Leftward, Ho!: A Guide for Southpaws

FOR THE BULK OF BASSISTS WHO PLAY right-handed instruments, Jack Frisch would like you to consider the plight of lefty bassists.
By Chris Jisi ,

FOR THE BULK OF BASSISTS WHO PLAY right-handed instruments, Jack Frisch would like you to consider the plight of lefty bassists. “Imagine you have cash in your pocket to buy an instrument, you go into a huge music store with over 50 basses in all varieties and colors on the wall, and only one or two are available to you.” The southpaw Frisch, who owns Upright Graphics (uprightgraphics.com) and has designed websites and CDs for such bassists as Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, Will Lee, Christian McBride, Victor Bailey, George Mraz, and Mark Egan, admits the situation has gradually improved over the last ten years, thanks to the Internet. “There are now sites devoted to lefties, as well as numerous sources for left-handed instruments and parts.” Enough that we thought it was time for an overview from the left.


Like Jimi Hendrix on guitar, the bass world has its legendary lefty icon in Sir Paul McCartney, who still plucks his reverse Höfner. Colin Hodgkinson, who once shared a bill with the Beatles and made his mark with Back Door, Alexis Korner, and the Spencer Davis Group, has long played his lefty ’62 P-Bass for his hyper-blues explorations. Back in New York, Joe Long, the Four Seasons bassist from 1965 to 1976, was plucking what had to be one of the very first lefty Jazz Basses, a blond 1960 stack-knob model. Out in Los Angeles, Doug Lubahn had the distinction of playing righty basses upside down on Doors hits like “Hello, I Love You” and “Strange Days” (see page 80), only to switch to a standard-strung lefty bass when he moved to New York and formed the horn band Dreams. In ’70s L.A., Gerald Johnson plucked his righty P-Bass upside-down with Steve Miller and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and lent his bass to Stephen Stills, who flipped it over to record “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The late Wayman Tisdale played his memorable smooth jazz melodies on piccolo and standard basses strung upside-down.

Principal among contemporary left-handers is Jimmy Haslip, who also plays his 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-strings strung upside-down. Although a cornerstone of the jazz mainstay Yellowjackets, Haslip has made numerous sideman appearances over the years, including his current stints with Allan Holdsworth and Renegade Creation, featuring Robben Ford and Michael Landau. dUg Pinnick, who laid down lefty heft with King’s X, has been playing guitar in his latest project, Tres Mts., with Jeff Ament and Richard Stuverud. And Nashville-based Keith Horne, whose credits range from the cream of country artists to Peter Frampton, is also known for his solo fuzey flights of fancy on his upside down-strung 6.


New left-handed basses remain an option from most major companies that mass-produce (or partially mass-produce) their instruments, as well as boutique companies with handmade custom basses. The key question, especially among the larger companies, is whether they offer a lefthanded bass in each of their model lines (and color options), and if they charge more for it (compared to the righty version). For example, Carvin does not charge more in most cases, Steinberger does, while Fender does not in its more basic models, but does charge $100 more for its higher-end American Standard Jazz Bass and Precision Bass. (If detailed information isn’t on a company’s website, you’ll have to contact the manufacturer directly.) As for availability and variety, a check of six top mail-order musical instrument sites revealed 27, 25, 18, 13, 12, and 9 models available in stock. Frisch points out that lefty basses can be built from parts via companies like Warmoth and B.Hefner.


McCartney’s main Höfner 500/1 Beatle Bass (which, for years, had the set list from the Beatles’ last live gig taped to the body) and Joe Long’s 1960 Jazz Bass are two of the rarest, most valued lefty basses in existence. Step down a whole bunch of levels, however, and the used market is the very best place to get a quality lefthanded bass at a reasonable price, if you know where to look. Acknowledges Frisch, “The secret is out about what’s known as MIJ—for ‘made in Japan’—or CIJ—‘crafted in Japan’—Fender Basses. These are lightweight, great-sounding basses that often surpass their U.S. and Mexico-made counterparts. They’re correct in every contour and spec; you could take a neck off and fit it perfectly to a ’60s Fender body. Plus, Japanese Fenders are available in far more colors and styles. You can’t find a left-handed Jaguar Bass in the U.S., but you can in Japan.” While some retail and second-hand sites have lefty MIJs for sale, the best place to find them, says Frisch, is on eBay, where prices typically range from $500– $1,500. “One telltale sign is the lefty MIJs often have only the word ‘Fender’ on the headstock decal,” he offers. Frisch also notes that the availability of vintage lefty parts has improved considerably, through websites like allparts.com and guitarpartsresource.com.


As left-handed upright bassists know, converting a righty upright is not as simple as reversing the strings and recutting the nut, as is done on bass guitars. In addition to the bridge needing to be changed, the inside of the body is not symmetrical; there are components, specifically the bass bar and soundpost, that sit on the E-string side of the body. Upton Bass offers a “Left-Handed Upgrade” of righty basses for $500 that reverses the bass bar and soundpost, bridge, strings, nut orientation, tuner key direction, endpin key, and the fingerboard arch. Meanwhile, left-handed uprights are available from various manufacturers. For example, Gollihur Music offers lefty models for “typically a little less than $300” above the cost of its righty models. Thomas Martin offers a e-size concert model; the price is available through e-mail contact.


The most popular left-hand bass website is leftybass.com, run by German bassist Volkmar “Arni” Arnecke. The 13-year-old site, in German and English, lists lefty players from all over the globe, has a gallery of basses, another gallery of second-hand basses for sale, and various other pages that support and gather the community. At one point Arnecke even issued four volumes of CDs featuring contributions by lefty bassists (including Jimmy Haslip). Frisch, who did the artwork for Vol. 4, also cites the forum-style leftybassist.com, with multiple threads on bass, gear, gear for sale, and more; the lefty threads on Talkbass; and leftyfretz.com, a guitar and bass resource site that includes a database on left-handed instruments available from over 75 companies, and educational tools such as Bass Fret Note Labels that stick on the fingerboard. So take stock, southpaws: Your history is rich, and your growing gear and support communities are rallying to ensure what will no doubt be a bright future. And that’s no left-handed compliment.