In Praise of the Southpaw
Why are there so few left-handed guitars?
The Hard Rock collection boasts thousands of amazing axes, but very few of them are left-handed. Why is this? Ten percent of the population is lefty, but southpaw guitars only make up about two percent of the guitar market. How could this be? It turns out that making a left-handed guitar poses a unique set of problems and many guitarists learned on right-handed instruments and never saw a need to change. Let’s check out a few axes from our favorite southpaw players.
The most famous lefty in the guitar world also happens to be the greatest electric guitarist of all time – Jimi Hendrix. Jimi would usually play right-handed Stratocasters restrung in the “normal” way, but he was equally adept at simply flipping over a right-handed axe without restringing it. That level of ability is almost superhuman. One of the many reasons Hendrix favored Fender Stratocasters is because, unlike a Gibson Les Paul, the body is cutaway on both sides – allowing easy fretboard access for both right and left handed players. Check out this Strat from Jimi’s collection. It’s just an off-the-shelf, right-handed Strat that he bought brand new. Take a closer look, however, and you can see the evidence of a lefty player. The strap button has been moved to accommodate a southpaw and the wear pattern on the guitar is typical of a lefty. Take a look:
Jimi did, however, have a few lefty axes – and the best one is now part of the Hard Rock collection. This is a custom Gibson Flying V that was commissioned by Jimi in 1969. A completely unique instrument, this one-of-a-kind left-handed model was Hendrix’s weapon of choice for the Maui concert that was immortalized in the film Rainbow Bridge and at the legendary Isle of Wight festival in August of 1970. Most of the cosmetic appointments are completely custom per Jimi’s specifications. The version of “Red House” Jimi played at the Isle of Wight is widely regarded as one of the best examples of electric blues playing ever committed to tape – and he did it on this very instrument. Less than a month later, Jimi was gone.
The image of Jimi with a flipped-over Fender became so ingrained with guitarists that some right-handed players took to purchasing lefty Strats and flipping them, Hendrix-style. Here’s a great example. This Strat belonged to Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s band. Mike is right-handed, the guitar is lefty.
Another super-influential lefty is Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. Unlike Hendrix, Tony plays dedicated left-handed guitars; typically Gibson SGs or custom axes based on the SG platform.
This guitar is quite possibly the single most important piece of music history in the Hard Rock collection. It’s Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath’s Gibson SG. Heavily customized by British guitar builder John Birch, this instrument forged the template of heavy metal. The first five Black Sabbath albums – all universally acknowledged as genre-defining classics – were recorded with this guitar. “Paranoid”, “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Symptom of the Universe” – this guitar did it all. Heavy metal was invented on this humble guitar. Kneel before its power.
Here’s an incredibly badass lefty SG built by John “JayDee” Diggins. Tony used it on The Mob Rules album.
Here’s another incredible JayDee guitar. Tony used this one on the albums Seventh Star, Headless Cross, Dehumanizer and Tyr. It was also a stage guitar during this often misunderstood era of Iommi’s career. When we plugged this guitar in, our entire collection of ’N Sync memorabilia spontaneously combusted.
In the ‘90s, Iommi switched to guitars made by British luthier Patrick Eggle. Here’s one of his custom lefty beauties.
And here’s the raw prototype of the same model. Tony loved this axe.
Kurt Cobain has probably inspired nearly as many lefty guitarists as Hendrix. This Ovation acoustic belonged to his aunt Mari and was one of the first professional-quality guitars he ever played. It’s a right-handed instrument, but Kurt would just flip it over and pick on it when he visited his aunt.
Let’s close by looking at some of the killer southpaw axes from The Cars’ Elliot Easton. In the early ‘80s, when synth-pop ruled the roost and Dexy was still making Midnight Runs, Elliot and the Cars saved the scene with some rock muscle and killer guitar playing that was sorely needed in a musical landscape that was, let’s face it, vapid. I think he’s among the most criminally underrated players in history. He’s also one of the world’s foremost collectors of left-handed guitars.
Here’s a Fender Strat that was custom-made for him. It has left-handed control knobs. Most lefty axes just used right-handed controls installed in reverse, so the controls actually operated backward. This understandably drove Elliot nuts.
Elliot was one of the only players to endorse Fender’s relatively unpopular Lead II model. He probably had a huge percentage of all the lefty Lead IIs ever made. Here’s a couple of ‘em:
He used this one on the tune “Shake It Up”
He played this one on the album Panorama
Our coolest Easton axe has got to be this custom Gibson ES 350. This flame-topped beauty was built in the Gibson custom shop in 1991. We’ve never seen another example of this guitar in a lefty model.
So here’s to the lefty – and their ass-backwards guitars.