Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bill Staines - Upside Down Guitar Player

Not only is Bill Staines a great singer/songwriter, but he is a superb left handed guitar player. He plays a right handed guitar, left handed upside down. The same way that I play and that's what this blog is all about.

I first heard of Bill Staines in the mid-eighties after I had already been playing this style of guitar myself. I fell in love with his music and even taught myself how to play a couple of his tunes. He has a unique way of "finger picking" the guitar that he developed himself. I couldn't finger pick at the time and there was no YouTube videos to watch him play and maybe pick up on his technique, so a few years later I developed my own way of finger picking.

Different Left Handed Guitar Styles

From what I can see from videos, Bill uses a metal thumb pick to pick the high strings and maybe the bare index and middle fingers for bass and other notes. This looks like standard finger picking only upside down. Normally the thumb pick would play the bass notes. I remember myself trying to pick like this, only with metal picks on my index and middle fingers along with the metal thumb pick. It sounded too much like a banjo roll so I gave it up. I came up with a two finger method of playing left handed guitar with a right handed guitar. You could call it a two finger method but I actually use three fingers. I hold a regular flat pick between my thumb and index finger that I use to play high and middle strings. I use my bare middle finger to play bass notes. It's worked out pretty well for me.

Right Hand Thumb

While the right handed guitar player and the standard left handed guitar player use four fingers to make chords (leaving the thumb to rest) it looks like Bill uses his thumb to chord the high E string. Why didn't I think of that?

Below is a video of Bill Staines performing "Child Of Mine". Notice that he has pick guards on both sides of the sound hole.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Playing A Right Handed Bass Guitar Left Handed

I started playing the bass guitar, left handed of course about six years ago after I began writing my own music. I produced my first CD and needed a bass for the tracks. I had an old right handed electric bass laying around the house which I never played before, and decided to fix it up and take a stab at playing the bass guitar myself. It was missing a string and the nut was broken. I installed a new nut and replaced the string.

I had never played the electric bass before but did have a little experience with the upright fretless bass. Making the transition from a fretted guitar to a fretted bass guitar wasn't as easy as I thought, but much easier because I am a guitar player. Just imagine you're playing the bottom four strings of a guitar, but try to not play chords. It's much easier to play a right handed upside down bass guitar left handed when playing single notes.

The problem that I had and still have is remembering the notes to play to correspond with the chords that the regular guitar is playing. I had to constantly put the bass down and pick up my acoustic guitar to find the fingerings and try to memorise them. Once I had the song memorised I could then start recording. It worked out OK but don't ask me to improvise on the bass. I can play my own music on the bass, but I am by no means a real bass player.

There are several video bass lessons available on YouTube and I use them when I have time and am in the mood for it. I've learned a few intros to popular songs but haven't taken it much further yet.

Other Left Handed Instruments

About 20 years ago I took a stab at playing the banjo. The one that I owned was right handed. This may be the most difficult instrument to play left handed upside down only because of the 5th string peg. It gets in the way and you have to work around it. I decided to play it right handed. I started out doing pretty well but couldn't get used to playing right handed so I eventually lost interest and sold the banjo. You can find left handed banjos now on the Internet where the 5th string peg is on top of the neck.

I also play the right handed mandolin left handed upside down. Like the bass, I use it to accompany my music and I play very little lead. I mostly chop chords. You can buy a left handed mandolin. I'm not sure if they make a left handed violin but it's possible. I play a little fiddle, right handed. They even make left handed drum sets. You could possibly build your own drum set by checking the Internet looking for cheap drum sets. I highly doubt that you can find a left handed piano but I don't see a problem or handicap for a left handed person who wants to play the piano.

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