The Hendrix Sound

Mr Hendrix a small guide to the theory and the practice of the Hendrix "Sound".

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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.
  • 46 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Jac the frog
      I don't know if hendrix is the best guitarist or no but in the " Electric music history" no doubts! There is a before and after hendrix .Already why he deserves my respect. I do not know if it was the greatest, but I know that the vacuum he left has not been filled. And that is the mark of someone unique .
      mindbender747
      Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      WTF man, what is wrong with you Jimi Hendrix is the god of guitar.
      RedFez64
      well if you mean to tube amps sound more "alive" than a solid amp...yes yes they do. Also watch this space im writing a website at the moment that will have this article plus extensions + guides to players like matt bellamy and johnny greenwood etc.
      Mundus
      ok first slash puts in emotion. and incredible control on hes actual sound more than sheredding ability. but man to say jimi hendrix aint 1 of the best is mad... if he had tabs and all this advice we got today i think he would be one incredible guitarist (not saying he werent) alot easier to learn guitar now
      Fera_rawr
      I'minto loads of different types of music Metal, funk, blues, alternative etc. Not really into hendrix as it doesn't really appeal to me but the guy's playing was phenomenal just because he wasn't a shredder doesn't mean he was a 'novice' guitarist. Emotion is far greater than speed any day, Fair enough shredding in metal works as a bluesy emotional solo wouldn't really match a heavy riff but it's the same for hendrix a fast solo wouldn't really fit in with the emotion behind his playing. In my opinion although shredding is cool nothing beats listening or better yet playing a solo full of emotion and feel.
      JEMiller
      Thanks RedFez This helps alot. Btw, does tube have a huge effect on tonality?
      Ozfan
      I don't mean to step on any toes, but have any of you looked at the tablature for Hey Joe or his version of The Star Spangled Banner? I've looked at stuff for metal, blues, hardcore, and classical but Hendrix goes to an even higher level than I've seen. He wasn't bound to scales and arpeggios like many of the modern musicians. There's a reason why so many guitarists look up to him.
      mrnbkn
      MAYBE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT A MUSIC STYLE Hendrix, Slash and Santana are good, but you must also consider there are a lot guitarist with a lot more of technique than them, but i their style thier musica is great. althought its important to have dexterity with guitar, playing not so fast and tricky can be nice too, just look at joe satriani and santana, for example, the 1st palys fast, and nice. and santana, not playing as fast as satriani sounds nice too. its all about what you like, and I personally like MAB and yngwie malmsteem over santana and hendrix
      progrock
      Have you guys ever thought about the fact that some people may not like other people's music? This is the big misunderstanding. By the way, I love all the guitar gurus, some more than others. And a word of advice to some ignorant people concerning this argument: listen to at least more than one song from a particular artist before you criticize them. I don't care if you don't like them, just know what you're talking about.
      joesoleo
      Im going to put this out there and alot of people wil think im adick but who cares. You can say everything you want to say in just a few notes. Music isnt a race or a game. You like songs because they sound cool not because some dude with a super strat crams so many notes in.And yes I said it, an example of this is neil young. He may not be tech gifted but his songs are awsome.
      baseballplayint
      Sorry for the double post... I made a couple mistakes in my grammar so don't be complaining. I typed four paragraphs in about 15 minutes. Regards, Tyler
      DurpaDurpa
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      I agree on Slash, he's sloppy. But Carlos fused Latin with blues and rock, which before him was pretty much unheard of. Jimi produced sounds and effects out of his guitars that people didn't even know existed, he wrote incredible lyrics and sung them while shredding like a frantic mad man all, not to mention the amount of material he has laying around from the short perioud he was on the scene. Metal fans these days... sigh. (jk)
      Poizonb0x
      Its quite easy to just talk but what concerns me is not the differences between taste or lack of musical appreciation, but how people here shows how ****ed we are in 2010. In terms of style, Hendrix wasn't unique because his crazy clothing, being in the psychedelic era or playing with his teeth, behind his back, burning the guitar... etc. It was unique because he was giving all with his guitar and expressing his soul trough his sound, of course he was new at that time. But damn I wish all this metal kids that tried to imitate all the real people and couldn't so they end up doing what they are doing, could stop crying because of stomach problems (Kurt) or just feeling that they live in a broken home (all your favorites), and start doing something artistic. I guess people tries to imitate the good ones, and when they can't they end up doing bad music which you consider good because you're able to play "OR TO FEEL". Blues is hard to feel, and you all represent that.
      rjasnake
      I like all styles of guitar playing and switch back and forth between them so I don't get stale. There is no question that Hendrix stands alone; not as the fastest guitarist, not as the most technically proficient; no, he stands alone on the emotive level that he took the electric guitar to. Listen to Voodoo Child slight return by all those who have tried it since his death; great guitar players like Mayer, Vaughn, etc. taking nothing away from them. Just listen to their attempt and then listen to a Hendrix version and note that instead of following a progression or melody, his fills and the human like voicing of the guitar have yet to be matched by anyone. It was as if the guitar was playing him. I trash no guitar player nor anyone's style because its about contributing to the music; I'm just saying Hendrix had a completely unique style, way, way ahead of his time and still unique today.
      gtrsteve
      I think that if Jimi Hendrix were alive still in the past 20 or 30 years when all this crazy speedo guitar playing has taken place, if someone asked him to match that style, he could do it if he felt like it. I don't think he would do it for any other reasons than to shut certain people up and if he felt like it. Just enjoy what he did. Jeff Beck, who is from Jimi's time, can do both the speedy stuff only because it's part of a song he's doing but he still puts the feeling in as Hendrix did at any tempo. Remember, Jeff Beck was a bit worried when Jimi came on the scene. Jeff became a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, as did Eric Clapton and most of the Rock guitar players of today.
      guitarlord28
      Crakula wrote: Wow! Ignorance fits you nicely!!! You're saying that "novice" guitar players worship Jimi Hendrix? Who do you consider novice? Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan??? Jimi, or any other ONE of these musicians has more talent than you, anyone you know, or everyone in your family put together, so why don't you get your head out of your a$$, and do the world a favor and kill yourself? ..... Who floats your boat now?the incredibly untalented White Stripes or the Foo Fighters... yeah that's talent
      First of all, Jack White is an incredibly talented guitarist. Just because he's not shredding all over doesn't mean he isn't good. Simplicity is what he goes for. He could outplay you any day. Hendrix is amazing not because he has the technical skill, but because he posessed more emotion in his playing than almost everybody. He was incredibly innovative, and he never played the same thing twice. He was always progressing in his playing. I love Hendrix, White, Vai, all of those guys. They all have their own attributes that make them all great. By the way, telling someone to kill themselves makes you look like a douchebag. Please don't say that
      jonhyblaze
      He put so much intense in the sound, so experimental, pioneer of effects, his unique sound is the reason of his greatness in a history of rock music. Technique of playing wasn't the best or even perfect but still was exciting, and completely his own. However not for the technique he will be remembered and honored. Actually you cannot deny he is the most influential rock-guitar player ever. Who gives a **** about a speed technique...
      Methyl Ky
      guitar speed is like waht you are in bed.....even if you are the fastest; three minutes are three minutes.....
      davesalis
      There is no one person who can be called the number 1 due to the various styles of music. There are those that can be put ahead of most others for a particular style but there can never truly be the ultimate number 1. Hendrix will always be remembered as 1 of those greats along with May, King, Santana, Slash, Clapton to name just a few of the greats.
      GuitarGuru821
      Whats up everyone. I think that Hendrix definitely set the bar and no one really has even touched since then. whats up with some Jerry Garcia theory.
      baseballplayint
      SRVMetalHead wrote: claiming hendrix was overrated means one of 2 things your an intermediatre guitar player who still thinks his soloing is all about skill and technique or you just dont like hendrix's music by the way show me another guitarist who basically solos throughout entire songs and sings over them. and not like srv's crossfire or something like that(he's just throwing licks in after he sings) pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      Good point man... That was Stevies way of playing most songs though (Call & Response Playing[Crossfire,Texas Flood,) Look at his cover of Vodoo Chile (Slight Return)hes good enough to play while singing its just he likes playing a different style.
      Thou gh hendrix wasn't the most technical he still could pull off some crazy sh** without being Yngwie Malmsteem or Joe Satriani. He had feel in the songs he plays, he puts meaning in those notes he plays, not like most neo-classical who play as fast as they can and only get one sound. Don't get me wrong I give the neo-classical players a lot of credit but that doesn't mean they are the best guitar players. I have to say though Steve Vai is a exception to that, he can play and has some amazing songs that aren't just blurs of sweeps. I look up to many of these players for not the shredding they can do but the whole product of music that they make. You may not like their music, but at least respect that many people regard them as a very good player. Another thing: And for the people that say that they are only revered because they died. Death does seem to increase fame quite a bit. I mean look at Kurt Cobain, Revolutionary as he was with his odd riffs and such. He was a amazing song writer though! I think that many people don't realize that style he wrote his lyrics and how many different ways of recording he used. Some very very very low songs or word play. The Classic Albums T.V. on Nevermind showed that. But I digress... Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and hell John Bonham were amazing players most people do not deny this is anyone needs any more argument, Baseballplayinty@aol.com
      Crakula
      21fretz wrote: I agree, they were The Sh*t in their time because it was all new..and novice guitar players for some reason get all die hard about them..I know I did for awhile but I guess we should give them some credit for that...they have their place while many better guitar players weren't that lucky i guess
      Wow! Ignorance fits you nicely!!! You're saying that "novice" guitar players worship Jimi Hendrix? Who do you consider novice? Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan??? Jimi, or any other ONE of these musicians has more talent than you, anyone you know, or everyone in your family put together, so why don't you get your head out of your a$$, and do the world a favor and kill yourself? ..... Who floats your boat now?the incredibly untalented White Stripes or the Foo Fighters... yeah that's talent
      Josh.Engel
      Some Guitar players don't think tremolo picking a scale is talent whether youre a metal guy or girl or not to say Hendrix Santana and Slash are overrated means your really dumb....
      pogo_punkr
      Josh.Engel wrote: Some Guitar players don't think tremolo picking a scale is talent whether youre a metal guy or girl or not to say Hendrix Santana and Slash are overrated means your really dumb....
      I think you missed the "I'm not saying they suck" part, read my comment again
      melissa23
      Josh.Engel wrote: Some Guitar players don't think tremolo picking a scale is talent whether youre a metal guy or girl or not to say Hendrix Santana and Slash are overrated means your really dumb....
      Kids these days.....
      SRVMetalHead
      claiming hendrix was overrated means one of 2 things your an intermediatre guitar player who still thinks his soloing is all about skill and technique or you just dont like hendrix's music by the way show me another guitarist who basically solos throughout entire songs and sings over them. and not like srv's crossfire or something like that(he's just throwing licks in after he sings)
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      RedFez64
      I just realised i made an important mistake outside of the grammar and missed words. I mean the neck pickup is very commonly used for the "warmer" songs.
      notsee
      Nice, I was glad to see that you mentioned that his pickups were upside down, so low strings go higher tones and high strings got more thickness. I guess you could get that by mixing string set gauges too though. Jt for George Lynch go to the 80's and for Ace dress up like a clown and do cocaine. . . you know, Dr. Rockzo style, I think that character is based off of Ace but yeah.
      pogo_punkr
      Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      IRISH_PUNK13
      HEY HENDRIX WAS AND STILL IS A GUITAR GOD AND YOU CANT TALK SHIT YOU COULD RIP OFF 1 OF HIS ARMS AND HE COULD STILL OUTPLAY YOUR ASS
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      dehydration
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      just saying, those three are great. I respect everyone's opinion, even if i don't agree, but there are millions who may not. And a million of them happen to be hunting you down right now.
      21fretz
      I agree, they were The Sh*t in their time because it was all new..and novice guitar players for some reason get all die hard about them..I know I did for awhile but I guess we should give them some credit for that...they have their place while many better guitar players weren't that lucky i guess
      deadlyminista
      I've seen Stevie Ray Vaughan in the late 80's. Wow! It's just like what in the world just happened. I mean this guy can lay it down hard. Singing and playing is what separates Jimi and Stevie from a lot of these guitarists. Slash don't sing put he has great charisma. John Mayer is doing a great job by becoming more bluesy with his music. It took Jimi and Stevie about ten years to really get their style and tone down.
      21fretz
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      pogo_punkr
      yankees717 wrote: Hedrix all though a great musician and pioneer is not the best guitar player. So many other's have shown much more talent as far as playing guitar. Hendrix was extremely gifted but not didn't play guitar as well as some other's.
      THANK YOU!!!!! Thats what I'm trying to say!!!
      yankees717
      Hedrix all though a great musician and pioneer is not the best guitar player. So many other's have shown much more talent as far as playing guitar. Hendrix was extremely gifted but not didn't play guitar as well as some other's.
      crohno
      pogo_punkr wrote: Hendrix wuz overrated, along with Carlos Santana and Slash, im not saying they suck, im just saying their not at great as people say they are., maybe its just cuz im a metal kind a guy???
      maybe cuz you're stupid 1 if you are metal why does your nickame ends in punkr? 2 Saying that hendrix is overrated is just stupid, he is and will be the best guitar player for a while
      Jac the frog
      Many today can copy Hendrix with varying degrees of talent... He created! Many guitarists today make their "sport" on the Fretboard to win the World Championships. The poet was that it, was only music. A subtle difference ... Precisely, the music is subtle
      BillR87
      I fell sorry for that "pogo_punkr" guy hes one of those guitarists who believes that when it comes to a guitar solo its all about who plays the fastest hes forgotten that its all about the feeling not bloody speed! If thats all you care about then you put down so many guitarists who dont make speed their priority just coz they play different to you doesnt make them any less talented there is no such thing as a best guitaist we're all different!!!