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What Is a Left-Handed Banjo?

A left-handed banjo is built specifically for use by left-handed people.
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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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A left-handed banjo is a banjo that is built for play by a left-handed musician. These acoustic stringed instruments often require customization for “lefties” because of the innate challenges of playing the banjo well. Other stringed instruments, including guitars, are also made in left-handed varieties. Although some virtuoso musicians are able to use a traditional right-handed stringed instrument with the left hand, the majority of left-handed musicians seek out these specialty models.

Building a left-handed banjo is different from building a conventional right-handed banjo. Because the instrument will be held in the opposite direction, all of the controls for the banjo need to be placed differently. Placement for pegs and strings, as well as other elements of the design, are all reversed.

One of the ways that left-handed banjo models help musicians who are left-handed is with the intense speed that is often required for this instrument. Common banjo performances include a lot of “fast picking,” where the musician creates a long, quick series of musical notes that tend to blend into each other. This style produces a dynamic banjo sound that is familiar to many who have only heard the banjo played a few times.

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Left-handed musicians can utilize the left-handed banjo to pursue the “claw-hammer” style of play, or other alternative picking arrangements. In claw-hammer play, the hand assumes a “claw” position, and the musician keeps the fingers rather stiff, using the wrist more to strike notes. Many banjo players may also use a series of small plastic “nails” in other challenging styles of play to pick the banjo strings more precisely, and create a different sound for this instrument. This can be hard for a left-handed player to do without a customized left-handed banjo.

Left-handed banjos come in a wide variety of forms. Some of these are lower register bass banjos, where others are made in the higher tenor register. Banjos also come with different numbers of strings. Some include only four strings, where others include a special fifth string that starts out higher on the fretboard. Some banjos also have six strings for even more simultaneous sound.

Buyers of left-handed banjos often look for the same types of characteristics that regular banjo buyers do. One of these is the quality of materials for the banjo. The banjo head should include a sturdy, well-installed material that allows for the vibration of sound inside of the metal rounded head area. The stock should be of quality wood, with additional metal pieces for frets, pegs and more. Banjos, as a whole, are complex instruments, and can be extremely expensive due to the craftsmanship needed to make quality models.

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