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Lansing music shop creates space dedicated to left-handed guitarists

Roger Martin in the Lefty Lounge.jpg
Scott Pohl/WKAR
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Roger Martin owns about two dozen left-handed guitars. He checked out the new Lefty Lounge inside Elderly Instruments in Lansing.

Left-handers have a tough time buying guitars in a right-handed marketplace. Now, Elderly Instruments has opened the Lefty Lounge for southpaws.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing a musician looking for a new instrument is the one faced by left-handed guitar players. There’s much more to it than reversed strings.

A store in Lansing is working to cater to those often-overlooked lefties.

Joshua Davis might be the most well-known left-handed guitar player ever to emerge from the Lansing music scene. The Steppin’ In It frontman and finalist on TV’s The Voice says it’s incredibly hard to find left-handed guitars in a store.

It isn’t just the strings. The pickguard is upside down. If the guitar has electronics, they’re in the wrong place. Even the nut at the top of the neck where the strings go to the tuning holes is likely backwards.

To compensate, Davis has purchased right-handed guitars and had them flipped over, but there are still issues.

“The bracing on the inside," Davis said, "there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but sometimes I’ll do that if I find a guitar that I really love, an old vintage guitar, like, this isn’t vintage but my National that I got, I had it flipped over because they just weren’t making left-handed National resophonic guitars back then.”

Roger Martin isn’t a professional guitarist, but he is a serious player and collector. He has a couple of dozen left-handed guitars. At times, he’s relied on buying online.

Martin describes the process as rolling the dice when he hasn’t actually played the instrument he’s buying. “I’ve had a few duds, even high-end guitars that are priced high-end too," Martin said. "You take them home and you just go, you know, this isn’t making it for me, and then you have to sell it.”

Buying a left-handed guitar just got a little easier at Elderly Instruments. They’ve created a small space where all of the instruments are for southpaws.

Martin's first impression is that it's smaller than he'd thought, "but maybe not. I mean, they’ve got a business to run here, they’ve got to make their monthly nut. I see some lower-end guitars, but entry-level, that entry-level left-handed players are going towards, so that’s smart," Martin said. "I see a couple of higher-end guitars as well. I’m hoping that this lounge will compel them to have a larger inventory going forward here so I’ll have more choices and people like me when we come in, but yeah, I think it’s a good start.”

Mike Smalley is a manager at Elderly. He’s a left-handed bass player himself, but for convenience, plays right-handed. He says Elderly probably has a more extensive left-handed selection than most stores.

“We have a left-handed mandolin. Only one, but that probably makes us the leading left-handed mandolin store in America!" Smalley continued "we’ve got two banjos, and then a bunch of guitars. This used to be our violin room, and our stock of violins is low, so we’ve moved those to another area, and so this is sort of a convenience. It’s a nice feature for us lefties, even though I’m a cheater.”

Jim Duncan and son Omar.jpg
Southpaw Guitars owner Jim Duncan (L) with the store's manager, his son Omar.

Probably the leading retailer of left-handed guitars around is Southpaw Guitars in Bellaire, Texas, outside Houston. Owner Jim Duncan says they usually have a thousand instruments in stock, though importing issues currently have that number down by several hundred. He counts Justin Bieber and Ted Sablay of The Killers among his customers. He’s also sold to that lefty from The Beatles.

“I got a call from Gibson guitars," Duncan explains, "and they said Paul McCartney is starting his 2013 tour and he needs a guitar and they called us up and said can we ship him one. I said ‘no problem.’ So, the 12-string acoustic guitar that he used on his entire 2013 came from us.”

Joshua Davis says he’s good at spotting the left-handed guitars in stores where they’re sprinkled in with the rest. He has visited the Lefty Lounge and appreciates that all the southpaws are in one place.

“This is nice," added Davis, "that you can go in, it’s a room of your own, and you know that all the lefties are going to be right in there, so no more scanning.”

In the Lefty Lounge, Roger Martin can’t resist picking up a Martin guitar to try. His final word on the Lefty Lounge is “I think it’s great, and I hope that they follow through and they search the marketplace and find not just new instruments but used instruments as well. In fact, I’ve got a couple at home that I might be bringing in to consign here right now. This is a really good start, no question about it.”

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