I frequently get asked, “Can You Change A Right Handed Guitar To Left Handed?” so the strings are in the correct order, with the high-E string on the bottom and the low-E string on top. The answer is yes, but the real question is would you want to? There are definitely pros and cons to making this type of conversion.
Like Doyle Bramhall II, some players learned to play left-handed by simply turning a guitar upside down with the strings “backward” (high-E on top and low-E on the bottom). So, which way is better? It’s hard to say but it definitely makes you play and sound different.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about setting up a right-handed guitar for a “lefty.”
You can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the complete picture.
What Is A Left-Handed Guitar?
A left-handed guitar is an instrument set up to be used by a left-handed player (a “lefty”) so that the left hand picks the strings and the right hand frets the notes.
This could be a guitar that was manufactured for such a purpose or a right-handed guitar that was “converted” to play left-handed by reversing the order of the strings.
A guitar that was built to be left-handed is a mirror image of a right-handed guitar.
As you can see in the photo, if you hold a left-handed guitar so that the right hand frets the strings, it looks and plays exactly like its right-handed counterpart.
Who Is A Left-Handed Guitar For?
Let-handed guitars are obviously made for left-handed individuals.
However, believe it or not, some right-handed people use them to be able to fret the strings with their “dominant” (right) hand. It’s not a bad idea to learn to play with your dominant hand doing most of the work if you want to be a “shredder” or play other types of music that really put a lot of demands on the fretting hand.
Still, this is never usually recommended, so the left-handed guitar market is still primarily for lefties.
Why Change A Right-Handed Guitar To Left-Handed?
Although the obvious solution is to buy a guitar made specifically for left-handed players, this is not always the best option. Left-handed guitars typically cost more than right-handed models because most players are right-handed. These guitars can be difficult to find, especially if you are looking for a particular brand, model, and color.
If you can’t find a left-handed guitar that you like or can afford, it leaves you with three options.
- Flip a right-handed guitar upside down and learn to play it with the strings on “backward”, like Albert King (high-E string on top and low-E string on bottom)
- Restring the guitar and play it upside down with the strings in the correct order, as Hendrix did
- Play a right-handed guitar the traditional way (like a “righty”), using your left-hand fingers on the fretboard and your right hand to pick the strings
Advantages Of Flipping A Right-Handed Guitar
Restringing (reversing the strings)
- Guitar strings are in the proper order (low-E on top with high-E on bottom)
- High-E string is on the tuning machine closest to the nut, which makes it easier to bend
- Changes the configuration of a slanted bridge pickup on Strat & Tele so the high-E string is less trebly (this could also be a disadvantage)
- Don’t have to modify the guitar in any way
- Can bend the high-E string down instead of up to get the “Albert King sound”
- Guitar can also be played by a right-handed person in the usual way
Disadvantages Of Flipping A Right-Handed Guitar
Restringing (reversing the strings)
- May need to replace the nut if it can’t be reversed
- May need to replace bridge or bridge saddle
- Can limit fretboard access to the highest frets
- Puts controls and whammy bar in an awkward position
- May need to re-fret an old guitar neck
- Affects the guitar’s action and intonation
- Guitar will need a complete setup
- Changes the configuration of a slanted bridge pickup (Strat & Tele) so the high-E string is less trebly (this could also be an advantage)
- Guitar strings are in the reverse order (high E on top with low E on bottom), so all the chord patterns are “upside-down”
- Can limit fretboard access to the highest frets
- Puts controls and whammy bar in an awkward position
- Can make it very difficult to read music or to learn by watching another right-handed player
As you can see, there are generally many more disadvantages than advantages to flipping over a right-handed guitar to play it left-handed. So, your best bet is getting a guitar specifically made to be played left-handed.
Should You Restring An Acoustic Guitar?
I would not recommend attempting to reverse the string order on an acoustic guitar. Changing the distribution of the string tension could damage the bridge and top of the guitar since the internal bracing may not be designed to withstand it.
Hollowbody and semi-hollowbody electric guitars may be subject to the same problems.
If you decide to convert these types of guitars to left-handed, bring it to a luthier (guitar builder) or certified guitar tech. The cost of properly restringing these guitars may be prohibitive.
Restringing A Right-Handed Electric Guitar
Restringing a guitar will reverse the strings so that the low-E string is on the top and the high-E string is on the bottom when the guitar is flipped over. This gives a left-handed player the standard string order.
The instrument will require the following modifications whenever you reverse the string order on a right-handed guitar.
- Guitar nut will need to be flipped or replaced
- Strap button closest to the neck may need to be moved.
- Bridge saddles or bridge may need to be reversed or replaced
- A complete guitar setup will need to be performed
Keep On Reading To Learn More
Making The Modifications
Turning a right-handed guitar upside down and reversing the string order can require quite a bit of modification, depending on the particular guitar, its age, and its overall condition.
If you modify your guitar, you could decrease its value, especially if it is a vintage instrument. Make sure to keep all the original parts.
Remember, many acoustic or semi-acoustic guitars cannot be safely modified (see above).
Flipping The Guitar Nut
The string slots of a guitar nut are all cut to different widths and depths to accommodate the various gauges of the string set. So, it stands to reason that if you reverse the order of the strings, you have to revise the nut’s orientation by turning it 180 degrees.
Be aware that the nut might not have the same shape on both sides, or the angle of the nut slots could be different. So, it may not be possible to reverse the nut, which means you would have to modify it, buy a left-handed nut that fits the guitar, or have one custom-made by a luthier.
The guitar won’t sound or play right if the nut is not correct!
Moving The Upper Guitar Strap Button
If you flip a guitar upside down, you may have to move the upper strap button (the one closest to the neck).
Moving the strap button to another location will leave the guitar with a hole where the old one used to be. The new site needs to be carefully selected depending on the guitar.
Some guitars, like a Gibson SG, have an upper strap button centered on the rear of the body so it can stay in its original location. By the way, SG guitars are a great choice for flipping to left-hand orientation because they have excellent upper neck access on both sides!
Reversing The Guitar Saddles (And Bridge?)
Some guitars have bridges with adjustable saddles, but others have single-piece bridges with non-adjustable saddles.
The saddles can simply be adjusted in height and length (intonation) without being reversed on a guitar like a Stratocaster or a Telecaster. Other guitars may require a new bridge to accommodate the string reversal, so be aware of what you are getting yourself into.
Redoing The Guitar Setup
After switching the guitar over to left-handed, it will definitely require a new set of strings and a complete setup. Here are the basic things that need to be evaluated and potentially adjusted or modified.
Be sure to read the section on “Are You Qualified To Make Guitar Adjustments Or Modifications?” before you begin!
- Nut: Are the slots properly lined up with the neck and bridge and cut at the right angle?
- Frets: If the frets are worn or “dented” on one side from previous finger vibrato, do they need to be leveled and crowned? Leave this to a pro, unless you know what you’re doing!
- Truss Rod: The truss rod may need to be adjusted to accommodate the change in string tension on each side of the neck, depending on the guitar.
- Pickups: The pickup height may need to be adjusted up or down on each side to match the change in string thickness over each magnetic pole piece. Some pickups also have individually adjustable pole pieces.
- Bridge: The bridge or its individual saddles will require height and distance from the nut adjustments to properly set the guitar’s action and intonation.
What Happens To Resale Value?
There is not a big market for left-handed guitars. Only about 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed.
Many lefties play a right-handed guitar upside down, especially beginners, instead of purchasing a guitar built to be played left-handed.
Generally speaking, the resale value of any guitar you convert to left-handed (so that the string order is reversed) will drop significantly.
An expensive guitar may take a tremendous hit in resale value, especially if it is a vintage guitar. You could be looking at a loss of thousands of dollars if, for example, you modify your dad’s right-handed Fender Broadcaster!
So, think carefully before you make any permanent modifications to a guitar.
Why Guitar Configuration Matters
Changing the configuration of a right-handed guitar can make a significant difference in the sound, even if you just flip it over to play it left-handed without restringing it. Here are two examples of players that changed the sound of blues and rock by flipping their guitars upside down.
Albert King, along with B. B. King and Freddie King (all unrelated), were all considered masters of the blues. Albert, who is best known for playing a Flying V guitar upside down, had a dramatically different sound than the other two Kings.
Who doesn’t know the tune “Born Under A Bad Sign?” (if you don’t, check it out after you’re done with this article!).
Albert did not restring his guitar; he simply flipped it over so that his high-E string was on top and his low-E string was on the bottom. This configuration allowed him to create his trademark deep string bends by bending the E, B, and G strings downward instead of upward.
Alberts’s unmistakable sound has been imitated by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II, just to name a few!
Jimi Hendrix changed the way the electric guitar was played by expanding the sounds it could produce. This guy took the Stratocaster into the Stratosphere!
He flipped the guitar over to play it left-handed, but, unlike Albert King, he restrung it to reverse the strings so that the high-E string was on the bottom and his low-E string was on the top.
The only modification he had to make to his guitar was to reverse the guitar nut and move the strap button to the other cut-away.
Still, this changed the sound of his Stratocaster by putting the side of the bridge pickup under the high-E string closer to the guitar’s neck and the side under the low-E string closer to the bridge.
The overall effect was to even out the sound of the bridge pickup, making it less trebly on the high end and less bassy on the low end.
This has been called the “Voodoo Child Sound” by some players.
The other thing that happens on a Stratocaster headstock with reversed strings is that the high-E string tuning machine is now closest to the nut, which decreases its string tension and makes it easier to bend.
Check out the photo of Hendrix’s guitar and imagine yourself playing it upside down (left-handed)!
Ten Famous Left-Handed Guitar Players
Here are some of the more well-known left-handed guitar players. Some restrung their guitar to put the high-E string on the bottom, and others did not.
High-E String On The Bottom
High-E String On The Top
Doyle Bramhall II
See Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame – The Killer Guitar Players! for more info on Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi. Also, see Gibson SG Electric Guitar Update – Iommi “Monkey” SG Special.
Making Modifying A Right-Handed Guitar Cost-Effective
If you are a left-handed player, you should consider your particular situation and the guitar you will be modifying.
Beginning students would do well buying an inexpensive right-handed electric guitar that can be easily converted, like an entry-level Strat or Tele. This would save you money on a more expensive guitar, and you might be able to make your own modifications.
Advanced or pro players buying a more expensive right-handed guitar should also consider the cost of properly modifying it and its resale value. If you have to pay a guitar tech or luthier to modify and set up the guitar, factor this cost into your budget for the guitar’s purchase price.
Remember, modifications to high-end or vintage guitars can significantly decrease their resale value!
Let’s quickly review what you have learned.
I recommend that left-handed players buy a guitar that was factory-built to be left-handed, whenever possible, especially if it is an acoustic instrument.
Even “lefties” that play a right-handed guitar without reversing the string order by simply turning it upside down will face challenges like the misplacement of control knobs, switches, and the whammy bar. Finger access to the highest frets can also be more difficult!
If you want a left-handed guitar and plan to reverse the string order, make sure the guitar you buy will suit your particular needs before you modify it.
Lefty guitars are more difficult to sell because of low player demand, and modifying a guitar will most likely decrease its resale value
Are You Qualified To Make Guitar Adjustments Or Modifications?
It’s great to work on your guitars, especially if you have a lot of them, but you should always be aware of your limitations.
Adjusting things like an electric guitar’s string height (action) or pickup height can be straightforward. Still, some adjustments require the proper training and experience, like adjusting a guitar’s truss rod.
When you doubt your ability to adjust, repair, or modify your guitar, it’s always best to bring it to a competent guitar technician or luthier (guitar designer & builder). You can permanently damage your guitar, and it might never play and sound right again!
Making modifications to your guitar can void its manufacturer’s warranty and cause permanent damage to the instrument. Certain modifications are irreversible, so you may be stuck with them, even if you desperately want to restore the guitar to its original condition!
I learned that the hard way over the years until I did a three-year apprenticeship in a guitar repair shop. Now I have my own home workshop with the proper training and equipment to safely maintain and repair all my instruments.
Remember: “When In Doubt, Send It Out!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about left-handed guitars.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
Can You Play A Regular Guitar If You Are Left-Handed?
Yes, you can! You can flip it and use it as a left-handed guitar. Most lefties flip the guitar over and play it left-handed and restrung, so the high-E string is on the bottom, while others simply flip it and play it with the high-E string on top.
A left-handed player can also play the guitar like a right-handed player, using the left hand to finger notes on the fretboard and the right hand to pick the strings, although this is rarely seen.
Why Are Left-Handed Guitars So Hard To Find?
Left-handed guitars are in shorter supply than right-handed instruments because only about 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, significantly lowering the demand for these instruments.
Is Guitar Hard For Left-Handed Players?
Not, not any for harder than for right-handed players. Some of the best players in the world are left-handed. Everyone goes through the same basic learning process when first starting to play guitar.
Should A Left-Handed Person Learn Guitar Right-Handed?
No, that’s not necessary or recommended. My number one recommendation is to get a left-handed guitar if you are left-handed.
Are Left-Handed Guitars More Valuable?
Left-handed guitars tend to be more expensive because there is very low demand, so the manufacturing volume is less than right-handed models. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them more valuable.
The value would depend on the guitar’s make, model, age, and condition. Right-handed guitars that have been converted to left-handed instruments tend to be less valuable than instruments that were built to be left-handed.
Are you still asking yourself, “can you change a right handed guitar to left handed?” I hope this article helped lead you in the right direction.
Although a lefty has many options available for a guitar setup, I recommend getting a factory-made left-handed guitar, if possible. There are generally many more disadvantages than advantages to flipping over a right-handed guitar to play to it left-handed. For specific reasons, review the section above on “Disadvantages Of Flipping A Right-Handed Guitar.”
Still, many world-class lefty guitar players use a right-handed guitar flipped over with either the same string configuration or restrung. Like Jimi Hendrix, putting the high-E string on the bottom and bending it up can give you a very different sound than putting it on the top and bending it down, like Albert King.
Modifying a right-handed guitar to reverse the string order for left-handed use can significantly lower the guitar’s resale value. Acoustic guitars may not be designed to have their string order reversed without damaging the instrument.
Don’t ever modify your guitar if you don’t know the proper method, or you could create severe problems with how it plays and sounds.
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about changing a right-handed guitar to left-handed, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- As a “lefty,” what type of guitar do you have or are thinking of buying? Do you like it?
- Do you play a left-handed guitar with standard string order, or do you reverse the strings?
- Who is your favorite left-handed guitar player? Why?
- Do you think lefty players have better right hand guitar technique?
- Before reading this article did you know the difference between left vs right handed guitar?
- After reading this article, are you thinking of buying a left-handed guitar?