Left-handed guitar players? More likely than you think! With approximately 10 to 15% of the population being left-handed, it comes as no surprise that several popular guitarists were and are left-handed. Probably the most famous one to name is Jimi Hendrix, who went down in history as one if not the most famous guitarist of all time – and being left-handed!
Now if you’re a newbie looking to pluck a few strings and make some music, then we’re here to walk you through the entire process from point zero.
Like the title suggests, an acoustic guitar is the best guitar to start practicing on, undifferenced whether you are left or right-handed.
What is an acoustic guitar?
An acoustic guitar is a musical instrument in the guitar family, that projects the sounds of its vibrating strings acoustically through the air.
Originally just called a guitar, the retronym 'acoustic guitar' came in use to distinguish it from an electric guitar, that relies on an electronic amplification system. The sound waves from the strings of an acoustic guitar resonate through the instrument's body, amplifying the sound.
Why is playing the acoustic guitar considered better? Why can I not start off with an electric one?
You can spend fewer dollars on your first instrument. An acoustic guitar comes at far cheaper rates than an electric one, which is perfect for beginners. Once you’ve broached the subject thoroughly (in this case, learned the guitar for a while), you can switch over to the guitar you want to continue playing on. The transition, I can assure you, will be nothing but smooth.
You’ll have fewer things to carry around- lesser wires, plugs and so on. Just you and your guitar propped up in its case.
You don’t have to worry about the technical aspects so much. With acoustic guitar, everything is easy: Take it out of the case, tune it and start playing. Why make your life any harder than that when you are first starting out? You have enough to worry about just learning to play the thing without having to figure out why your bridge won’t align correctly, or your amp isn’t working.
You can concentrate on the basics. Learning the acoustic guitar is the simplest way to start your training. Every other guitar would need enough accustoming, that will take time away from the actual learning.
What are the main parts of an acoustic guitar?
There are 14 major parts to an acoustic guitar that are as follows
Body: The body of an acoustic guitar is made up of the soundboard, or top, and the back and sides. The soundboard is the part that vibrates to produce sound, with the back and sides contributing to the tone as well.
From top to bottom, the body is divided into the upper bout, the waist, and the lower bout. Bouts are measured across the width of the guitar, with the lower bout being slightly larger than the upper bout.
Neck: The neck of the guitar projects from the main guitar body and includes the fretboard, frets, headstock, and the truss rod. Necks have different shapes, from more of a V shape to a C shape and every point in between.
Fret board: Laminated to the front of the neck is the fingerboard or fretboard, by far one of the most important parts to consider when selecting a guitar, as it affects comfort, playing style, and tone. It is generally made from a different type of wood as the back of the neck and is fretted.
Frets: Guitar frets are raised parts on the fingerboard of the guitar that extend across the full width of the neck, usually made of metal. Frets divide the guitar neck into equally spaced intervals, each fret representing one semitone of an octave.
Frets come in different shapes and types, and will wear over time, which makes fret maintenance important.
Position Markers: Guitars often have dots or custom marks inlaid into the fretboard as a visual aid to the player. These markers are usually on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth frets.
Nut: The thin piece of material that supports the strings on the end of the neck of the guitar closest to the headstock is called the nut. This important piece, usually made of ebony, ivory, brass, or synthetic materials, holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard and is notched to set the spacing between them.
Headstock: At the top of the neck is the headstock or peghead of the guitar, which holds the tuning pegs and keys that allow the guitar to be tuned.
Capstan: Capstans or string posts are cylinders on the headstock with a hole in the center through which guitar strings are inserted. They are connected to the whole of the machine head mechanism, traditionally mounted at the center of a pinion gear.
Tuners: Tuners or machine heads rotate the capstan to wind the string around it by way of a pinion gear and a worm gear, increasing or decreasing tension in the string to raise and lower pitch.
Sound Hole: Sound holes help with sound projection, though it is a misconception to think this is the main source of a guitar’s sound. The entire surface area of the guitar top, or soundboard, emanates sound, with the hole allowing the soundboard to freely vibrate, and acting as a sort of escape valve for vibrating air.
Rosette: The decorative inlaid pattern around the sound hole is called the “rosette”: originally a round, stylized flower or botanical design derived from the diminutive for “rose” in French. Rosette patterns range from modern and simple to ornate, and builders often choose a specific rosette design to help brand their lines.
Pick Guard: The pick guard or scratch plate of the guitar does exactly what its name indicates: protect the soundboard from being scratched or damaged by a pick. Pick guards can be made of any number of materials, such as mother of pearl or pearloid, plastic, metal, acrylic, and exotic woods. They are very thin so as not to reduce the vibration of the soundboard.
Bridge: The bridge of the guitar supports the strings and transmits their vibration to the soundboard. Strings produce a very low sound on their own because they displace only a tiny volume of air as they vibrate. The vibration of strings therefore needs to be conducted to a larger, resonant surface, and a bridge is the usual way of achieving this on stringed instruments.
Bridge Pins: Most steel string guitars use bridge pins to position the string precisely on the bridge. They are usually made of wood, bone, or synthetics. The material used affects the tone of the guitar, making it tend towards bass or treble.
Saddle: The guitar saddle is a thick piece of bone or plastic attached to the bridge that lifts the strings to the desired height and transfers vibration through the bridge to the soundboard. The height of the saddle raises or lowers “action”—the distance between your strings and the fingerboard.
Now that we’ve covered the basics on an acoustic guitar, lets jump into the left-handed guitarists and how they fit into this equation.
How is playing the acoustic guitar with your left hand any different from playing it with your right?
The most fascinating thing about left-handed guitar players is the fact that there are actually two ways of playing an acoustic guitar when it comes to lefties. For one, you can use a common guitar and just hold it with the neck to the right.
Consequently, this will lead to the bass string being at the top instead of at the bottom and the order of the strings being upside down, which will affect your learning experience as this technique requires you to learn the chord shapes upside down.
Obviously, if you’ve mastered this technique this will allow you to simply pick up any guitar your friends might offer you at a get-together and just get playing, which is a rather convenient perk of this method.
On the other hand, there are special guitars created for lefties which do have the standard order of strings while allowing you to hold the guitar the other way around. Even some right-handed guitar players choose to use these kinds of guitar, the most famous example probably being Paul McCartney.
What are the possible struggles I can face as a newbie learning the acoustic guitar?
As a left-handed person, you might encounter problems with finding an acoustic made solely for lefties, mastering the reach of keys and so on. Here are a few tips to help you out.
If you decide to go with a left-handed acoustic guitar, it is usually recommended that you buy a left-handed guitar, and not convert a right-handed guitar. However, if you have a guitar handed down in your family that just happens to be a right-handed one, there is no need to fret. If you do decide to have a right-handed guitar converted, don’t just restring it. Take it to a repair shop and have the nut recut and the bridge altered accordingly.
Finger placements on an acoustic guitar
If you start to feel any unnecessary tension or stress in your arms during your practice hours (fingers, back or neck), do not push yourself to keep going. You should stop to relax. Doing stretches can help you here too. Tension is not only dangerous for your health but can also slow down your playing.
With your left hand on the guitar, proper finger placement is right behind the fret. If while playing you notice your finger is in the middle or heading towards the back of the fret, you should try to move it up until it's close to the fret. This makes it easier to play clearer and cleaner notes.
Keep your ears open: listening carefully can help you to notice when you have incorrect finger placement. If you hear buzzing on a note, check your finger placement. A lot of the time a small adjustment will clear up any buzzing.
Remember as well to keep your left thumb in the middle of the back of the neck; this helps to reduce the amount of tension that can build up when playing.
A simple exercise to do to help with good finger placement can be to practice chord placement by individually placing your finger on each string one-by-one. This slow practice will help you to perfect your finger placement and develop a muscle memory for your chord patterns.
What makes the left-handed guitar any different?
There are few differences between a right-handed and a left-handed guitar, but they do make a big difference in the handling of the guitar. To begin with, the neck of a left-handed guitar is on the right side of the guitarist while that of a right-handed is on the left – that way it’s easy for you to recognize whether you’re looking at a left-handed or a right-handed guitar.
Another tell-tale indicator is the body of the instrument. Compared to a right-handed guitar, the body of a left-handed guitar is on the other side. Due to that, the cutaway is located underneath the high E string.
To complete the set-up of a left-handed guitar, you can find the turners on the opposite side of the headstock. That allows the player to use them comfortably.
Being aware of those major difference will allow you to make a more conscious choice of what kind of guitar will work best for you. Just with about any other instrument, it is crucial for you to find the most comfortable and effective version of the instrument for you. The more comfortable you feel, the higher your motivation to actually continue practicing.
How do I get started with buying an acoustic guitar?
A suggestion that most left-handed players will give you is to actually pay a visit to a physical store. Go in and ask the salesperson for assistance, pick an acoustic guitar, place it in position and strum a few notes with both your hands. This will help you fixate on your dominant hand, which is the first step in the overall process.
Another tip is to visit a music coaching/training center to do the same thing. The tutors there will have better idea on what you’re looking for and can help guide you in the right direction.
It is always good to remember that playing the guitar is an activity meant for both the hands. When starting out, the fretting hand (non-dominant) requires more strength and co-ordination than the picking hand (active, dominant hand).
With time and practice, you’d be able to alternate between both left and right-handed guitars. Need examples? Paul Simons and Glen Frey are two exceptional left-handed players who could alternate between their fretting and picking hand.
What are the things to be aware of?
It has to be mentioned that left-handed guitars come at a slightly higher price though – a factor that certainly is influential on the decision of many people. The difference in price is mainly based on the fact that the demand simply isn’t as great.
Additionally, innovation always comes at a cost. Taking both factors into consideration, the higher price of left-handed guitars is generated. Although, it will ultimately be the brand of the guitar that will be the actual decisive factor of the price as you browse for a new guitar, just like with many other popular products on the market. Before you invest in a guitar, it is highly suggested to try out a few models first to find out whichever works best for you as buying a guitar, especially if it’s your first, will certainly affect your learning process and possibly your progress, too.
Now that we’ve covered the basic, lets close this up with a quick note. Today with several options being available, the choice if often one of personal preference and is mainly connected to trying out whatever works best for the respective individual. However, there is not necessarily a need for a left-handed person to seek out a left-handed guitar or even hold it the other way around. Not seldomly, left-handed individuals use a common guitar just as any right-handed person would. In the past, left-handed guitars weren’t available and left-handed individuals were still able to pick up playing.
While some lefties will prefer to use a standard guitar and have no troubles with its use, for others it may be a struggle. Ultimately, the best advice for left-handed individuals is to try out all three options and find out which works best for them as there is no standard answer.
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