guitar has small LEDs
in the fretboard to assist with the fingering of the basic chords and some
of the advanced chords as well.I consider you an authority on the left-hander playing the right-hander upside-down. Do you think that this would be a useful learning tool? It sure does make it look possible.
Also, I read somewhere that a pick guard on the top of the body may be a
useful addition to playing upside-down. What are your thoughts?

My Answer

The price looks right, but it is a gadget. I wouldn't expect a great sound
out of it. $400 is a decent price for a starter guitar but like I said
it's a gadget so more emphasis was taken into the electronics instead of
sound quality. And it could break. I would spend $200 on a used Takamine
instead.
As far as the pick guard, yes because left handed upside down players tend
to use a broad upstroke and less of a down stroke so leave it on. Plus
people can tell that you are playing upside down with the pick guard on
top.

Lynnette says

Mr. Willis, do you have any pictures of chords played left handed and upside down on the mandolin? I play a left handed guitar and have been fooling around with a mandolin but I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know whether to get it restrung or what.

My Answer

Hi Lynnette, I fool around with the mandolin a little too and also play it
upside down. I don't have any pictures and don't consider myself a
mandolin expert but find it fairly easy to make basic cords.
I just look at a standard chord chart for mandolin as a basis and use
whatever fingers that I can on my right hand to make the chords. Most of
the basic mandolin chords only require two or three fingers.
Try playing it upside down before you restring it. Learn the basic G, C,
and D chords. If you can chop those three chords for 4 or 8 beats each
before changing, you can probably teach yourself to play.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How To Convert A Right Handed Guitar For Left Handed Playing

Don't be confused by the title of this post. This is not a "how to restring your guitar to play left handed" directions post and has nothing to do with switching your guitar strings around. That would be too much work, and to the inexperienced may require a skilled luthier or repairman because it would require changing the bridge and nut.

If you play or plan to learn to play left handed and not use a left handed guitar there are only a couple of modifications that you would need to make with your guitar, and they aren't really necessary. First is the guitar strap button located on the heel of the guitar. That is on the back where the neck joins the body. If you hold a right handed guitar in the left handed position you will see that the strap button is probably located on top of the heel. That can be awkward if you use a strap because the strap can easily slip off possibly causing you to drop the guitar. Remove the strap button by unscrewing it with a screwdriver if it is the screw-in type. Replace it either to the back of the heel or the bottom of the heel. This way the strap will hold firmly on the guitar.

Another modification that a left handed guitar player playing a right handed guitar may want to make is with the pick guard. As you hold the guitar in the left handed position the pick guard will be located on top of the sound hole. It should be on the bottom. Again, this may require a repairman to do the job but if you prefer, you can buy a pick guard for a left handed guitar and glue it on yourself, but a repairman can insure that it won't come unglued or curl up. If you strum a lot like most beginners do you may want to install a pick guard onto the bottom of the sound hole to avoid scratching up the guitar. I don't use a pick guard on the bottom because I mostly pick the strings and consider the few scratches that I do have as battle scars. Again these aren't requirements but the changes that you make will customise the guitar for the left handed guitar player playing a right handed guitar upside down. This method of left handed guitar isn't dominated by any style of music or type of guitar. It can be used with an electric guitar as well, with a few further modifications. I use an acoustic because I prefer it. You can play any style of music from Celtic to hard rock.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being Left Handed

Remember pay phones? There are still a few around. Have you ever used a pay phone left handed? If you have then you know about the cord of the phone brushing against your face as you hold the receiver against your left ear. That's just one example of how everyday products are made for a right handed world.

I'm getting away from the guitar in this post to talk about this subject that I have brushed upon (no pun intended) in previous posts. left handed people using right handed products. We use right handed products every day so why not the right handed guitar?

I like to fire shot guns. I don't own a shot gun but if I did I would have to buy a left handed model. The reason is that when the shell discharges, it comes out of the right side of the rifle whizzing past my face. It could cause injury to the face and eye. I have done it before and was lucky that I wasn't hurt. That's how I found out about it. If you hold the rifle right handed, there is plenty of room for the discharging shell to clear your head.

Composition books are my biggest problem with the springlike binder on the left of the page. As you begin to write, your left hand sits on top of the spring interfering with your penmanship. I have to turn the page and write on the back side where the holes are on the right, or just start writing from the last page and turning the pages backwards. If the reader doesn't like it, too bad, I'm just adapting to a right handed world.

My favorite is power tools. I use them a lot and they are all built for right handed users. The safety triggers use a button usually situated on the side of the grip to the left of the trigger. A right handed person simply mashes the button with their thumb to engage the trigger. I either reach over and push the button with my right hand or shift the palm of my left hand to cover and push the button. I'm not complaining. I've done it so many times that I'm good at it. Chain saws can be dangerous because the bar and chain are situated for a right handed user. A left handed user can get excess debris on their body and face. I always wear goggles.

Older water fountains were made with the button on the left. That's no problem unless you are carrying books in your left hand, then you have to either switch the books to your right hand or cross you hand over to get a drink. The newer ones have the button on both sides. That's some progress.

I haven't even begun to list things that are not made for the left handed person. Scissors, can openers, hand tools, watches etc. Sure you can buy left handed versions of most things these days but why should you have to? Why should I have to buy a left handed guitar? We have been in a right handed mindset throughout history. Being left handed was not acceptable in the past for religious and cultural reasons. In ancient Egypt, artwork was found in tombs that showed their enemies as left handed. In religious art, Jesus and God are almost always drawn giving blessings with their right hand, and the Devil is portrayed doing evil with his left hand. In many traditional Muslim cultures, it is impolite to touch food with the left hand.

So naturally being left handed has been seen as an oddity throughout history and has been ignored by manufacturers of products to the point that it's too late to retool and make things ambidexrous. Why should they since we buy them anyway?

No, I don't need a left handed guitar. I'll play my right handed guitar backwards just like I write backwards on the composition book. I can even play vintage guitars with no problem. More about the guitar in my next post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How I Became A Left Handed Guitar Player Playing Upside Down

I am a self taught left handed guitar player. I play a right handed guitar upside down. I don't play left handed guitar in the general term. I was born left handed but am somewhat ambidextrous. I write strictly left handed but can write right handed on a blackboard where my wrist is free to move and I don't have to pull the letters. I can form letters on paper with my right hand but cannot pull them to the right. I am used to pushing the pencil to the right.

When I was learning to write, I had a couple of teachers who tried to convince me to write right handed, but never went to any extreme to make me conform and they eventually gave up. I won.

Sports were different. I was and still am stronger in my right arm but more coordinated with my left. I throw a baseball with my left arm but hit a baseball right handed. I can't catch a baseball with my right hand like most left handed people do, so a left handed baseball glove never did me any good. I used a right handed baseball glove and after catching the ball, I threw the glove off and threw the ball with my left hand. Talk about being conflicted! No wonder I never joined Little League. I couldn't be left, right, or both. I was stuck in the middle.

I used to arm wrestle and was pretty good at it. I used my right arm because it was stronger. My opponents were an easy mark because they all knew that I was left handed and thought that they had an advantage. I would even ask them ahead of time if they wanted to arm wrestle left or right handed. They always chose right handed which was the wrong decision because I could always beat them.

My parents had six kids and put us all through some type of music lessons when we were old enough. They bought me a violin when I was nine years old. I don't think that they make left handed violins, at least the one that I got was right handed. I learned to play the violin right handed which was a little rough but I was able to bow with the right hand and finger with the left. I only took lessons for two years before I was forced to stop because my school grades were bad and my elementary school teacher had me dropped from the school sponsored lessons. This was in the 60's. I have a violin now that I fool around with and still play it right handed.

The first time that I was exposed to a real guitar was when my father brought home an old guitar that a friend had loaned him. It only had four or five strings on it and he intended for my older brother to learn how to play it. My brother wasn't interested, but I picked it up right away. I forgot everything that I had learned from the violin and started holding the guitar left handed. This is where I began learning how to play left handed with a right handed guitar. I knew nothing about tuning the guitar but began picking out melodies of popular songs on a single string. People would sit around and listen to me. They were impressed.

A couple of years went by and my parents bought me a cheap department store guitar with all six strings. Imagine that! Now I can learn chords. I still didn't know how to tune the guitar. I restrung the guitar so that I could play like a real left handed guitarist and got a music book with directions for how to tune the guitar. We had several music books around the house because the other kids were playing band instruments. Some of them had guitar chord diagrams but no guitar chords for left handed players. I taught myself how to chord to some melodies to songs that I already knew, so I knew how the melody should sound. I knew how to tune the strings together but not how to properly tune in key so I had a hard time playing along with other instruments. I eventually learned how to tune by ear, but that was years later.By the time I was twelve years old my parents bought me an electric guitar. It was another department store guitar but I didn't mind. The only problem was that they didn't get an amp to go with it. They didn't know that it needed an amp. I switched the strings around again so that I could play left handed guitar. I had a couple of friends who had guitar amps, so I would ride my bicycle to their house with my electric guitar in hand and use theirs. I loved the sound that the amps made but learned very little more than I already knew because I spent so much time playing with the effects and distortion on the amp.

I stopped playing the guitar and was learning clarinet in school. I later went on to alto sax. I played baritone sax for a short time. I didn't have a hard time learning these instruments because both hands are used equally to some extent.

I didn't play the guitar at all during high school but did play the alto sax in the high school band. In the mean time my younger brother was learning the guitar. A few years after high school my brother bought a Sigma acoustic guitar and a couple of vintage electric guitars. He let me play them but they were right handed guitars. We had several song books with chord diagrams and I taught myself how to make the chords upside down. It worked out great. I could play a right handed guitar without changing the strings around. After I knew that this was the way that I was going to play from now on I bought myself a right handed Takamine guitar and an electronic guitar tuner. I was actually playing real songs in the right key. I was playing a lot of Neil Young, Jimmy Buffett etc., easy three chord songs. I taught myself all of the major chords. I didn't really have any trouble with them being lefty upside down. In fact, they seemed easier than when the strings were switched. I learned a little harp, got a harp rack like Dylan and started playing troubadour at parties. I could sing, strum chords and blow the harp, but I wanted more.

I met a friend who I hadn't seen in a few years who learned that I was playing the guitar. He told me that he also played. He was into bluegrass music, something that I knew nothing about. He invited me over to his house to "pick" with him and that's when things began to change. He taught me guitar rhythm parts to a few fiddle tunes while he played lead. He called the lead part "flat picking". I wanted to learn how to flat pick. I started listening to Doc Watson, Clarence White, Norman Blake and any other flat picking record that I could find. I started going to bluegrass festivals and learning one on one from veteran guitar pickers. I brought a tape recorder and recorded people playing the lead guitar parts slow, then go home and learn it myself. I taught myself how to read guitar tabulator and bought several music books to learn more. Soon I was figuring out songs by ear without the books.

I'm not the only left handed upside down guitar player in the world. I've heard of many, some famous people who play in this manner. There may be hundreds or thousands. I don't know. I do know that I get quite a few responses from this blog from people who either play or want to learn how to play the left handed guitar on a right handed instrument. I began writing my own music six years ago and have a completed CD of original music which can be purchased by clicking the button on the side bar. If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Ben Willis demonstrating the "left handed upside down guitar method".


A chord

B Chord

C Chord

D Chord

E Chord

F Chord

G Chord

B Barre Chord

D Barre Chord

Contact Info

E-mail Ben Willis at
bwillismusic@gmail.com