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There was only the "Beatle bass": Being a left-handed musician in the 70s

Manuel Garde, born in 1955, left-handed.

Like many of my generation I was infected by the magic of music from an early age. Already as a small boy I was allowed to watch one evening when a music band played at our house, the central place of the fully occupied camping site, where we lived. This made the already magical atmosphere of all the happy guests from all over the world something unforgettable by means of live music.

And then something unheard of and unprecedented sounded on the radio. Not Heintje, Freddy or the River Quai March as usual, but Jimi Hendrix and Cream and along with them the blues, which had become 'my' music from the very beginning.

Manuel Garde with sun glasses playing left-handed
Manuel Garde (Photo credits: private)

Inevitably, as a 16-year-old, I ended up at some point in a small music store in my provincial small town. When I asked for an electric bass for left-handers, the salesman just raised his eyebrows and referred me to the "Beatle Bass". It could be ordered, but that might take half a year and cost extra. I already saw myself walking away with my dream gone, when the salesman remembered a drill he had in the basement.

And so he helped me by adjusting the holes on the tailpiece of my new bass, and I was able to file out the saddle notches for the first time, so that I could put the strings on "the right way round".

So I had come into the store with the clear specifications of being left-handed and how the strings should be set up. Fortunately, the old strings were long enough for this procedure, because I could not have afforded additional new ones at the price of 80,- German mark for the Höfner bass.

Until 1983, I converted various instruments, even high-priced ones, to the left. That was as natural to me as choosing instruments that could be played halfway left-handed. Thus, Leo Fender's ergonomically particularly successful instruments were never an option for me, because you never saw left-handed models of them.

Shortly before a lot of left-handed instruments from the Far East appeared on the market, I built myself various basses and electric guitars based on existing right-handed necks in the early 90s. The highlight was an electric double bass, which only succeeded because a carpenter friend of mine helped me to masterfully trim the ebony fingerboard, which I would never have been able to do that way.

Being left-handed as a musician has always meant much more than just having the problem with instruments. Most vivid is this picture of Charlie Chaplin with his violin among a hundred other violinists, he the only one playing left-handed. As a student, only I would swing to the right while skiing. A problem when the school class wants to line up and everyone else swings off to the left. I get on my bike from the 'wrong' side, where there isn't a bike stand. On stage, I basically had to fight for my position from where I could align to the right, otherwise it felt uncomfortable.

Exhibitions are very often set up in a way that the crowd is supposed to move counter-clockwise. And that's where I am often seen walking in the countercurrent, clockwise direction. I prefer supermarkets with paths running clockwise.

Today I see left-handed musicians everywhere, think of the many talents who may never have been encouraged to play in the past despite their 'handicap'. I'm especially pleased to see that even in classical music, ways are being found for left-handed players to fit into orchestral structures. I also think of all the spontaneous sessions I couldn't play on because there was no left-handed instrument. And I think of my classic, recurring musician's dream, in which the stage in the stadium is prepared, the amplifiers are turned on, the unmissable audience looks at me expectantly, and then - the bag for my instrument is empty. None of the colleagues around can help me out, the band plays without me.... I only experienced this once, but it still became the kind of dream that probably every musician dreams now and then, at least everyone I asked about it - just not in this left-handed version.


Born in Worpswede near Bremen in 1955, grew up in Salzburg from 1961. Trained there as an advertising photographer, since 1971 self-taught musician. Freelance painter and musician in Bremen, since 1974 in Berlin, 1992 change with wife and two children to Worpswede.

As a touring musician mostly in Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Austria on the road. Among others, he accompanied Michael Ballew, Texas Troubadour, Johnny Bush and "Grand Ole Opry" legend Norma Jean. Countless exhibitions with photo-realistic painting. Since 2009 living in Bregenz on Lake Constance. Focus here on street photography with annual summary in photo volumes.

Since retirement 2020 publication of the poetry volumes "Südwester", "100 Tage Gedichte" and "Liebe und andere handverlesene Gedichte".

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