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Classic Rock Bands: Left-Handed Guitarists

Posted by Matt Knight

classic rock bands, left handed guitarThere are many talented guitarists across the world who soothe our ears with their music, and a surprising number of these famed artists play their music 'left-handed' – i.e. picking and strumming with their left hand. This probably sounds like a huge endeavour for any right-handed player – indeed it's not too long ago that left-handed guitar playing was even heard of – but, little did you know, there are many big-name pioneers for whom playing with their left hand was and is far more natural.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was naturally left-handed but was forced to learn guitar right-handed by his father. Through a somewhat medieval superstition associating anything of the 'left' ('sinistra') with evil, Al Hendrix claimed that playing left-handed was a sign of the devil. Hendrix thus learnt to play right-handed, and often wrote right-handed (he was photographed signing autographs with his right hand). However, when his father wasn't around, young Jimi would flip the guitar over, finding this position much more comfortable and easy to play off the bat.

Hendrix also modifed his guitars, switching the strings so that he could play left-handed with the strings in the conventional order – but then of course he had to learn to play right-handed with the strings upside down when his dad was around!

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Paul McCartney

One of the more notorious lefties on this list, McCartney struggled to play guitar at first. He was instructed to play like a right-hander and the people around him recall how he seemed awkward when trying to replicate the chord diagrams with his left hand and that his right hand lacked the correct rhythm when strumming.

Over time McCartney and his peers realised that this was because he was left-handed, and not at fault in his method. After getting his guitar altered McCartney developed radically as a musician and is a celebrated melodic bassist.

Though he is most definitely left-handed, McCartney perhaps possesses a degree of ambidexterity – as seen in seeing photos of him playing his guitar and signing autographs right-handed. Amusingly, this contributed to the musical lore built up by some enthusiastic conspiracy theorists that Paul was actually dead and in his place was an imposter...

Bonus Fact:

The Beatles' drummer, Ringo Starr, also plays left-handed. He started by using a kit for a right-hander and restructured the kit as he saw fit, helping him develop his unique and innovative playing style.

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Kurt Cobain

Yes, the troubled Nirvana front-man was also a leftie. Known more for his superb lyrics, Cobain was also an excellent guitarist.

Like most of the others in this article he could play with both hands but vastly preferred his dominant side. Should he be given a right-handed guitar, the solution was simple: just re-string it, swapping the order so that the E string remained on top.

There are many more artists we haven't mentioned, is your favourite among them?

Ben Howard, Billy Ray Cyrus, Fyfe Dangerfield from Guillemots, Iggy Pop, Beeb Birtles from Little River Band, Noel Gallagher, Joan Jett and Joe Perry.

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Image via artruby

Links

  • Learn more about playing guitar left-handed with our book 'Left Hand Chords: Made Easy' (ISBN: 9781783611256).

  • Have a look at a guide for buying left-handed guitars here.

  • Alternatively, there are some reasons for a left-hander to buy a standard guitar here.

rock history, 60s music, 70s music, classic rock bands

Topics: rock icons, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain

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