How to Play a Right Handed Guitar Left Handed

Converting a Right Handed Guitar into a Left Handed Guitar

So you want to make like Jimi Hendrix and play a right handed electric guitar left handed. It’s the route I went, converting a right handed acoustic guitar into a left handed acoustic guitar. It’s a practical solution given how hard it is to find a left handed electric guitar and given the limited number of guitar models available to a lefty.

So what’s involved with converting a right handed guitar into a left handed guitar?

First, understand that it isn’t as easy turning the guitar upside down and restringing a right handed guitar into a left handed guitar. You will have to make some alterations. The nut will have to be replaced to accommodate the new arrangement. If you look at the nut, you will see its grooves are sized to fit a specific string, hence the groove for the low E-string is wider than the groove for the high-E string. If you were to just restring your guitar without changing the nut, the low E-string will sit on top of the groove rather than resting in it. The high-E string will fit into the low E-string’s groove but it won’t touch the sides and will fit too loosely. This will cause the strings to rattle and buzz or possibly slip out of the groove altogether.. This also might throw the intonation off as well as the guitar’s action as the string’s will be too close or too far from the frets.

If you are trying to convert an acoustic, classical, flamenco guitar from right to left, you will almost certainly have a fixed bridge. The bridge’s saddle, like the nut, is grooved to fit strings of different sizes. Again, the low-E string and the high-E string will not fit properly in the other’s groove and will effect the guitar’s action and intonation. The bridge will have to be replaced, as well— or the bridge’ string holes for the thinner strings will have to be bored wider to fit the thicker strings. This also goes for any electric guitar or acoustic-electric guitar that has a fixed bridge.

In the case of electric guitars that don’t required the bridge to be replaced, the intonation most likely will have to be adjusted since the strings have been reversed.

Finally, changing the order of the strings could effect the neck’s tension. If that happens and the neck’s dip isn’t adjusted, it could warp, bow or twist. Correcting the tension requires you to turn the truss rod in very small clockwise or counterclockwise increments, all depending on if the dip is too shallow or too exaggerated. If you don’t know how to properly adjust the neck beware that you could irreparably damage it. It’s best to let a guitar tech mess with the neck. The pros do.

It cost me $90 to have my acoustic guitar converted from a right handed guitar to a left handed one by a guitar tech. That was in the mid-1990s. I’ve had other work done on my guitars and the costs don’t appear to have changed all that much. At any rate, be prepared to pay at least $90. If it costs less to have your electric guitar (or acoustic) converted, so much the better.

Beyond that, you just have to get used to the knobs being in different spots. If your guitar has a pick guard, it will be in the wrong position, meaning when you strum the pick will be scratching your guitar’s finish unless you put on a new pick guard. If you remove the old pick guard, you will have empty screw holes and probably an outline where the old pick guard used to be. Cosmetically it won’t be pretty. If the guitar is a single cutaway such as a Gibson Paul, then you can forget comfortably accessing the higher frets, if at all.

For electric guitars with a whammy bar, you will have to push it down rather than pull it up unless you won’t to replace the bridge and whammy bar altogether. A new tremolo bridge (a bridge with a whammy bar) costs in the neighborhood of $50 plus the cost of replacing it if you don’t to it yourself.

Really, the main advantage of playing a right handed guitar left handed is you have all the guitars in the world to choose from. Personally, I could never mentally get past the fact that my converted acoustic guitar never felt right. Or perhaps it felt too right.