Loving Lefties: Left Handed Banjos

by Carolina Bridges

We make left handed banjos here at Deering! I know…you thought it was a rumor, a joke, a myth, but it is actually true! And it isn’t an accident… we do it on purpose!!

Just as the phrase “one size fits all/most” is deceiving, so it is with banjos. Learning to play an instrument is challenging enough on its own, much less presenting the beginner with the additional obstacle of forcing his non-dominant hand to perform the fine motor skills used in learning picking patterns. So let’s explore the joy of being a left-handed banjo player!

Why a Lefty Banjo:

Our brains are created to allow certain muscle pathways to be dominant. We are left handed, right handed, and some lucky folks are actually ambidextrous. Because of this, our dominant hand is more easily able to perform fine motor skills like learning to write, cutting with scissors, drawing, and plucking strings. I have heard it said that if you have never played an acoustic instrument, you can learn to play right handed if you are a left handed individual. I am sure that it is true, but I have to believe that it gives you a more difficult learning curve. Given the challenges already presented in learning to play with picks on or holding a flat pick, then giving yourself “optimum” conditions is highly recommend. At Deering, we believe that left-handed folks should have the option of buying a left handed banjo!

Goodtime Left-Handed Banjos:

The beauty of the Goodtime banjos is that they are ALL made in the left handed (as well as right handed) style. That means all 45 variations of the Goodtime banjos, be they openback, resonator, tone ring, 17-fret, 19-fret, 22 fret, 4-string, 5-string, stained, or in the natural finish are easily affordable.

I will share a brief story with you. We are fortunate enough to work for a company that has weekly staff meetings and they actually listen to our suggestions. When the Goodtime line of banjos was in its infancy (with only two kinds instead of the current 45 variations), we began to get calls from our customers asking for left handed Goodtime banjos. 

We all thought it would be a good idea to do this. We even had production managers who had siblings and friends who were left handed and knew the struggles they had to get ANYTHING made to fit properly. So, as a team, we brought this request to the weekly staff meeting. Greg Deering listened patiently to our heart-felt “campaign” and said “If you can get me 100 people who will buy them, I will do the tooling involved to make it happen.”

That was really a modest request, folks, considering the amount of tooling that he would have to do to get it done! It’s not like you just “flip it over!” So, the sales manager started calling dealers and I kept track of the names and contact information of ANYONE who called in and asked for a left-handed Goodtime banjo. Long story short, we got those 100 names and Greg Deering made good on his promise.

Why would he do this? Greg Deering loves the banjo and he strongly believes in removing as many road-blocks as he can for anyone who wants to learn to play the banjo!

When it comes time to transition into a more professional grade banjo, Deering also has a select number of banjos from which to choose.

Upperline Deering Banjos:

With a 6-string or a 4-string banjo, the construction challenges to convert a right handed design are more modest. Equal care and attention to details must be taken because the side dots on the banjos must be placed correctly and the nut slots cut accordingly to accommodate the mirror image of the right handed instrument.

The 5-string banjos are an entirely different story! They each must have their own separate tooling path for a left handed model. Given that understanding it is even more remarkable that our steel rimmed Boston 5-string banjo is made for you at no extra charge for the left handed styling! In a more recent concession to our customers, Greg Deering said we could offer the Boston with the custom tone wood option of maple or mahogany at no extra charge, opening up a whole world of sound possibilities from ultimate brightness (maple/steel rim) to a crisp sparkle (mahogany/steel rim) for all our banjo enthusiasts.

The Sierra 5-string banjo was recently given a magnificent new fingerboard inlay created by Greg Deering. Left handed Sierra banjos are offered as well and also have the same custom tone wood selection of maple or mahogany.  With the combination of our new 3-ply violin grade maple rim and Deering -06- bell bronze tone ring , the new Sierra gives the banjo player a choice of a remarkably powerful, crisp, and bright maple banjo or a strong, sweet toned mahogany instrument. The hard part is CHOOSING!

Teaching Material For Lefties:

Here is great news! Banjo books are “generic”.  You don’t need a left handed book (as long as you are not using one with pictures). If it is written in tablature or musical notation, it can be used by anyone, right handed or left handed. In tablature, the instructions show which string, fret position, and thumb/middle/index for bluegrass or thumb/finger for clawhammer/frailing banjo picking. Charts are charts… they just show dots.

In general,you won’t have any problem with an instruction book unless it has pictures… then you will have to pretend you are looking in a mirror. But, it all works!

And nowadays there are so many wonderful books, CDs, and DVDs, (ok… remember the mirror thing), websites, that you can teach yourself until you can find a great teacher.

The Master's Choice:

With as many barriers removed as we could, you just have to make the choice of which Goodtime or Deering banjo you want to begin your road to “banjo master.” The journey is fun, approachable, and there are lots of us on the road with you. So, let’s PLAY THE BANJO TODAY!

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