Hammond (1976-) is a prominent British double and electric bassist, composer and educator who has performed with notable artists including Tina May, Stuart McCallum and Bucks Fizz.
He describes himself as ‘very left-handed’ and now plays on left-handed instruments as a preference, but as a teenager Hammond picked ‘automatically’ played a right-handed guitar ‘upside-down’. He eventually bought his own left-handed guitar and ‘had to relearn all my chord shape’, but believes that those early experiences ingrained an ability to think and play idiodextrously that enables him to easily adapt when sitting in at jam sessions or teaching on right-handed instruments.
Hammond’s first electric bass was a right-handed Fender Jazz re-strung left-handed, but when he noticed a tendency to inadvertently turn down the volume knobs with his sleeve, he opted to buy a left-handed version of the same model. When Hammond first borrowed a double bass during college, he played it idiodextrously. It wasn’t until much later that he realised it was possible to get a right-handed instrument converted to be left-handed.
Comparing idiodextrous and conventionally left-handed playing, Hammond argues that in either orientation, the asymmetry inherent in the order of the strings means that there is always a compromise for either the plucking or the fingering hand:
“…instead of being able to sort of pull through… that Rufus Reid thing of that twist on the bottom E… you’ve got the other three strings and the fingerboard in the way. So, I end up playing it more like a Cuban-y type of two-finger thing. Because I can’t get the attack on the bottom E… playing one finger, it just sounds really thin. So I tend to find I’m double-fingering it.”
Conversely, Hammond considers that an idiodextrous approach relieves strain from the fingering hand when playing on the heaviest strings, which demands ‘coming round to get it’ and bringing ‘your elbow right out’ in the conventional left-handed (or right-handed) approach. So in Hammond’s experience, playing conventionally left-handed is easier on the left (plucking) hand, while playing idiodextrously is easier on the right (fingering) hand. He concludes that this is the source of a compromise fundamental to playing all string instruments.
Discussing Jimi Hendrix’s handedness approach, Hammond states that he also wonders about the assigning of roles to hands in modern styles of guitar playing, especially when someone is predominantly ‘a chord player’:
“Why would you like your dominant hand just doing this [strumming up and down]? And then supposedly your weakest hand doing all the fancy stuff?”
He suggests that maybe the tradition is rooted in assigning the dominant hand to being ‘the driving force’ of sound production, while the non-dominant hand is ‘catching up to that’ in its fingering.
Hammond also plays and teaches classical guitar and noticed that when developing the complex finger-picking required, he discovered that his left (dominant, sound-producing) hand felt ‘underdeveloped, movement-wise’. He considered that ‘apart from two finger electric [bass] playing, which is sort of just alternating’, his left hand ‘felt like it had been redundant’.
Hammond contends that it might be preferable to ‘do classical [guitar] left-handed… and then electric [bass] right-handed’, which is also in line with the intuitive logic of Hendrix’s handedness approach.
Hammond also mentions a friend who plays electric bass left-handed, but double bass right-handed: “He just says he treats it like a completely different instrument.”
In some ways, Hammond wishes he’d learnt to play double bass idiodextrously, particularly to address problems of instrument availability. Hammond originally considered having one built ‘from scratch’ and found a luthier willing to forego the usual upcharge compared to making the same instrument right-handed (which Hammond jokes is ‘handist’), but eventually opted for conversion.
Hammond’s current double bass cost around £1000 to convert inside- and out-, including re-cambering the fingerboard, re-drilling the tuning pegs and making a new bridge. He cautions that even converting a bass can be problematic:
“I tried [my current bass] out in the shop and it was right-handed, and I thought yeah it sounds great, that. Paid for it, paid for converting, come back and… just the tone of it sounds completely different. I preferred it before.”
The change in sound was likely due to the subtly asymmetric carving of the top plate of the bass, designed to accommodate the bass bar and soundpost in their original, right-handed configuration.
Hammond feels that playing the conventionally left-handed way is useful for teaching, since ‘you’ve got the two sets of hands going the same way – it’s just like a mirror of each other’.
Conversely, while studying at Wakefield college, Hammond’s double bass teachers insisted that ‘it’s impossible to play double bass left-handed’, forbade him from doing it and insisted that he must ‘re-train [his] brain’ and play right-handed. Hammond struggled through playing right-handed ‘abysmally’ in the lessons, then immediately reverted to playing idiodextrously when practicing at home. His teachers’ argument was principally based on preserving uniformity in bowing directions in the orchestra – a familiar argument by now, and one refuted by Manny Flores Jr’s experiences of being welcomed and accommodated into the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.
More recently, Hammond has performed with Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra and remembers that ‘the first time he walked in with [his] left-handed double bass’, the seven other bassists ‘looked horrified and bewildered’. They later told him that initially, ‘they couldn’t figure out what was wrong, because it’s not [horizontal] like an electric… it’s straight up’ and that the visual disturbance was ‘a bit more subtle’.