It hasn’t been an easy ride for left-handers. Roll things back to the 1400s and being left-hand dominant could see you being accused of witchcraft or being in league with the Devil. Even its medical term, ‘sinistromanual’, conjures up the idea that things aren’t as they should be.
As recently as the early 20th Century, schoolchildren were punished for being left-handed and forced to work with their right. Have a quick think about the day-to-day practicalities in your life: most of them are geared to right-handers, from potato peelers and computer keyboards to scissors and the way entrance doors are designed to open.
Thankfully, the cause has been championed by some tenacious left-hookers and International Left Handers Day, started in 1976 by Dean R Campbell, has made the other 90% of the population aware of the challenges faced by their sinistromanual counterparts. To add our voice to the left-handed legions, we’re going to take a look at the 15 best left handed musicians.
While he might have been celebrated in song by the likes of Chuck Berry, The Beatles and ELO, there was no way that Beethoven was going to roll over for anyone. According to his biographer, he composed and played the piano with his left hand, although painted with his right. Hailed as the ‘World’s First Rock Star’, he set the template for left-handed musicians to follow.
Founding member of The Beatles and one of the most famous musicians on the planet, the story goes that, when the mighty Macca was given his first guitar, he couldn’t work out how to play it. It was only seeing a poster of Slim Whitman that made him realise that restringing it was the way forward. Check out the Music Poster collection of rare McCartney images and you’ll see plenty of images showing the great man at work – using his dominant hand.
Following in the musical footsteps of Lennon and McCartney, Noel Gallagher is another sinistromanual singer songwriter. Although he taught himself to play right-handed, he’s naturally left-handed – check out pictures of ‘The Chief’ signing autographs.
Widely-lauded as the greatest guitarist of all time, Hendrix’ flame may have burned short, but it burned incredibly bright. Like McCartney, he restrung his iconic Fender Strat to suit his abilities. Just to rub it in, he also played guitars behind his head, with his teeth and, if the mood took him, while they were on fire.
It’s not only guitarists who’ve had to adapt to the right-handed world. Ringo Starr famously played a right-handed drumkit, despite being left-handed. For those who’ve tried to emulate his unique drumming style, this has made things understandably difficult.
Another legendary drummer, Phil Collins struck the skins for Genesis before becoming their frontman and eventually carving out a globally-successful solo career. Unlike his right-handed peers, Collins’ bass pedal is on his left, while his hi-hat sits on the right.
Left-handed guitars were thin on the ground in post-war Britain so, like many of his generation, David Bowie taught himself to play with his non-dominant hand. While most videos and pictures show him playing in the conventional way, photos of him writing show his sinistrality at work.
The original drummer for the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson favoured the ‘open-handed’ technique. For the uninitiated, this is a style of drumming in which the drummer’s arms do not cross, giving you easier access to more of the kit and set up more complex rhythm patterns.
If the name doesn’t mean anything to you, then check it out Wikipedia and familiarise yourself with this man. Born in Canada, MacIsaac is a celebrated fiddle-player, who fuses folk, rock, and bluegrass to create a sound all of his own. A vocal member of the left-handed community, he continues to campaign for left handed musicians to be able to play instruments without having to adapt them.
Tony Iommi’s hands are the stuff of heavy metal legend. As he’s on this list, you can safely assume that Black Sabbath’s lead guitarist is left-handed. What you might not know is that, long before he hooked up with Ozzie, Ward and Butler, he severed the tips of the fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident. Despite being told to forget about playing guitar, Iommi experimented with creating his own prosthetic fingertips, starting out with melting down plastic, before eventually cutting up an old leather jacket, to give him purchase on his guitar strings.
“It worked, but then I had to persevere for a long, long time to get used to working with them… and it was painful.”
Unconventional to her core, Lady Gaga has made her mark on the pop world with a series of loud and proud hits. While she’s well-known for her piano proficiency, what’s less known is that she’s also an accomplished guitarist, no slouch on the drums and knows her way around the keytar. She’s also a southpaw, who was Born This Way.
From precocious popster to controversial superstar, Miley Cyrus is another member of the sinistromanual. Her father, Billy Ray, is also left-handed, but insisted that his daughter learn to do most things with her right:
“I think it’s because he has always said lefties have to ‘learn the world backwards,’ and I know he has a hard time finding a left-handed guitar every now and then…Whatever the reason, from the time I started to write, he had me use my right hand.”
Dick Dale got a second bite of the cherry in the Nineties, when the film, Pulp Fiction, opened with one of his tracks, Misirlou. Prior to that, he’d carved out a career in the Sixties, earning himself the title of the ’King of Surf Guitar’. He influenced bands such as the Beach Boys and The Cramps, with driving, urgent riffs, and that spangly, California sound. Before he graduated to left-handed guitars, Dale honed his sound by reaching over the fret board, rather than under it.
The pulse of The Police, Copeland was born left-handed, but learned to play a right-handed drumkit. He spent his early years emulating the likes of Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker. Although he plays a conventional kit, Copeland believes that learning this way around has given him an advantage:
“It’s more convenient that way. Like most left-handed people, I am close to being fully ambidextrous.”
Although he’s best-known for his pop tunes, Bieber’s prone to picking up a guitar, onstage. When he started learning, he initially played on a right-handed guitar, but tried to play it with his dominant hand:
“My mom would switch it the other way. And I would switch it right back to the other way and try to play. It was difficult because it’s backwards. My mom, I think it was for my birthday, she bought me a left-handed guitar. And so ever since I was young, I learned on a left-handed guitar.”
So, there we go. While only 10% of the population might be left-hookers, this list of sinistromanual superstars shows that being left-handed doesn’t have to be a barrier to success. In fact, a study by Frontiers in Psychology suggests that being a southpaw might lead you to “prefer obscure styles of music,” which is an important quality for any musicians looking to shake things up a bit.
If there’s any left handed musicians you think we’ve missed, leave us a Comment below.