Upside Down Guitars

Mint 58 lefty that I authenticated a few years ago. A stunningly beautiful guitar. How did it play? Beats me, I couldn’t play it.

Recently I was asked by a reader if I had ever written a post about left handed ES guitars and I don’t recall if I have or not but it’s a good subject. There have been plenty of greats who were/are lefties. Some played right handed, some played a right handed guitar turned upside down (either strung lefty or righty) and some played left handed guitars. Jimi played a righty guitar strung lefty and turned upside down but Dick Dale learned to play with a righty guitar turned upside down and still strung righty so the high strings were on top. Albert King apparently played that way as well. Wanna feel like a total spaz? Pick up a left handed guitar and try to play. Strung either way, it’s incredibly difficult-more so for a crappy player like me, although a lefty strung as a lefty is a lot easier. Take your righty guitar and turn it over and try to play. Total spaz, right?

It’s not hard to source a left handed 335 these days but back in the day, they were only available by special order and they are incredibly rare. They also command a pretty serious premium. I don’t recall exactly how many 335’s, 345’s and 355’s were made from 58 to 69 but they number in the thousands. I figure I’ve owned around 600 or so since I started doing this and I’ve had no lefties. In fact I’ve seen less than a dozen. I know of a couple of ’58’s. Left handed dealer Alex Pavchinski sent me a mint 335 lefty a few years back to authenticate and I know he had at least one more ’58. I know of maybe five lefty 345’s from ’59 to ’64. I know of at least one red ’64 335. ¬†Of the two known block neck blonde 335’s, one is a righty ’63 (which I owned) and the other is a lefty ’64 owned by a gentleman who lives 40 minutes from my shop. I wish we’d gotten a photo of the two of them together while I had the ’63. There was a ’68 on Ebay a while back but I can’t think of any others off hand. So, that’s ten I can recall. I’m sure there are lots more but I’d be surprised if they numbered as many as 100 during that period. In fact, if you told me there were less than 50, I wouldn’t be surprised.

ES-335’s have been relatively popular among lefty players over the years probably because they are symmetrical-you don’t give up any fret access when you flip over a righty 335. And they don’t look funny upside down like a Telecaster or Les Paul does. But if you’re a left handed player and you want a left handed vintage 335, 345 or 355, be prepared to pay a serious upcharge. “Find another” pricing is in effect here. You can ask whatever you want and leave it up to the buyer to decide if a 50% or 100% or 300% markup is appropriate. Typically, the prices seem to be in the 50% to 100% (double) range for pre 65’s. There’s a ’60 345 on the market now for $47,000. I sold a very early right handed ’60 345 last week for $16,500, so you can do the math. Fair? Ambitious? Outrageous? You’ll have to decide because supply and demand is a fickle law when both the supply and the demand are so low. The 68 on Ebay was around $8000, if I recall, which didn’t seem out of line. I have no idea if it sold or what it sold for but it was listed for quite a long time. I’m told the $47000 60 345 has been listed for over a year-I just noticed it recently but I don’t actively seek out lefty guitars.

I just checked Reverb-no vintage lefty ES’s. I checked Gbase-one ’85 335. I checked Ebay-none. Considering the number of right handed vintage ES’s on the market at any given time, the number of lefties is miniscule. I’m very happy to have been born right handed. Things would be pretty dull sitting around my shop being unable to play all the great guitars I get. I’d have to learn how to play upside down.

This 63 355 was brought to me a few years ago for authentication. It turned out to have been a converted righty. A new nut and a new top are all you need to turn a righty to a lefty. Or you could just turn it upside down.


7 Responses to “Upside Down Guitars”

  1. Ted Mottor says:

    Hey Charlie. Thanks so much for taking on my “assignment” of writing about lefties. I really appreciate you addressing a topic that I’m pretty sure you’ve never covered before. Very interesting! Us lefties get no love at all by the guitar makers. You go into any Guitar Center and there might be 200-300 guitars but only 1 or 2 lefties (and they’re usually the lowest quality in the line). So hard to find a nice playing one. I get it though…as you said…low demand is why there is low supply. There’s no incentive (both then and now) for them to produce lefties if they don’t sell them. It’s pretty much a custom order type of situation if you want anything nice. Of course in the used market, the hunt for them is half the fun! Keep us posted if you ever come across another vintage 3xx lefty!

  2. RAB says:

    Wow, beautiful and crazy rare ’58 lefty dotneck but it just looks wrong to me! Maybe Sir Paul should buy it! He certainly has the coin!

  3. Allan says:

    As a lefty I was encouraged by my first teacher to simply play “right handed”. Glad I took his advice. It’s advantageous for a lefty to put their writing hand on the fret board anyway because of the dexterity and control learned from writing.

  4. Rob says:

    My guitar mind was completely blown watching Eric Gales play various Strats and Les Pauls from about 10 feet away on a Bonamassa blues cruise two years ago.

  5. Jonathan Krogh says:

    I may have been the one who asked about lefties. I have a few righties flipped and restrung (like hendrix) but I can also riff around for awhile on a full righty held lefty(like albert king) but chords never sound proper. Strats and ES3xx flip very well, I prefer the feel of a flipped strat to a lefty strat (I suspect hendrix felt the same because he could have certainly gotten all the lefhanders he wanted and he never bothered). Teles, LPs and surprisingly SGs are impossible, your forearm WILL turn the knobs down on them while strumming, on a strat taking off the volume knob prevents that problem. Fortunately this does not happen on my ES345, to do the flip I just made a new nut, and adjusted the intonation, no other alterations not even the strap button, the low E just about a hair off, but the rest intonate fine.

  6. Rod says:

    I remember Hendrix saying that the only reason he played right-handed guitars reversed was that the left-handed guitar output was less than 5% (surprised it’s that much) so the chances of finding a good left-handed guitar were correspondingly reduced. At that time, I thought all Strats (for example) were as good as one another, shows how much farther ahead of the game he was!

  7. John Shannon says:

    Great article. Part of the problem of being a lefty is the lack of good vintage selections as you mentioned and when you find something…you do pay the premium for sure. The fun side is the search as you make it a fun hobby. I love old Gibson’s and Guild’s. Pictured are a ’61 Guild Starfire III, ’65 Guild Starfire V and a ’66 Guild Starfire VI. On the right ’69 Gibson ES-335, ’61 Gibson ES-345 and a ’64 Gibson ES-355. I’m a lucky guy to have these !

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