To answer questions like “are most guitarists ambidextrous?” it’s essential to define what “ambidextrous” means first. That’s a bit tricky, considering even scientists can’t agree on an exact definition for “handedness.” But you can extrapolate a possible number of ambidextrous guitarists based on the available statistics.
Most guitarists aren’t ambidextrous, but ambidextrous individuals make 1% of the world population. Suppose there are 712 million guitarists in the world. That means 71.2 million guitarists may be ambidextrous, meaning a huge number of guitarists could use both their left and right hands well.
This article will discuss what makes a guitarist ambidextrous, the names of well-known “ambidextrous” guitar players, whether handedness makes a difference in a guitarist’s musicianship, and whether ambidextrous guitars are available for people who can’t play traditional guitars.
What Makes a Guitarist Ambidextrous?
If you want to talk about ambidextrous guitarists, you have to qualify what makes them ambidextrous in the first place. Does “ambidextrous” mean a guitarist with a dominant hand who can still strum with his weaker hand? Or a guitarist who doesn’t have a dominant hand at all and can strum with both hands?
A guitarist is ambidextrous when they can exceptionally use their right and left hands, although many argue that guitarists can’t be ambidextrous per se. Even Michael Angelo Batio is naturally left-handed, though he chooses to play his guitar right-handed.
Michael Angelo is arguably the world’s most famous “ambidextrous” guitar player who can rock his guitar in both hands, but that doesn’t mean he is necessarily ambidextrous.
As you’ll see in the next section, many so-called “ambidextrous” guitar players are lefties who choose to play guitars right-handed. Some of these names you’ll recognize, while others you’ll want to look up if you’re interested in ambidextrous guitar playing.
“Ambidextrous” Guitar Players
Many of the world’s “ambidextrous” guitarists are, in reality, people who prefer to play the guitar with their non-dominant hands. I’ll discuss them further shortly. Please note that this list doesn’t follow any particular order, and all of the people I mention are brilliant guitarists in their own right.
Michael Angelo Batio
Earlier, I mentioned that Michael Angelo Batio is possibly the world’s most famous “ambidextrous” guitar player. I also said that, in reality, he’s a leftie who happens to play guitar right-handed. In an interview with Ultimate Guitar, Batio says that right-handed guitar playing made his left hand stronger.
According to Guitar World magazine, Batio is also one of the world’s fastest guitarists. If you visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, in early February 2012, you may have seen Batio’s signature Dean Mach VII Jet Double-Guitar.
Here’s a YouTube video of Batio playing double-guitar:
Does this man need an introduction? Even people who only have a casual knowledge of guitarists have heard of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix played a 1968 white Fender Stratocaster.
Psychologist Stephen Christman describes him as “mixed-right-handed” and argues that his particular handedness is the secret to his extraordinary musicianship. However, one writer for The Guardian points out that handedness may only be one contributing factor to Hendrix’s success as a guitarist.
Watch this YouTube video of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar:
Jimi Hendrix is one of the many influences on Steve Morse, best known as the guitarist for Flying Colors and Deep Purple. Other than Hendrix, Morse names the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who among the ten records that “changed his life.” Like Batio, he’s a left-handed guitarist who plays right-handed.
Here’s a YouTube video of Morse on a six-string guitar:
Vincent “Vinnie” Moore
Vinnie Moore has played for bands such as Alice Cooper and UFO. He uses Dean guitars and has previously endorsed Music Man guitars. Like Michael Angelo Batio and Steve Morse, he’s naturally left-handed but plays guitar in the right-handed style.
Here’s a YouTube video of Vinnie Moore playing guitar:
Known for his high-energy blues style, the late Gary Moore was also a left-handed right-hand guitar player. Total Guitar calls him a “blues-rock guitar legend,” while Louder notes how Moore ultimately preferred blues to hard rock, even though the latter made him famous during the 80s. Moore’s best-known signature guitar was the 1959 Les Paul Standard (The Holy Grail).
Here’s a YouTube of Gary Moore playing guitar:
If you’re a fan of Eric Clapton, he more than admired Duane Allman’s skills and teamed up with the latter to record “Layla.” Before Allman’s untimely death due to a motorcycle accident in 1971, he founded the Allman Brothers Band, with whom he played three Les Pauls. Like the others on this list, Allman was a southpaw who chose to play guitar the “traditional” (i.e., right-handed) way.
Here’s a YouTube video of the Allman Brothers Band:
Rik Emmett fronted the Canadian rock band Triumph between the 1970s and 80s before becoming a solo artist active to this day. He took less than a year to play a right-handed guitar as a southpaw. On his website, he endorses Gibson electric guitars and Godin acoustic guitars.
Here’s a YouTube video of Emmett playing guitar:
I’m sure people have made tons of puns on Albert King’s last name. But he’s undoubtedly royalty as far as the blues genre is concerned.
Unlike most of the other lefties on this list, who forced themselves to play right-handed guitars the usual way, Albert King was more creative about adapting his handedness to his playing. He has played guitars while they’re upside down, restringed them, and created techniques to aid his musicianship.
Here’s a YouTube video of King talking about playing the custom flying V guitar left-handed:
Who hasn’t heard of the Beatles? You may know Paul McCartney as one of two surviving members of the world’s most famous rock band of all time. You may not know that he’s an anomaly among the guitar players on this list. Specifically, Paul McCartney is right-handed but forced himself to play left-handed guitar.
Here’s a YouTube video of Paul McCartney trying out a custom-made left-handed Les Paul Lite:
Kurt Cobain is an interesting case. To this day, people debate on whether he was left-handed, ambidextrous, or right-handed. In the last link, you can see him writing with his right hand, but Cobain plays guitar with his left and right hands. It’s worth noting that he went out of his way to have a guitar customized for his southpaw playing style, namely the Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar.
Here’s a YouTube video of Cobain on being a left-handed guitar player:
Looking at the above, you’ll notice that most “ambidextrous” guitar players are lefties who choose to play guitar right-handed. Does that mean left-handed guitarists are more talented than right-handed ones? Let’s find out in the next section.
Why Are Left-Handed Guitar Players More Gifted?
Considering that many famous guitar players are left-handed, it’s easy to conclude that “southpaws” have better musicianship. Studies show that left-handed people often excel in their chosen fields, and there are a few theories on why this is.
Left-handed guitar players are more gifted because they exhibit stronger connectivity between their “left” and “right” brains. The reason for this enhanced connectivity between the two hemispheres is unknown, but adapting to a primarily right-handed world may have something to do with it.
Because right-handed guitars are more common, left-handed players have to do one of the following:
- Force themselves to learn to play the guitar in the “traditional” way.
- Flip over a right-handed guitar, and learn the frets and chords opposite to the way right-handers learn.
- Restring the guitar.
- Get a guitar customized for left-hand players as Kurt Cobain did.
If you’re a left-handed guitar player who doesn’t want to do the first three things above, you might be wondering if ambidextrous guitars exist.
Are There Ambidextrous Guitars?
Earlier, we speculated there might be approximately 71 million ambidextrous guitar players in the world. The number is substantial enough that you’d think ambidextrous guitars would be a thing by now.
Ambidextrous guitars don’t exist, unfortunately. Most guitars are right-handed, and left-handed guitar players need to adapt them to their playing style. Lefties can learn to play the guitar upside down, restring it, or (if they have the resources to do so) have a leftie guitar customized.
If you Google anything about ambidextrous guitars, you’ll probably come across the Ambicaster from Fender. At first glance, it looks like a dream: A two-necked guitar that allows both lefties and righties to play it. Sure, it’s going to be a pain to carry around, but wouldn’t an actual ambidextrous guitar be nice, though? Hint: Read the article until the end.
At the moment, lefties have two choices: Play a right-handed guitar left-handed, or do everything in their power to fit the guitar to their handedness. It’s a matter of choosing whether your time is more valuable to you than money; that is, whether the length of time it would take you to relearn how to play your guitar is better or worse than the amount you have to spend restringing/customizing, etc.
There aren’t any “true” ambidextrous guitar players. Many “ambidextrous” guitarists have a dominant hand (usually the left) but choose to play the guitar the other way (usually the right) for one reason or another.
A few challenge themselves by playing leftie when they’re right-handed (like Paul McCartney) or adapting the guitar to them rather than the other way around (like Albert King). At any rate, I hope I’ve answered your burning questions on ambidextrous guitar playing.