The Hendrix Sound

author: RedFez64 date: 09/25/2008 category: guitar gurus
rating: 8.4 / votes: 16 
This guide is a little different to the other guides on hendrix and blues guitar playing. What I'm aiming for in this article is to help people accomplish the hendrix "sound". I will touch on the scales and bits and bobs used to accomplish, but what I will mainly touch on are the tiny things on phrasing and how to manipulate the sound that you can spend a long time looking at (and I have devoted most of my time to getting a hendrix sound out of my guitar. I believe this would be useful to many people especially as an exercise in tone control, hendrix was a truly remarkable guitarist in that he was able to change his tone hugely with very few actual changes in equipment or sound. All these things are referring to a strat but most can be transferred except the bits about pickups and tone knobs.

So what will you need first?

A guitar tuned to Eb (You might just like it like that). Fuzz (Arbiter if you have the money but most fuzz will do). Couple of pedals (univibe of some sort is very popular and probably the second most important behind the Fuzz and the Wah). A willingness to think outside of the box for a bit (this is not an invite to come to class without your theory though, Jimi sure as hell didn't). What we are going to do is we are going to go through the rig from the amp through the few effects pedals to the guitar settings and finally to playing itself. hopefully some of us might pick up some little insights that will change the way they play.

Amp

Its going to have a lot of mids in it's settings, what you're looking for is a very mellow sound, definitely not the scooped sound that I hear from too many youtube players. The fuzz and jimis playing are what gives some of his playing the savagery it has. Unfortunately I can only show you the light I can't get you there, but on my Amp (A laney VC30) The settings are B: 3 M: 6 T: 4. Turn up your amp to a significant amount for a brief moment just to appreciate the extra depth that you get from high volumes. If you can - play at this volume for a while and appreciate the ease of getting feedback and maybe toy with it for a bit. Marshalls are obviously jimis signature amp but I haven't noticed masses of difference and I actually like my valve amp for the jimi sound even more now I've converted.

Effects

Yep play with these experiment with their cycling, for example on Purple Haze the Wah was before the Fuzz factory. I'm not going too long on this as I actually use a line 6 pod for my fuzz effect and a digitech expression factory for my univibe.

The guitar settings

Set up Yes he did change his pickups to be upside down and you may want to do that, however largely the same thing can be done through phrasing. String gauge Early experience era. 09s. Band of Gypsys (my favourite era) 11s. One big part is that I have my tremolo bar so that I can dive down a longer way than most normal strat tremolo bars for those divebomb noises. Now we come to probably the second most important bit of the article aside the actual playing itself. Many people underestimate this. However just for starters back off the tone on your Eb tuned strats bridge pickup and put it to about 0 on your neck pick up. it's very important to learn to actually use the knobs to get the sound you want out of the guitar. don't think in terms of playing the notes, think of the sound the notes make.

Pickups

Playing on a strat I tend to use the rear pickup, however the middle pickup is perhaps the most underused pickup in rock music and the combination of the two is even less widely used. Just putting it on middle and backing off the neck pickups tone can give a fantastic tone especially for the cleanest hendrix songs.

The Under-estimated Volume Knob

The very important thing is using the volume knob to control the fuzz on the guitar, this is the other common solution to most peoples questions about controlling the fuzz sound. Use correctly you can create all the sounds of a song from one load of settings without touching the amp or any pedals. When you solo if you want to bring the sound forward back the volume off when you want it at the back put more distortion on (that's right I said it and I meant it). Just as an example Little Wing, at the beginning for me is middle pickup with volume at about 5-6, for the solo I switch to the neck pickup and put the volume to 10 this gives the solo a more in the background quality which you notice in many hendrix songs occupies about the same sonic space as his vocals did.

Playing the guitar

This is it, the biggest exercise in trial and error you will ever undertake. However main pointers. In many hendrix songs he changes the position of his pick, and a lot of the time holding the pick the wrong way round yields a more mellow sound. Yes he does play E minor pentatonics a lot I'm not going to go into detail on his music theory. go to the twelfth position and just learn the sound of all the notes on the high e b and g strings, most if not all those screaming bends are around these notes on the blues and pentatonic scales. Learn it at the open position as well as most of his vocal notes are doubled on the guitar. On music theory though, modes and things don't tend to be used, but neither will you get anywhere without it. Learn your pentatonics and learn which notes go with which chords and how to improvise around them outside of boxes. All along the watch tower for example strongly follows the chord progression rather than just octaving the rythym (as in voodoo chile) Once you get the hang of this listen to the way he uses his pentatonics, notice those lightning fast runs with string bent up in the middle of them:
  • the use of double stops.
  • playing two notes with one finger and bending them both.
  • alternate picking two notes then pulling the same notes off. Hendrix uses a lot of dissonance in his solos to sound interesting, a progressive guitarist would probably use it soundscaping, but his use of open strings in solos going from high notes then just slowly vibratoing a low note (commonly B on the G string) give his playing a bigger sound. The advantage he gets from playing on the 12position are that any open strings he plays are in key still. With this it's amazing the mistakes you can get way as well as by bending notes into key. On bending notes those squealing notes are just high notes bent beyond being in tune and given a lot of vibrato. The key is strongly in the phrasing, you have to attack the bend very aggressively, however know this that hendrix broke very few strings in his time as a guitarist so do learn to feel the guitar strings well. Vibrato: Just learn it, make it awesome it's a huge part of the sound. From the very fast shallow at the start of machine gun to the big deep vibrato in the middle of voodoo chile (slight return) Tremolo bar, try playing with it in your hand, see how the notes are all bending everywhere? This out of tune playing is what attracts your ear, on another soloing technique notice how he will often go out of time with the beat before breaking down back into it? Machine gun is an excellent example of this. Use these tricks, and after a while you'll not only be able to bullshit your way through those 3 minute long solos but you'll be using these bits and bobs yourself. In summary I will take a quote I heard from Tom Morello that applies very well to Hendrix style guitar playing "You have to think of a guitar not as a musical instrument but as a piece of wood with six metal strings on it." Thank you very much, please do rate highly.
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