Jimi Hendrix is a name synonymous with disrupting tradition and paving the way for generations of avant-garde rock ‘n rollers.
Emulated and admired by many, marrying the trifecta of psychedelic, jazz/blues fusion and rock ‘n roll into a frenzied performance style which had never been seen before or since. Strings flailing loosely from his Fender Strat whilst gnawing down on the frets, tearing up a good few rule books and creating even more in the process – which is what we’re going to discuss here.
We want to open up his technique, style and gear to give you an idea of how to create his trademark sound without completely bankrupting yourself on 15 Marshall amps.
A lot of people want to sound like Hendrix. A lot of people want to strut about the stage with the same swagger and squealing distorted solos blaring from the speaker. This guide will tell you how.
A quintessential part of Hendrix’s sound was backed up by the bespoke gear combination he used including some very specific string gauges along with some unexpected techniques which may come as a surprise.
1)Geek Out With Your String Gauges
Hendrix’s guitar tech Roger Mayer says an important part of Hendrix’s sound was due to his use of carefully selected string gauges, which evened out the guitar’s response from string to string.
“First of all, we weren’t using a flat-radius fretboard,” Mayer says. “We were using the normal one, not the very high radius but definitely curvy. The actual strings we used were not what people would expect. The string gauges would run .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038”.
Hendrix used Fender Rock ‘N’ Roll light-gauge strings for his Fender Strat. You can find something which will have a very similar effect here.
2) Turn Your Guitar Upside Down… Duh
Though left-handed, Jimi would use a right-handed Fender Stratocaster strung upside-down to get around this. The result of this? It completely changes the way the guitar sounds.
When you turn the guitar upside down the cavities in the guitar appear on the bass strings. The volume control faces towards you and the resonances of the cavity change because of this. Jimi had to tune his guitar a little lower because the lengths of the strings would be different – as they’re usually longer for the bass strings and shorter for the higher strings but not in this case.
If you want to learn to custom tune your guitar you can use our free app here which includes a free tuner. His tuning FYI was a whole step below normal tuning.
3) See The World Of Music In Colours And Light, Man
Synesthesia is described as the following: “A neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”.
This means, in this case, that when you hear music you see it as a spectrum of colours. Some notes ‘sound’ purple and some colours look like a C Major Chord.
Whilst most synesthetes see colours when music is played Hendrix described things in terms of light whilst in the studio – so his sound tech and him used the vocabulary of colour to then find the right sound for each song. Give it a try – go for a bright, metallic sound rather than something which is high on the treble. Try giving something a dark woody sound. It’s a great way of making new sounds!
4) Put Down Your Air Guitar, Pick Up Your Broom
Jimi’s crazy stylings are part and parcel of the experience of hearing his music. It’s difficult to listen to ‘Voodoo Chile’ and not imagine him reeling around the stage gnashing at his guitar strings and whirling around in a tornado of vivid colours.
How does one achieve such stage presence? The answer can be found in a common household appliance: the broom.
When Jimi was a wee lad he decided to pick up his father’s broom and play it like a guitar. His father (Al) saw a golden opportunity and went onto fetch him something similar..
5) Go Out And Buy Yourself A Ukulele
Yes, Hendrix was like one of those Hipster dudes with a beard and sleeve tattoos who sit around East London rooftops strumming the first few chords of a half-learned Dylan song with all the wrong lyrics drinking craft beer and..
Okay, he wasn’t like that. But his father bought him a Uke which started him on the path towards guitar god status. You want guitar god status? Go get a ukulele first, mortal.
You can find a wide range of totally affordable, high quality Ukes here to start you on the path towards guitar stardom. It’s a great starting point!
6) Use A Fender Stratocaster (with a maple neck)
Because every single electric guitar in the world creates a different tone. You want a Hendrix tone? Then buy the guitar he used and make sure it’s specifically with a maple neck because the wood makes all the difference. Although he occasionally played a flying V, the Strat was his bedrock.
Explore our expansive Fender collection here – and if you want to find his specific model then it can be yours, oh yes.
7) Know Your Pedals
Now, it could be the case that Jimi achieved his signature guitar sound through playing with the volume cranking so loud it cracked the speakers and it distorted. This is certainly a possibility. Or he smashed his guitar up so badly that it damaged some of the electronics which resulted in a fuzzy kind of sound.
OR it’s the case that he used a Fuzzface Pedal which is ingeniously designed to create this kind of sound without having to cause quite considerable damage to your expensive equipment.
8) Stack Your Marshall Amps Plenty High
Seriously fat stacks of mega decibels.
Get some stacks of mad loud Marshall amps and then turn them up incredibly loud so that every squeal and distorted power chord makes your teeth rattle and your heart do weird things that you’re not sure it’s meant to do.
Then turn it louder.
We’ve got a great range of amps here including miniature guys with a big sound to pretty big guys with a ludicrously loud sound.
9) Get A Uni-Vibe pedal (lots of clones available if you can’t afford 4-figures for an original)
This creates a vibrato and phaser effect that makes you sound pretty space age – a lot of Jimi’s psychedelic/acid vibe was created through this pedal as it makes your guitar sound as though it’s taken a hallucinogen and decided to go on a walk through time.
You can find the re-issue of this pedal here.
10) Curly guitar lead
Wanna jump around the stage and look convincingly ‘lost in the music’? Then you don’t want tangled cables.
This guy will enable you to create all the shapes without pulling your guitar out of your 50 amps and embarrassing yourself.
Check out the range of leads we have available here.
Master The Fretboard
Get yourself into minor chord and major pentatonics within those chords. That’s the key to getting some Hendrix-esque licks.
For this to happen with ease, you’ll have to work up some serious muscle in your left hand. Get working on some dexterity exercises like the video above.
Whammy arm abuse!
Distortion and mind-bending sounds are the name of the game when emulating Hendrix. This can be done by practically snapping off your whammy arm and throwing it into the crowd.
Playing behind your head/with teeth/with guitar lying on the floor etc
Showboating is another element of Hendrix’s live shows that can’t be ignored. He was defying convention in every possible way – including the convention of using your hand to play a guitar.
Why not teeth? Why not foot?
Now on a practical level it’d be cool to have some materials to get you started, right? Like with most icons, Hendrix had a sound which married together all of the above elements with an enormous amount of practice and his own subtle nuances – these are all achievable through DVD tutorials we stock here, a ton of books including greatest hits transcribed for whole bands, Blues covers, you can learn each of his signature licks if you don’t wish to learn entire songs which can be a drag.
Beginners guides if you’re just starting out and need an introduction and also if you fancy giving it a go on a banjo then… you can!
His biography ‘Scuse Me Whilst I Kiss The Sky’ is available for some light reading – and here are some rarities that you can learn on guitar ludicrously easily and it comes in with this rather handsome cover – so that should get you started.