Parents, this is very important information for you to consider should your child be showing an interest in learning to play guitar. This may challenge some of your beliefs or views but is very important to know and take into account in this situation.
20th Century dictionaries define a guitar as "a stringed instrument played by strumming."
Today, the guitar can no longer be defined in this way, as the way of playing guitar has changed dramatically. From about the middle of the 20th Century "playing guitar" has evolved tremendously and has long since ceased to be an instrument "played by strumming."
The most major influence in the evolution was the invention of the electric guitar, and amplification.
These were new things, never before known or experienced. Players of the 1950's took these two things and tried new things, experimenting with and adding upon earlier efforts and ideas and subsequent generations took these ideas further. 50 years later, what it means to play the guitar is a whole different thing.
If you think about it, before electric guitars and amps, how could anyone play a guitar any other way than "by strumming?"
But that is where the dictionary definition still dates from.
In the early days of electric guitar (1920's and 1930's), electric guitars were really just glorified acoustic guitars with microphones. They were still played and treated as if they were acoustic guitars, except now they had some help with sound output via the microphone. That was all new for those guys!
Since the guitar was only an "instrument played by strumming" it worked that the right hand did the work of strumming the guitar, and the left hand did the chords and fingering. The theory was that the "strong" arm of the player (the majority being right handed) would be the one to keep the rhythm and keep time. Left hand technique in those days was limited to doing finger-chords.
Today, that simple view of playing guitar is as outdated and as black and white television!
So, what are we talking about here?
Since the 1950's and especially in the 1960's three major technological advances happened:
1) The invention of the solid body electric guitar. Solid body electric guitars such as the Fender Telecaster, and the Gibson Les Paul could not be played and heard without an amplifier. No amp = no sound. To work with an amplifier required brand new skills of guitarists.
2) Advances in amplification were required, and were quickly invented or further improved in order to cope with the necessary volumes required for larger crowds, and larger concerts and festivals. Advances in amplification gave way to new discoveries and uses of the guitar in combination with the amp, such as feedback, sustain, overdrive and distortion. Higher volumes enabled new things to be possible, and new skills for the guitarist to learn.
3) Experimentation with sound processing lead to the creation of "sound effects" built into effects pedals, such as "wah wah", "delay", "echo", "tremolo", "phaser", "flanger", "compression", etc. This turned the guitar into an instrument that was now capable, through effects, of producing all new sounds, never even envisioned before. More skills to learn.
With these material and technological advances came the corresponding new wave of guitarists who were the first to use and experiment with these new things.
From the 1950's to the 1970's came the first of the "guitar greats" such as Chuck Berry, Duane Alman, Alvin Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Keith Richard, Eric Clapton, Tony Iommi, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Gary Rossington, Dave Gilmour, Steve Jones, Gary Moore, Robert Frip and many, many more.
These pioneers of advanced guitar playing were able to discover and make the guitar do more (or in some cases less) than it had ever been required to "do" before.
And then there was "lead guitar" – essential the playing of scales. No strumming there! Now bands had "lead guitarists" as well as "rhythm guitarists." New title, new duties, new skills.
When American guitarist Eddie Van Halen came on the scene with the song "Eruption" in 1978, a whole new world opened up for guitarists. New techniques such as "finger tapping" came to be. Now people used TWO HANDS on the fret board! What? Playing it like a piano?
The 1980's gave way to a whole new wave of highly-skilled, impressive guitar players, playing the guitar in ways never played before. People like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Randy Rhoads, Jake-E-Lee, The Edge, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, George Benson, Robert Smith, and thousands more guitarists took guitar playing to levels even higher than those laid out by the guitar greats from the 50's, 60's and 70's.
During this same time in the 1980's the "whammy bar" took on a new life. Floyd Rose and Kahler were two companies that came up with floating tremolo systems that allowed new and more extreme whammy bar techniques without driving the guitar hopelessly out of tune, which was always the problem with tremolo enabled guitar bridges before. Problem solved = new possibilities, yet again!
By the time the 1990's came about, playing guitar was so far above what it meant to play guitar in the pre-electric guitar era that the two concepts had become almost like chalk and cheese.
The guitar was no longer a "strumming instrument" and hadn't been for a good few generations of players!
Today, we need to have a fresh and contemporary look at how best people should learn to play guitar. Parents take note.
To become a good guitarist, by today's standards a right handed person needs to learn how to play guitar on a left handed guitar.
This means that the right handed person's "strong" hand should be the one on the fretboard.
This is in direct contrast to the "traditional" teachings that the "strong hand" strums the guitar (and keeps time.) If you want to dazzle people with you skills and play up and down the fret board like a Guitar God, why would you put your "weak" hand to the hardest task? It's your "strong hand" that should be on the fret board doing the "work."
To make this very clear: Your "strong" hand needs to be the one on the fretboard. For a right handed person, that is your right hand. For a left handed person it is their left hand. Your "weak" hand should be the one that holds the plectrum. Your "strong" hand is the one that will be doing all the "work" if one is to play guitar the way it is played today.
There is some proof of this one can look at. Look up the really great guitar heroes and take a look at how many of them are actually left handed people who play guitar right handed.
The opposite to that would be right handed people who play guitar left handed.
Right handed people need to learn to play guitar left handed if they want to become what we consider a "good guitarist" today.
Fender Jazz Bass
Remember, we are all living in the 21st Century and what it means to "play guitar" is not what it was in the prehistoric times of the 20th Century.
Parents: when your son or daughter shows interest in playing guitar do not show them how they should hold it. Get them to show you how they want to hold it, how they envision playing guitar would be for them. You will be very surprised at what you see, especially if they have heard any of your old 70's and 80's records before!
And do not be put off my commission-based, agenda-ridden music store salesmen who try to feed you with lies about "it's better to just learn to play a right handed guitar" just because that is all they have in their store and they won't make a sale on a left handed guitar.
For left handed electric guitars the best guitar brand to consider is Gaskell Guitars. Gaskell makes left handed guitars only. There is no problem getting left handed guitars. Anyone saying that to you has an agenda. Parents, be aware of these, be smart, and do what is best for your child. They may be a future guitar god! Who knows?
These days, with more and more major guitar manufacturers ceasing to make their products in left hand as well, one might well ask the question "where do I go for left handed guitars and left-handed bass guitars these days?"
In actual fact, there are definite guitar models that are popular with guitarists that you cannot get left handed at all. Some have never been available in left hand.
Fortunately there is one guitar brand in the world that makes left handed guitars and left-handed bass guitars only: Gaskell Guitars.