How To Play Guitar Like Jimi Hendrix
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You may be here because you have seen my series of videos on YouTube depicting what it might have sounded like if Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, had collaborated. I often get asked in comments on those YouTube videos what tips I have to play like Jimi. I can't always do a reply justice with a short answer so here's some advice that has worked for me. Perhaps one day I'll do a video but, for now, here are my random thoughts on the subject!
To profile any guitarist you will need to define several things; tone, articulations (vibrato), usual comfort zone pace i.e. speed (e.g. 8th notes/16ths), style (genres, swing), scales/triads, phrasing (e.g. on the one)
I suppose to be authentic tone-wise you need to get the same gear; a 1968 Fender Stratocaster and a 100-watt Marshall Super Lead stack. That's a bit impractical for recording in your bedroom recording studio so get an amp modeller instead. Many modellers, especially Line 6 in their pedals, even name a preset as Jimi [something]. The best software for recording that sounds like Jimi, the one I use, is Scuffham S-gear. It has some classic whirling phaser tones, check out a preset called Electric Lady.
Strings: Jimi's string gauges would run .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038. The big difference there is that you're using the .015 for the third, because if you use the .017 for the third, the actual sound of the guitar is very G-heavy. He didn't like that.
He played a right handed guitar strung left handed, so that would affect the sound too.
Guitar: Jimi didn't just play a Stratocaster; he had Gibsons too. The tremolo arm (whammy bar) was a big part of his game, for those flamboyant 'dive bombs' for example.
Effects Pedals: with Fuzz Face, wah-wah, Uni-Vibe and Octavia
Ultimately, you could spend a fortune on the authentic kit. I don't think it's necessary, I get my sound using an Ovation Breadwinner strung normally with Ernie Ball Super Slinkys direct injected into S-gear in my DAW
Jimi was not just a soloist, most of the time he played chords to back his vocal parts. Jimi's own distinctive brand of rhythm guitar playing was both lyrical and melodic. It's evident on such songs as Castles made of Sand and Little Wing.
Jimi's rhythm style relies on perfect fourths. If you Barre any two adjacent strings (except 3rd and 2nd) anywhere on the fretboard and you are playing a perfect fourth (5 semitones interval). To play them like Jimi you hold them open, embellishing with trills (hammer on, pull off) two semitones (frets) apart, usually on the lower of the two strings. I've sometimes heard this called scooping but that term is often confused with scooped mids, something entirely different. Whatever you call it, it's a technique going back to the early days of rock and roll, Chuck Berry always springs to mind as one exponent. Jimi covered his song Johnny B Goode of course.
To play Jimi's rhythm style you simply go up and down the pentatonic scales you are probably already familiar with (major or minor to suit the song key) in perfect 4ths.
As well as trills you can slide the barre over two frets leaving both strings ringing out. The trick is to alternate trills and slides. You need to learn the positions all over the fretboard, but if you already know Pentatonic scales you're already there!
Jimi had a sense of melody and harmony that set him aside, and still does, from 99% of other rock players. I speculate that he played rhythm like this not only because it sounded cool but also for a good practical reason; he played in three piece bands and this extra intricacy filled out the sound.
The Jimi Chord
Did you know Jimi has a chord (unofficially) named after him. It's the dominant seventh sharp ninth. It's a seventh chord with a sharpened ninth and Jimi used in two different voicings. For example E7#9
chord shape 1: e0,a2,d2,g1,b3,e3 basically an E chord but bar first and second strings with your pinky
chord shape 2: e0,a7 (second finger),d6 (first finger),g7 (ring finger),b8 (pinky),e0
- Foxy Lady: make it swing
- Red house
- Hey Joe
- Little Wing:
Recording: He'd reverse parts of his guitar solos, which was very distinctive, the attack turning into decay.
Feel: You can replicate Jimi's rig and still not sound like him. You can play his solos note for note and still not sound like him. It's not just a question of technique but feel. Immerse yourself in his works until you can sing them!
Context: It's hard to imagine unless you were there in the 60's just how far ahead of his time Jimi was. It was like he was from another planet. We all thought Cream were cool and Clapton was God but he made them all seem very bland. Beck, Page, Townsend, and Clapton all knew it too. It was like seeing a colour photo for the first time when previously you only had B&W.
Culture: I don't want to get into trouble by saying it was because he was black but he came from another universe to Jimmy Page, Clapton, and other white British 'blues boom' guitarists of the day. Remember, he had played with loads of top US R&B acts including The Isley Brothers. Michael Jackson is credited with being the first R&B/rock crossover act to break into MTV. Actually, Jimi crossed over ten years before that.
I am so not going to recommend taking LSD but drugs did play a part in his philosophy. At the time the motto was turn on, tune in and drop out! Psychedelia permeates Jimi's music.
Chaos: He could make his guitar seem to talk. He'd imitate verbal articulations with his whammy bar (tremolo arm), cries from controlled feedback. He'd fly off at a tangent, just like top jazz players do.
Showmanship: Jimi was a force of Nature onstage. Playing with his teeth, having sex with his amplifier cabinets, burning his guitar.
Join the 27 club: to cement yourself as a rock legend you could die at age 27, which Jimi did just like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrisson, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse. No, seriously, it's a waste and a cliche - don't! Me, I'm too old to die young anyway!
Practice: Jimi was a virtuoso. You don't just get that good without practice. Do what he did, play all day, even take your guitar into the toilet with you.
OK, how does anyone have the balls to play like Jimi anyway? Well, there is precedent, it's not impossible. Robin Trower did a workable impersonation for example. Besides, Jimi invented so many licks that are ingrained in everyone's guitar playing that you may already be doing some!
How did I get started? Well, back in the day, when Jimi first happened I played a lot of his music in 3 piece rock bands. I've lost count of how many times I played 15 minute solos over 'Red House'. But that didn't put me in the same league as Jimi. I'm still not, but the reason I can get close is down to one thing - I've had 40 extra years of practice that Jimi never had. He was only 27 when he died. Imagine how good he would be if he were alive now!
One thing is for sure, Jimi wouldn't sound like Jimi if he were here now. He would have evolved. I take that into account and go to some very interesting places.
Finally, Remember, Take heart: Clapton, Jimi, Beck etc. all made a plink plink when they first picked up a guitar - but they stuck with it. Listen, play along, copy.