Reconstructing a castle made of sand
If you’re a fan of the guitar in any way, chances are you have the legendary James “Jimi” Hendrix to thank for it in some shape or form. His legendary guitar playing style, tone and upside down guitar has been the source of inspiration for guitarists for decades. His penchant for experimentation and fearless guitar playing completely took the world by storm causing millions of us to rethink how we play and attempt to recreate his signature sound in some way, whether it’s busting out a Wah pedal solo, flipping a guitar over to see what it sounds like or playing with our teeth!
Of course it’s completely impossible to recreate Hendrix’s sound note for note, but in this blog we’re going to take a quick look at how this god of rock achieved his sound and discuss some of the equipment he used and the available modern day equivalents.
To get that typical Hendrix sound, you need look no further than the Fender Stratocaster. Now synonymous with the guitarist, much like Keith Richards and his Telecaster, the Stratocaster was Hendrix’ most commonly used weapon of choice throughout his career. Even though fans will likely say he was also known to play Gibson SG’s and Flying V’s, for now we’ll focus on his Strat.
Perhaps the most famous Hendrix set up would be his 1969 Woodstock rig, and with that the white, upside down 1968 Fender model. The key thing to remember here is that the guitar was played upside down because Jimi was left handed and thus caused subtle, yet unmistakable changes to how he played the guitar. The guitar was of course restrung to suit this set up, but there were some key differences in sound as a result too. The length of the strings were then altered with the Low E string now having a longer length on the headstock and the high e now having a shorter scale. This would affect the tone as well as the sustain. As standard, the orientation on a Bridge pickup on a Fender stratocaster is angled forward, towards the headstock, but with this upside down set up, the bridge pickup was the opposite way around and closer to the bridge on the bass side, resulting in a brighter twangier sound on the bass strings and a warmer sound on the high strings. Hendrix was also an expert at making his single coil pickups sing, especially when played clean – you only have to listen to ‘Little Wing’ or the solo on ‘Hey Joe’ to hear it.
If you don’t have hundreds of thousands of pounds to shell out on an original Fender from the 60s then you’ll be happy to know that Fender have a few options under their sleeve. Hendrix favoured the late 60s strats with the larger headstocks and maple necks, specifically black and white models, and as such, Fender have created a gorgeous Jimi Hendrix signature model complete with larger headstock, reverse angled pick up and upside down neck. No it’s not strictly an upside down guitar, but the elements that made Hendrix’ sound are there whilst still being a comfortable option for right handed guitarists. Check out our video review of the awesome Jimi Hendrix signature model below.
Guitar effects pedals
Jimi Hendrix was known to play with a selection of effects pedals, live and in the studio partnered with a Marshall plexi amp turned up so loud it would rival a jet engine, but by today’s standards, his pedal board would be considered modest, choosing to use around 4 pedals in total. The key ingredients making up his sound were the fuzzface, Wah pedal, octave fuzz and towards the end of his career a univibe.
Perhaps the best song that illustrates his use of wah and fuzz pedals would be ‘Voodoo Child (slight Return)’. The sound you hear at the start of this awesome song is Jimi scratching the strings and manipulating a Wah pedal at the same time. When the song kicks in, he activates his fuzzface and let’s the guitar wail, making for one of the most iconic intros in music history. Hendrix was known to use VOX wah, but the likes of the Jim Dunlop Crybaby original and his very own Jimi Hendrix signature wah pedal will help you get that distinctive Hendrix wah sound.
As for fuzz, Hendrix relied on his Fuzzface almost exclusively. Without this pedal, there’s no way you’re going to get anywhere near a Hendrix sound. Jim Dunlop still make these almost indestructible pedals and have actually created a Hendrix signature model in a mini enclsoure, which is great for saving room on your pedal board considering it’s half the size of a regular fuzzface. Check out the Fuzz Face mini below.
His use of of the univibe is probably best highlighted in his performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, which was an infamous rendition of the Anthem of the United States of America. This pedal creates a pulsing effect that simulates a Leslie rotating speaker often used with Hammond organs. Hendrix utilised this coveted sound coupled with a whole lot of fuzz and some serious volume to create his most famous instrumental performance. Check out the track ‘Machine Gun’ to really hear the univibe in action within a studio setting. The MXR M68 UniVibe Chorus-Vibrato by Jim Dunlop does a great job at recreating this sound.
Hendrix’ use of the octave fuzz, or octavia is probably best illustrated in the song ‘Purple Haze’ – arguably his most famous song. To get the Hendrix sound, this pedal is an absolute essential and adds a distorted effect as well as a higher octave to your sound. You get a fat sound as well as a brightness that Hendrix was so famous for. Electro Harmonix make a great octave fuzz pedal called the Octavix, which will put you well on your way into Hendrix territory.
Although he was known for experimenting with a variety of amplifiers such as the Fender Twin Reverb and Sunn amps, Hendrix was widely known for using a 1960s Marshall Plexi amplifier head with 2 4×12 cabs stacked on top of each other, due to the fact he was seen playing this at Woodstock and used this set up towards the end of his career almost exclusively. He was also known for playing VERY loud. If you’re not in the mood for tracking down an original Plexi amp from the 60s (and shelling out an absolute fortune whilst you’re at it) you’ll be happy to know that there are a few options for you to consider.
The Marshall CODE series is a culmination of the partnership between Softube and the renowned amplifier makers, resulting in the Marshall-Softube (MST) modelling system. This system means that each amp in the series has a variety of career defining tones built in and ready to go, including the JTM45 2245 and 1959SLP Plexi, both of which Hendrix used. The CODE series will let you go between the sounds of Hendrix at Monterrey Pop Festival (JTM45 2245) to the infamous Woodstock gig (1959SLP Super Lead Plexi) at the touch of a button. Check out the Marshall CODE50 50 Watt 1×12 combo amp.
View a complete selection of Jimi Hendrix signature equipment at the Dawsons website.