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Ten Things You May Not Know About Left-Handed Musicians

Apr 6, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Music News | By Rock Square

The issue of “right-handed” vs. “left-handed” may seem like a simple one to most people: either you write with your left or right hand.

Musicians, however, have a bit of a challenge when it comes to their inclination – often in music history a guitarist or drummer has opted to play against his or her natural “handedness”.

The result?

Many of the most notable musicians to ever partake in the craft have secrets – just because someone plays the guitar right-handed, for example, it doesn’t mean he or she is right-handed.

The particular stories behind some of these cases are rather unique, and all make for a fun discussion of one of popular music’s oddities.

Below, enjoy our Rock Square list of Ten Things You May Not Know About Left-Handed Musicians.

1. Some of the most prominent musicians in history are left-handed, but you wouldn’t know it.

Despite being naturally left-handed, several important musical figures played right-handed, including: B.B. KingDuane AllmanNoel GallagherJoan JettJoe PerryPaul Simon, and Ringo Starr. For many, being “left-handed” didn’t translate exactly with their choice of instrument.

2. Jimi Hendrix was musically ambidextrous because of his father.

As a budding musician, Jimi Hendrix naturally played left-handed. This didn’t please his father, who believed that being a lefty was a sign of the Devil. Thus, Jimi played right-handed when his father was around. Eventually this led to Jimi being rather adept at playing guitar with both hands. (source)

3. Ringo Starr plays a left-handed drum set, backwards.

Part of what allowed the Beatles drummer to revolutionize the instrument was the way he used a kit that was geared toward a right-handed player, even though he was a natural lefty himself. He led with his left hand, which facilitated his unique time signatures, drum patterns and innovative style of play. (source)

4. Many of the Muppets played left-handed guitars.

Fun fact about the Muppets band: Kermit the Frog and members of The Electric Mayhem (including Floyd Pepper and Janice) held their prop guitars left-handed, mainly because puppeteers worked the puppets with their right hands. This left their left hands available for strumming.

5. Paul McCartney doesn’t adhere to the typical “lefty musician” rules.

A common practice for many left-handed guitarists/musicians is to simply play a right-handed guitar upside-down, which makes the strings work in reverse order. Sir Paul, however, is on the list of those who play with the strings lined correctly – both for his bass guitar and his standard six-string.

6. There’s a theory that Kurt Cobain’s left-handedness played a role in his death.

The Nirvana front man dealt with chronic stomach pain caused by scoliosis for much of his short life. Apparently, being left-handed (which he chose to be musically, as he was naturally ambidextrous) was the worst thing he could have done for his condition. There was some talk that had he chosen to play right-handed, his condition may have improved over time. That he didn’t, though, it all got worse over time, eventually driving him to heroin, which presumably caused him to commit suicide. (source)

7. There’s a whole website dedicated to left-handed guitarists.

Perhaps speaking to the uncommon nature of its existence in the mainstream music world, Lefty Fretz exists to provide lefty axe men and women an online community to discuss the quirks of being on the “fringe” of guitar-playing. Tabs, chats and articles discrediting fallacious online reports of lefty guitar playing being “harder than right-handed” are featured on the site, which does a great job emphasizing the fact that yes, left-handed guitarists do exist, and it shouldn’t really be seen as that much different than “the norm”.

8. There’s even a book that caters to all things lefty.

In 2006, Uncommon Sound: The Left-Handed Guitar Players That Changed Music was released. The book, which costs roughly $200, weighs 18 lbs. and features thousands of photographs chronicling the history and legacy of prominent lefty musicians. What’s more, with nearly 1,000 pages of captivating texts and more than 2,500 portrait and performance photographs, this 2-volume set’s perspective is totally unique, and its depth, scope, and insight are unsurpassed.(source)

9. Tony Iommi wanted to play without fingers rather than become a righty.

When he lost two fingertips on his left hand, the Black Sabbath guitarist temporarily tried to adopt a right-handed style of play, but decided against it: “I did have a go at it, but I just didn’t have the patience. It seemed impossible to me.” Instead, he created plastic fingertip extensions that allowed him to continue playing as a lefty. (source)

10. Despite being musical lefties, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix were right-handed otherwise.

Both musicians played their guitars left-handed during their adult lives, but both Jimi and Kurt were right-handed when off-stage. Cobain played drums right-handed, and it is believed that he also drew as a righty. Both apparently wrote out their lyrics right-handed, as well. Given the theory that Cobain’s lefty-ness played a part in driving him to suicide, it seems as if it was a bad idea for him to have made in the first place. (source)

This list was especially fun to compile, so if you know of any other facts along these same lines don’t be afraid to let us know!

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