It hasn’t been an easy ride for left-handed musicians. Roll things back to the 1400s and being left-handed could see you being accused of witchcraft or being in league with the Devil. Even its medical term, “sinistromanual”, contains the word sinister and conjures 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 hand. 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. In fact, left-handed people are statistically more likely to have an accident that requires medical attention than right-hand dominant.
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, here at Burst Gallery, we’re going to take a look at the top 15 left-handed musicians.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
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.
Sir Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney With His Epiphone Casino Guitar 1979. Click on the image to find out more and buy this poster.
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 Burst Gallery 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. Not only did Gallagher define Britpop with his work in Oasis, he has also forged his successful solo career and is a true musical icon. Best of all, he taught himself to play right-handed; he’s naturally left-handed. Check out our collection of stylish Noel Gallagher posters and prints.
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. Jimi Hendrix became a true sinistromanual icon in every sense of the word.
It’s not only guitarists who’ve had to adapt to the right-handed world. Ringo Starr, a key member of possibly the world’s biggest band — The Beatles, famously played a right-handed drum kit, despite being left-handed. This has made things understandably tricky for aspiring artists who’ve tried to emulate his unique drumming style.
Another legendary drummer and left-handed musician, 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 guitars right-handed. While most videos and pictures show him playing conventionally, photos of him writing show his sinistrality at work. Bowie became one of the world’s most iconic musicians and is easily one of the most influential left-handers.
The original drummer for the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson, is another left-hander who 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, check 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 Ozzy Osbourne, 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 the guitar, Iommi experimented with creating his own prosthetic fingertips, starting 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 and become one of the most influential women in the music industry. 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 ‘90s when the film, Pulp Fiction, opened with one of his tracks, “Misirlou”. Before that, he’d carved out a career in the ‘60s 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 Californian sound. Before he graduated to left-handed guitars, Dale honed his sound by reaching over the fretboard rather than under it.
The pulse of The Police, Copeland was born left-handed but learned to play a right-handed drum kit. 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-handers, 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 musician looking to shake things up a bit and push the boundaries.
Celebrate your love for some of the worlds biggest musical icons with Burst Gallery. Order your music prints today and choose from a range of sizes and framing options.