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Left Handed Ukulele — Helpful hints from a Left-Hander

As the final word in this debate about left-handed ukuleles, a reader offers helpful tips and provisional permission to publish their emails on this site.

John Solon wrote:

“Hello Pete,

If the page in question has indeed " started a firestorm of debate", that would seem to suggest that left-handed players aren't as "all alone" as your page indicates. You have my permission to publish my letter UNedited and with proper attribution (i.e. me). This is a blanket permission for any correspondence between us, revokable in writing at any time.

left-handed ukulele

"A guide for people who do choose the left side", could be fairly succinct:

1) Reverse your strings;

2) Look at them to see that they are IN the grooves in the nut, i.e. not resting above the top of the nut when looking at it from the side. IF they are resting on top, get a very small, very fine file, and/or an Xacto knife and GRADUALLY enlarge the sides of whichever grooves the strings need to sit deeper in. Do this in VERY small increments at a time, as it is much easier to do a little more than it is to backtrack from having done too much. (You CAN backtrack, btw, but it'd be easier to simply get a new nut from an instrument repair person. Your local music store should be able to help. Shouldn't cost more than a couple dollars...) On any even just decent ukulele, the nut will detach by loosening the strings. Unless the instrument is poorly made.. or a Maccafieri plastic uku, the nut is not glued down; it's held in place by string tension. Ditto the saddle. If you're nervous, get a small piece of hardwood (no plywood) and try out how it feels before working on your instrument.

right-handed ukulele

* IF one end of the saddle is higher that the other, turn the saddle around. IF the saddle is beveled on one of the tope edges, you'll probably want an instrument repair person to make you another. This should not cost more than a few dollars; if they're having a nice day, they may not even charge you at all;

* Tune up. Buy a clip-on electronic tuner such as the Snark, or another of the same kind. A clip-on tuner uses the sound vibrations in the instrument, so you don't need to even be able to hear the strings to get them in tune. (e.g. when tuning a solid-body electric instrument). The Snark and its kind range $10 and up, depending if you want to get fancy. You don't NEED to get fancy.

* Having done all that, Google "ukulele instruction" and "left-handed ukulele";

* "Rinse and repeat", because you won't be able to grab all at once the trove of materials you will find, and new materials will show up regularly. Don't worry, they'll stay well ahead of you; you won't run out of new material.

As for me writing "something equally passionate, but less of a critique", well... as a matter of fact, I DO think your original position is wrong; no, not "for everyone, all the time". NOTHING is for "everyone, all the time". But if, as a 14-yr-old with a strung-backwards old Gibson, I had NOT been given the advice your web page offers on playing left-handed... by now I would have been playing fretted instruments since my teens, instead of since my 50s.

So, please bear with my confrontative tone. I do not think you are an "evil" person; there is a LOT of very good material on your web site. But your "Left-handed Ukulele" page, gratuitously promulgates a point of view which remains common (although less so that a few years ago), and which is still imposed on left-handed people in a variety of life pursuits, not just musical instruments. This point of view is almost invariably the point-of-view of outsiders (non-left-handers), and is almost always about the (relatively minor) convenience of the majority at the expense of the actual needs of the minority.

If a left-hander feels motivated to learn to play right-handed, it is not for anyone to discourage them. However, equally, IF NOT MORE SO, it is not for ANYONE to discourage a LEFT-hander from learning to play LEFT-handed. THAT is my objection to your web page: you DO discourage them, and NOT out of your own experience as a left-hander who has struggled and failed at playing left-handed. You discourage them out of your own inferences, as a right-hander, of what their experience, as a left-hander, is going to be, and the at best second-hand, interpreted experience of another. You discourage them with largely inaccurate information, relatively trivial "obstacles", and subtle intimidation. They will be "all alone"; they will not be able to find suitable instructional materials or not not able to use the ones they do find. That is all baloney!

And really, is being able to pick up someone else's ukulele to show off by playing them a tune worth a long struggle against your own body's sense of itself?? How many times in a life does such an occasion arise? I can think of, perhaps, one or two in my life, and I'm 67 years old. If I'm going anywhere I expect that I'll want/need to play, I'll have brought one of my own ukus with me. Wouldn't you? *

The "just like every one you're likely to encounter in your life" argument doesn't cut it for those of us who ourselves are NOT "just like" 80% of the people we encounter in our lives. Would you advise an unusually short person to buy a full-size bicycle, because that's the size bicycle they're most likely to encounter? Isn't being able to actually RIDE it and ride well the more important consideration than how easy it will be to borrow someone else's bike? If they WANT to struggle with riding a full-size bike, more power to 'em, but they aren't likely to be able to ride as efficiently, comfortably, or even safely, as they would on the right equipment FOR THEM.

Most left-handed people, on their own, do not naturally first hold their instrument in the right-handed playing position. Rhythmic strumming and/or accurate picking are not readily accomplished with the non-dominant hand, nor fretting with the dominant hand. Disagree? Try it yourself. Then ask half a dozen other guitarist of whatever ability and experience to try it. I can't imagine that any of them would agree that it feels natural, comfortable, or more mechanically efficient for playing than their "normal" arrangement. This is not a function intrinsic to the right hand; it is a function intrinsic to "handedness", i.e. the way one's brain is wired.

To Be Continued...


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