As a lad Phil Harris saw the left-hand fork in the road and turned right instead, but vintage left-hookers are very much in demand…
Although it might well be a lot better nowadays than it used to be, left-handed guitar players are still not catered for in anything like the same way as right-handed players. As someone who writes left-handed, I probably would have gone down the left-handed guitar route if my elder brother hadn’t warned me off, telling me I’d have a lot more instruments to choose from if I learned to play left-handed.
I’m sure many others got the same advice and heeded it, as during my playing days I only ever played with two musicians who played left-handed. The first one was, Stevie Stewart, in a kids’ band we had called Wade In Man (great name, huh?). He started off on a left-handed Watkins Rapier 44, as Charlie Watkins’ factory was only just down the road from us in south London. Stevie was so determined to play left-handed that he later turned up at my house with a left-handed Rosewood Telecaster he’d bought on hire purchase. He’d waited six months to get it and he was the talk of the town, actual Fender guitars being rare enough on their own at this point, never mind left-handed versions.
The second lefty I played with was an Irish bass player who played a left-handed bass strung upside down, so the thick E string was at the bottom. When he was learning to play Joe couldn’t get hold of a left-handed instrument, so he flipped over a right-handed one. When he finally got hold of a left-handed bass he found he was much more comfortable with the original stringing. You’ll often find that left-handed players, like Hendrix, are more adept at the unconventional.
Those looking to get hold of vintage left-handed guitars are competing with two markets: left-handed players, and collectors who more often than not actually play right-handed… and you can include me in the latter category. My advice to anyone interested in obtaining a vintage left-handed guitar – or any good left-handed instrument – is to seize any opportunity that arises, as it doesn’t come around that often.
The famous American left-handed guitar shop Southpaw were at the Arlington show in the early ’80s and blew everyone’s mind. They had about 40 great instruments on show and it looked amazing, because most people had never seen that many left-handed instruments before. For the most part, you’re going to struggle if you’re looking for something specific. If you ring me up and ask to get hold of a left-handed ’63 Strat, you’ll have more chance of getting the Pope to dig your garden than I will have of finding one quickly. If you do have a great vintage left-handed instrument, however, you’re quids in. The laws of supply and demand dictate that it will probably be worth far more than its right-handed equivalent. Finally, some good news for lefties!
1988: Martin D-28/12
Just to highlight the problems you can have finding left-handed instruments, I tried for 18 months to get hold of something like this. Eventually, I called it a day and ordered this direct from the Martin factory. I really wanted rosewood back and sides, so it was either a 28 or a 35 for me. I waited six months for it, but it was worth the wait… so much so that after I bought this one, I never bothered trying to find another left-handed 12-string for the hire company.
1963: Fender Precision
This is a story of how an instrument can be rescued from the scrapheap and achieve stardom. I bought this four years before I started the hire company as I’ve always loved pre-CBS basses, left-handed or otherwise. However, it was in awful condition and needed a lot of work. It was originally refinished in sonic blue, and then this Lake Placid colour – and it had its moment of glory when it was used by Sir Paul McCartney when he played the NEC.
1976: Fender Stratocaster
Although this guitar was made after they changed the specs from white guard to black guard, as well as the serial numbers, this lightweight beauty has all the attributes of an early ’70s Strat. It’s been a popular hire instrument, although so many left-handed trem arms have gone missing over the years that I now fit it with a right-handed one.
1971: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
I bought this 20 years ago because I thought I ought to have a left-handed Gibson. I considered it a standby until I found something better. Five years down the line I realised that I was never going to find anything better… unless I was prepared to pay $200,000!
1994: Gibson J-100
Tags: Home, Vintage
This was obtained by going way out to the west of England where I met the owner at a motorway service station (it was all above board, I assure you – the man had all the genuine paperwork). It was worth every penny and minute of my time. Left-handed musicians are often surprised to learn there’s a Gibson jumbo they can hire, and they’re blown away when they play it. Thunder’s Luke Morley is a big fan of this guitar, and he’s not the only one.