As with many areas of life, left-handed people face challenges when it comes to playing the guitar. Standard guitars are built so the right hand does all the picking and strumming while the left hand does all the fretting and chord barring. But that didn’t stop these five famous left handed guitarists from picking up the guitar, getting creative with it, and making history!
Widely recognized as one of the most influential guitarists ever, Jimi Hendrix met the challenge of being left-handed by restringing standard guitars – most notably, his famous Fender Stratocaster – so when he flipped his guitar over to strum with his left hand, the strings were in the normal order. This had an interesting effect on his guitar’s sound, reversing the brightness of the strings. Even though it means all the pickups, sound controls, and other features of the guitar are in the wrong places, guitarists trying to emulate Hendrix’s distinctive sound have been restringing their own right-handed guitars for left-handed playing ever since.
The parallels between Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix don’t stop at their phenomenal talent, pioneering sounds, and tragically early demise: like Jimi, Kurt was a lefty, too.
Like Jimi, Kurt also restrung the used guitars he picked up in his early days at pawn shops and second-hand stores under the motto “junk is always best.” According to Guitar World magazine, it was around the time Nirvana recorded the album Nevermind that Cobain developed a taste for Fender guitars, and he soon became well known for playing true left-handed Fender Mustang and Jaguar models.
Billy Ray Cyrus
In his memoir Hillbilly Heart, country music star Billy Ray Cyrus describes the moment when he decided to launch a career in music, recalling a voice telling him to get a guitar and start a band. But he’d tried to play guitar before and couldn’t, since he is left-handed, he lamented. So the voice told him, calmly and directly, “Buy a left-handed guitar.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi originally learned to play guitar left handed but faced an even bigger challenge when, at the age of 17, he lost the tips of two fingers on his right hand. After trying to learn to play right handed and nearly giving up the guitar, he was inspired by the story of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who had also lost the use of several of his fretting fingers, to find a way to carry on. He created plastic covers for his fingers, fitted his guitar with lighter strings, and went on to invent what we know and love today as “power chords” and “heavy metal”.
Aerosmith rock ‘n’ roller Joe Perry is left handed, but when he was 12, he taught himself to play guitar right handed. Interestingly, though, among his guitar collection can be found several left-handed Fender Stratocasters, which he plays flipped over, putting the strings in reverse order. As reported by GroundGuitar, when asked why, Perry indicated that it’s all about the different feel and unique tone of playing these guitars this way.