Credit: Hannu Lindroos

From Paul McCartney to Jimi Hendrix: The 6 greatest left-handed guitarists of all time

Left-handed guitarists might be the minority, but considering they are few and far between we are going to give them some well-deserved recognition for producing some of the most talented musicians of all time.

Only 10% of the population take up the Southpaw left-handed stance, but these people have learned the instrument the hard way which is testament to their technical ability if they can overcome those challenges of learning their instrument in conditions made for a right-hander — then nothing will stand in their way.

Some left-handers play the guitar with their right hand, a factor which is a betrayal to their true self and is why artists like Elvis Costello, Billy Corgan and Duanne Allman won’t be featuring on this list. No musician who abandons their leftie roots can be considered.

Check out our six of the best, below.

The 6 greatest left-handed guitarists of all time:

Kurt Cobain

Where else to start than with Kurt Cobain? The iconic left-hander took the Seattle underground grunge scene into a worldwide phenomenon that changed culture forever. Cobain was not only an incredible guitarist, but also so ahead of his time in a number of other ways. Take, for example, being open about his mental health and an advocate for feminism which were not common courtesy for rockstars in the 1990s.

Nirvana set the world alight following their signing to Geffen Records. The release of Nevermind saw them become the unlikeliest of global superstars, but their authentic nature is what made them so relatable to so many. Cobain’s passing cut short his story tragically early but his legacy is like no other and the influence he had on a generation can still be felt now.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney is an anomaly on this list as he’s not even a true left-hander. He does literally everything—such as writing with his right hand—but for some reason, he plays the guitar with his ‘weaker’ hand. When he first began to learn the instrument the former Beatle initially couldn’t get to grips with it. He then saw a picture of Slim Whitman playing left-handed and realised that he could reverse the guitar then began to play left-handed.

“I had to learn backwards,” Macca told Guitar Player in 1990. “I can play right-handed guitar a bit, just enough for at parties. Hopefully, by that point everyone is drunk when I pick it up, because otherwise they’re going to catch me. But I could do that, and the guys obviously wouldn’t let me restring it. Certainly, they wouldn’t let me gouge out their nuts.”

This adopted leftie has earnt himself a well deserved place on the list for unnecessarily making his life a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

Albert King

Albert King was one of the pioneering figures that played a crucial role in putting the blues scene on the map, what King could do with a guitar was truly magical. The musician was a huge influence on the guitarists of the sixties and beyond who looked up to him as an inspiring figure who created noises they could never have previously dreamed of.

One of his most prominent admirers was Jimi Hendrix, who once said, “I like Albert King. He plays completely and strictly in one way, just straight funk blues. New blues guitar, very young, funky sound which is great.

“One of the funkiest I’ve heard. He plays it strictly that way so that’s his scene.”

Tony Iommi

Iommi is the curator of some of the best heavy rock riffs of all time with Black Sabbath. Together with the pulsating energy of the times, Iommi’s guitar helped make the Brummies become one of the most revered rock acts of all time. They introduced audiences worldwide to heavy metal as we know it today and blew their minds.

On Iommi’s influence, Osbourne is on record as stating: “Black Sabbath never used to write a structured song. There’d be a long intro that would go into a jazz piece, then go all folky… and it worked.

“Tony Iommi—and I have said this a zillion times—should be up there with the greats. He can pick up a guitar, play a riff, and you say, ‘He’s gotta be out now, he can’t top that’. Then you come back, and I bet you a billion dollars, he’d come up with a riff that’d knock your fucking socks off.”

Elizabeth Cotten

Born in 1893, Cotten’s life was truly remarkable with her reaching the age of 94 and finding fame late in life after spending 25 years retired as life got in the way of her dreams. She was a self-taught left-hander who developed her own unique style.

Having played the guitar strung for a right-handed player but upside down, she would play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb which would lead to her bass style being known as ‘Cotten picking’.

While working in a department store, she helped a lost child find her mother and miraculously the child was Peggy Seeger. Her mother was the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. Soon after this, Cotten began working as a maid for the Seeger’s — who encouraged her to pick up the instrument again and the rest is history.

Jimi Hendrix

Saving the best until last, Hendrix is not just the finest leftie to play the guitar but almost definitively the most talented person to have ever taken up the instrument.

He single-handedly elevated the instrument to heady heights that had never been reached by anyone before him. In the fifty years since his premature death, question marks remain if anyone has ever bettered Hendrix on a technical level.

Hendrix’s career may have been cut sadly short but in the few years he spent at the top of the world — he managed to change it. His performances at Woodstock and Monterrey remain two of the greatest live performances in the history of music which saw Hendrix use the guitar to communicate in a way that nobody has done since.

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