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It is not easy being a southpaw in a right-handed world. If you are left-handed and considering learning the banjo, you are wondering if you must force yourself to learn to play righty or if you can play left-handed. You have spent your whole life adapting to right-handed norms such as table settings, scissors, and notebooks. But banjo playing does offer some options.
You can play banjo left-handed. Your main two options are:
- Learn to play a right-handed banjo upside down.
- Buy a special banjo made to be played left-handed.
There are pros and cons to each option. In addition, some musicians suggest the advantages of learning to play right-handed are worth it. Keep reading to learn more about each option and discover how to pick the right choice for you.
Why You Should Play Left-Handed If You Are a Southpaw
Banjo playing is all about the picking
Other string instruments like the guitar do not require as much picking of the strings; instead, using strumming more frequently.
Banjo playing, however, requires dynamic fingerpicking. You will need dexterity, control, and rhythm in your picking hand.
So, even if you play guitar right-handed, you may find it a challenge to play banjo right-handed.
The next two sections go into more detail about how to play left-handed.
Learn to Play a Right-Handed Banjo Upside Down
Yes, you read that right. Many musicians learn banjo, guitar, and other stringed instruments on right-handed instruments. Just switch hands and flip it over!
Disadvantages of an Upside-Down Right-Handed Banjo
If you’re going to consider playing a right-handed banjo upside down, then you’ll encounter a few disadvantages.
This is arguably the biggest factor. The 5th string tuning peg is located on the top of the banjo’s neck. When turned upside down, it will be located at the bottom of the neck and it will get in your way. Some people take it off, but that requires removing the 5th string, and then what was the point of buying a 5-string banjo?
The strings will be in reverse order and you will spend a lot of time and mental energy translating finger placement for chords. Some people change the order of the strings, but that requires changing out the nut, which holds the strings. This may not even be possible on a 5-string banjo because of the way the neck slants.
Advantages of an Upside-Down Right-Handed Banjo
There are several advantages to playing a right-handed banjo as a lefty, listed below.
More Buying Options
Left-handers already know this truth: there are way more buying options for right-handed items than left-handed items. Right-handed instruments, utensils, sports equipment, etc. is the norm. Left-handed options are often an afterthought. This leads to the next point.
Left-handed items are an afterthought, and a smaller market, for most manufacturers. Therefore, they may not put the same quality into their left-handed products. You will have a wider range of basic to high-quality banjos to sample in the right-handed category.
More Playing Options
This may sound like a repeat of the first point but stay with me. If you are playing with friends or a group of other banjo players, you may want to sample their axes. If you know how to play a right-handed instrument upside-down, you can sample away! (With their permission, of course.)
Likewise, if you get caught out without your banjo, you can pick up whatever is available and join the jam. if you rearrange your strings on your right-handed banjo, it will not be so easy to pick up a friend’s right-handed banjo and start jamming.
Check out the following video which demonstrates how you can play a right-handed banjo upside down.
Buy a Left-Handed Banjo
Left-handed instruments of all kinds exist and can be a great option. Like every option, they also have their drawbacks.
Disadvantages of Left-Handed Banjos
Variety of Buying Options
Only about 10% of musicians are left-handed. As a result, (and as mentioned above) fewer left-handed instruments are produced. While shopping in-store, you will have fewer options to play around with, making it difficult to find a banjo that “feels right.”
Quality of Options
With fewer options available, you will find fewer selections of high quality. This may be fine as a new player but may become frustrating when you are sure you want to dedicate time and money to playing and struggle to find the right banjo to fit your needs.
Price Points of Options
Again, with fewer options, you will have fewer price points available to choose from. Left-handed banjos are probably going to be more expensive than right-handed ones.
Can’t Play Other People’s Instruments
You see a banjo. You want to pick it up and try it out. So, you do, but it’s a righty and feels awkward in your hands. So much disappointment.
Repair and Maintenance
You may find yourself in the position of doing your own repairs and maintenance. This is because a right-handed technician may struggle with standard setup procedures on a left-handed instrument.
Advantages of a Left-Handed Banjo
Easier To Learn
This is particularly true if you have already learned to play a left-handed guitar or other stringed instrument, you will apply that knowledge to the banjo more quickly than if you were learning similar skills upside down and backward. Since you will not be simultaneously trying to increase the dexterity and responsiveness of your non-dominant hand, you will be free to focus on learning the fundamentals.
Impress Your Friends and Fans
When you play in front of family, friends, and fans who are used to looking at right-handed players, they will be intrigued and impressed by the novelty.
Play to Your Strengths
You are working with your strengths and natural abilities by going with a left-handed banjo.
Buying Options Are Improving
This sounds like it contradicts the earlier point about fewer buying options. Buying options are still limited, but there are more, better products on the market every year. Second-hand options are great. It’s hard to resell a left-handed banjo because there are fewer buyers for it, so if you find a used left-handed banjo, you may be able to grab a steal!
Left-Handed Banjo Options
Plenty of instrument manufacturers produce left-handed banjos. Many models of banjos from certain manufacturers are available in both right-handed and left-handed forms. Examples of manufacturers that do this include Deering’s Goodtime banjos. Also, several other of Deering’s more popular banjos are sold for lefties. Annually, Deering is known to produce and add more types of left-handed banjos to their product lines, too.
So, finding a manufacturer that makes a left-handed banjo won’t be too challenging for you. What you’ll need to focus on is the type of banjo that you want to purchase. Below we’ll cover the best types of left-handed banjos for lefties, starting with resonators and then moving onto open-back banjos.
If you are a beginner and looking to purchase a good left-handed banjo, the following two will make great instruments:
Savannah SB-100L 5-String Banjo
Another great option for a left-handed banjo is the Savannah SB-100L 5-String. This banjo comes with a mahogany resonator, which creates that traditional, classic sound that most banjo players crave.
The strong, maple rim on this banjo is laminated, making it very durable. You also get that nice, classic wooden look included in the fashionable design of this Savannah. Plus, when you purchase this banjo, you’ll also get a geared fifth peg. Twenty-four brackets are also included with this package.
If you are new to playing the banjo as a lefty, this is one of the best beginner models you can get. The Savannah not only sounds excellent, but it also looks great. It’s quite affordable considering what you get with it, making it worth the money.
Deering Goodtime Two 5-String Banjo
A bit more expensive but the Deering Goodtime Two is another fine quality, American made banjo from Deering. These banjos are among the best on the market and still have an affordable price for the quality of instrument that you are getting. It comes in a left-handed or right-handed option.
It has a blonde maple neck as well as a blonde maple resonator. Like all Deering instruments, you can expect it to be an instrument that will last a lifetime. This is the instrument to buy if you want to buy a little bit more expensive model that will be a pleasure to play and last a lifetime.
Left-Handed Open Back Banjos
If you’d rather have an open back banjo instead of a resonator and you’re a lefty don’t worry. We’ve got you covered on that one, too. While the options for open back banjos for lefties are more limited when compared to resonators, you don’t have to worry about finding one. There are still a couple of great options in open back banjos available on the market today. We cover these below and they include:
GoldTone CC-50/L 5-String Banjo
The GoldTone CC-50/L is an excellent choice in open back banjos for lefties. And of the two options we have here, it’s the more budget-friendly choice. This banjo is great if you enjoy folk music or playing old-time tunes. If you buy this banjo, you’ll get
- a multi-ply maple rim
- a maple neck
- a rolled-brass tone ring
- a rosewood fingerboard
- guitar style tuners
The mahogany and rosewood style of this banjo gives it an attractive, classical look. It’s also a very lightweight banjo and only weighs about five and a half pounds. That’s because no resonator comes attached to this banjo.
The tone you’ll get from this banjo is amazing, and you can recreate your favorite tunes easily. This banjo is a great value option for a lefty that’s a beginner, and that wants something robust but still affordable.
Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, then you may need to pay a little more for it. However, the Deering Goodtime banjo is still a great option, and it comes with some premium features that make it unique for a beginning lefty. The beautiful design of this banjo, with its wooden features and laminate finish, makes it an attractive, classical choice.
Some of the best features you’ll get with this banjo are:
- steel tension hoop
- violin grade maple rim
- durable satin finish
- Maple neck
- maple fretboard
The traditional maple frame on this banjo is both striking and attractive, meaning this banjo is quite a looker for a newbie leftie to own. Plus, this banjo is also extremely lightweight because it also lacks a resonator. So, if you want something easy to take with you while camping or traveling, this banjo would be a great choice.
In the following sections, we’ll discuss a third option: learn to play right-handed. We’ll also address some other thoughts on playing banjo left-handed: such as lessons, how to choose the right option for you, and famous southpaw banjo players.
Learn to Play Right-Handed
Disadvantages of Playing Right-Handed
- Giving in to Right-Handed Norms…again. It’s the story of your life. Always suppressing your natural tendencies to fit in or not make a fuss. Trying to make do with what’s available, like right-handed scissors or computer set-ups. Giving in and learning to play right-handed can add to the frustrations of learning. But playing banjo should be fun!
- Difficulty. Unless you are a prodigy, learning to play an instrument is already difficult. Add in the challenge of learning to play with your non-dominant hand and it may prove to be too much. If you find that your frustration is holding you back, learning to play right-handed may be the thing that keeps you from moving forward.
Advantages of Playing Right-Handed
- Variety of Buying. We have covered this fully in the sections above: there are just lots more right-handed instruments in the stores.
- Quality. With a bigger variety comes more options for higher quality instruments. You will be able to play around with more options in-store to discover which banjo is the right fit for you.
- Variety of Playing. You will be able to play most any banjo you come across. It is more fun to be able to grab a banjo and join in than to sit on the sidelines and watch because you can’t play that right-handed banjo.
- Good for Your Brain. Neuroscientists and physical therapists know it: using your non-dominant limbs helps exercise and challenge your brain. It can even increase coordination. Even if you don’t plan to play right-handed forever, give it a try just to keep your brain sharp!
Do What Feels Natural
- Hold a right-handed banjo as if you were going to play it right-handed. Play around with it for a bit. Then switch it to your left hand, upside down. Does one feel better or more natural?
- Switch back and forth between playing a right-handed banjo and a left-handed banjo.
- If you are distracted when you pick up a banjo, which way do you hold it without thinking?
- Chances are that your gut is telling you which one to pick. Do not over-intellectualize this. Go with your gut!
Left-Handed Books and Videos
- There are not many available, so if you become dependent on them, you will limit your opportunities to learn.
- It is easier than you think to adapt to right-handed books and videos.
- Look for books and videos which refer to “the fretting hand” and “the picking hand” instead of the right or left hand.
- You will be looking at a mirror image when facing a right-handed player, which is a major bonus!
Think About Where You Sit or Stand
Like sitting at a dining table banging elbows with a bunch of righties, you do not want to be banging pegheads (also called headstocks) while playing. This isn’t an obvious problem but when you are in the same circle of musicians playing right-handed, it might be a challenge selecting a sitting position that doesn’t cause a problem.
Famous South Paw Banjo Players
You aren’t alone! If you are needing inspiration, here are a few well-known and highly regarded lefties who rocked the banjo and other stringed instruments:
- Elizabeth Cotton – American, blues, and folk musician who was self-taught on banjo and guitar. Played left-handed on a right-handed instrument.
- Cheick Hamala Diabate – West African musician who plays the ngoni, banjo, guitar, and others. Plays left-handed on a right-handed guitar.
- Paul McCartney – British rockstar who plays left-handed guitars and plays left-handed on right-handed guitars. It is reported that he is able to play stringed instruments in any configuration.
Now that you’ve learned about your options for playing and purchasing a left-handed banjo, you can get started with your new hobby. There’s no reason to worry about having to learn to play banjo with your right hand if you are a natural lefty. Luckily, there are plenty of options on the market today for both resonator and open-back left-handed banjos. Now that you know your choices, you can purchase one and get started today!