According to a number of sources, it seems that left-handed/left hand dominant people make up roughly between 10-12% of the population. That may not seem like a lot, but since it’s 2023, the world population is currently at over eight billion people. That means that there are roughly eight hundred million left handed people in the world. That’s more than the population of North America, Russia, the UK and Ireland combined!
With that said, it’s only natural that we should talk about a common issue for so many people… finding a playable banjo as a left-handed individual!
What’s Different About Left-Handed Banjos?
If you’re lefty, a beginner, and wondering how a regular banjo is usually set up, don’t worry we’re here to guide you. A right-handed banjo has the resonator or open back banjo body resting on your right leg while the neck would be spanning across the left hand side of your body. The strings would stem from the lowest (on top), to the highest (at the bottom).
On a left handed banjo though, the layout is completely flipped, but the string layout stays the same going from lowest (top) to the highest (bottom). Another aspect to note, on five string banjos the fifth string’s tuning head would always be pointing upwards. So a left handed banjo’s main feature would be that the fifth tuner head would be pointed upwards with the neck and headstock on the right-hand side.
Since banjos are stringed instruments they do tend to favour a particular side to carry the workload in playing all of the melodies, as opposed to another instrument like a piano, which puts less emphasis on using one hand for a lot of the work.
What Could I do with a Normal Banjo as a Left-Handed Player?
A particularly common method of working around the difficulty of having fewer left handed banjos than right-handed ones, is by re-stringing a right-handed banjo to make it possible to play the banjo left handed. There’s been many cases of left handed musicians restringing their right-handed stringed instruments to make them playable. In most instances, some legendary left handed, top guitar players have been very famous for doing this, such as Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. The same can be done with the banjo as well!
However it should be noted that it’s only really possible to restring a four-string banjo this way as five-strings have the extra tuner head (as I’ve already mentioned). Plus, if you want to restring a right-handed banjo this way, you’ll need to change out the nut on the neck, beside the headstock where the strings run through. This is because it’s usually designed to fit the thickness of each string on the banjo, and could affect the tone and sound of the banjo if it’s not changed.
That being said, it’s totally possible to turn a four string right handed banjo into a left handed one!
Can I learn to play a Right-Handed Banjo?
In short, yes absolutely, although it might be a bit tricky. Like with the restringing, there have been many cases of left handed players learning to play right-handed instruments (usually in relation to guitars, but examples can be found with other instruments).
One of my personal favourites, Mark Knopfler, the lead guitarist of Dire Straits, learned to play right-handed guitar despite being left-handed himself. He claimed that being left-handed allowed him to develop his style of playing, having more expressiveness and dexterity over each string in his electric and acoustic guitar playing.
The same argument could be made for playing the banjo. Training your dominant hand could mean having more control playing notes and dynamics (playing loud or soft). However, if you already play another stringed instrument like the guitar the right-handed way, this approach could feel unnatural and a bit weird.
What Banjo Brands Sell Left Handed Models?
Most high end banjo companies will sell some left handed models, but their range will probably be more limited than their right-handed selection.
Luckily, here at McNeela we sell our own range of high quality hand crafted four string tenor banjos perfectly catered towards folk, jazz, and traditional Irish music. In addition, not only do we sell right-handed banjos, but we also offer the option to set up our four string banjos for any left handed player if they would like for no extra cost.
For more information be sure to check out our online store for our entire range of banjos.
Do I Need to Buy Banjo Teaching Materials Specifically for Left-Handed Players?
Luckily, there’s no need to look for left handed teachers if you’re a left handed player. All of the information that would be provided would all be exactly the same. The only thing you’d have to keep in mind is that the hands are swapped, so any details about what their ‘left hand’ is doing on the neck would be for your right hand, and vice versa. Once you keep this in mind, learning the banjo from any source should be a total breeze.
Looking for More Information? Be Sure to Check Out our Blog and Shop for More!
Our blog is updated regularly to ensure that you’ve all the information you need when looking for traditional Irish instruments. Make sure to check out these posts below about all things banjo related:
- FAQ: The 12 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Banjos.
- The Best Beginner Banjo for Sale Under $500.
- The 3 Best Beginner Tunes for Irish Tenor Banjo and Mandolin.
As I’ve mentioned, we’ve a selection of fantastic resonator and open back banjos catered towards playing folk, jazz, and traditional Irish music. Plus we offer the option of setting up our four-string models in a left handed configuration. We also sell a wide selection of top brands and gear from other stringed instruments as well such as guitars, violins, bouzoukis, mandolins and many more. Be sure to look at our website for more information, or to contact us to buy any of our wonderful instruments.