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6/16/07

Jimi Hendrix


Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942, Seattle, Washington -- September 18, 1970, London, England) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter. Hendrix is recognized as one of the greatest and most influential guitarists in rock music history. After initial success in England, he achieved worldwide fame following his 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Later, Hendrix headlined the iconic 1969 Woodstock Festival before his death in 1970, at the age of 27.

A self-taught guitarist, Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster guitar turned upside down (so that the right-handed guitar could be played left-handed) and restrung to suit him. Hendrix pioneered the technique of guitar feedback with overdriven amplifiers, incorporating into his music what was previously an undesirable sound. He built upon the innovations and influences of blues stylists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Albert King, and T-Bone Walker, and derived style from rhythm and blues and soul guitarists Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper, and Cornell Dupree, as well as from traditional jazz. Part of Hendrix's flamboyant stage persona may have been inspired by rock pioneer Little Richard, with whom he toured as part of Richard's back-up band, "The Upsetters".

Hendrix strove to combine what he called "earth", a blues, jazz, or funk driven rhythm accompaniment, with "space", the high-pitched psychedelic sounds created by his guitar improvisations. As a record producer, Hendrix also broke new ground in using the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas; he was one of the first to experiment with stereophonic and phasing effects during recording.

Hendrix was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6627 Hollywood Blvd.) was dedicated in 1994. In 2006, his debut album, Are You Experienced, was inducted into the United States National Recording Preservation Board's National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone named Hendrix number 1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time in 2003.

Guitar legacy

Fender Stratocaster

Hendrix owned and used a variety of guitars during his career. His guitar of choice however, and the instrument that became most associated with him, was the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat". He bought his first Stratocaster in 1965 and thereafter used it almost exclusively for his stage performances and recordings.

Hendrix's emergence coincided with the lifting of post-war import restrictions (imposed in many British Commonwealth countries), which made the instrument much more available, and after its initial popularizers Buddy Holly and Hank B. Marvin, Hendrix arguably did more than any other player to make the Stratocaster the biggest-selling electric guitar in history. Before his arrival in the UK, most top players used Gibson and Rickenbacker models. After Hendrix, many leading guitarists including Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and Eric Clapton switched to the Stratocaster. Hendrix bought dozens of Strats and gave many away as gifts, including one to ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, although a former ZZ Top roadie claimed this was one of Gibbons' many made-up stories to the press. Many others were stolen, and a few were destroyed during his notorious guitar-burning finales. One formerly sunburst Strat which was mutilated by Hendrix at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival was given to Frank Zappa by a Hendrix roadie. Zappa had it hanging on a wall in his basement for years. He posed for the cover of Guitar Player Magazine holding this instrument, and recent news and an image of the refurbished instrument are available in the August 2006 issue of Guitar Player.

The Strat's easy action and narrow neck were also ideally suited to Hendrix's evolving style and enhanced his tremendous dexterity--Hendrix's hands were large enough to fret across all six strings with his thumb, and he could play lead and rhythm parts simultaneously. Another remarkable fact about Hendrix is that he was left-handed, yet used right-handed Stratocasters, playing them upside-down.

(This reversed-guitar style is anomalous, because most of the virtuosity in rock and blues technique is in the left hand, if the guitar is held normally. Hendrix's style, like Buddy Guy's, made heavy use of the hammer-on and pull-off techniques, by which the hand that frets the strings also sounds them, leaving the right hand (or left in Hendrix's case) with very little picking to do.)

Hendrix restrung his guitars so that the heavier strings were in their standard position at the top of the neck. He preferred this layout because the tremolo arm and volume and tone controls were more easily accessible above the strings, but it also had an important effect on the sound of his guitar: because of the stagger of the pickups' pole pieces, his lowest string had a bright sound while his highest string had a mellow sound---the opposite of the Strat's intended design. This effect was exaggerated by the slant of the Strat's bridge pickup, and the varying length of the strings behind the nut caused by the Strat's six-a-side headstock.

A new Stratocaster model (with a wide headstock) was launched in late 1968, and as the cohesion of the Experience began to deteriorate, Hendrix wished to vary his playing and his repertoire with this new design. Choosing Stratocasters with a light-tone maple fretboard (giving a "brighter" sound than the "darker" rosewood), he wanted to balance the high-power play with further versatility and velocity, so in early 1969, he opted for heavy-gauge strings which he combined with a tuning lowered a half-step from normal pitch, a technique which he picked up from Albert King in 1966. This enhanced the possibilities offered by the interlaced rhythm and solos during the Olmstead Studios sessions of April 1969. Later on tour, this stringing caused the drawback of more frequent losses in tuning after pushing down (or pulling) the tremolo bar; Hendrix would often ask the audience for a "minute to tune up" several times during the same concert.

In addition to Fender Stratocasters, Hendrix was also photographed playing Fender Jaguars, Gretsch Corvette, Duosonics and Jazzmasters, and Gibson Les Paul Customs and SGs. Jimi used a white Gibson SG Custom for his performance on the Dick Cavett show in the summer of 1969, and the Isle of Wight film shows him playing a Gibson Flying V. While Jimi owned a number of Flying Vs throughout his career (included a black model with hand-painted designs by Hendrix), the Flying V used at the Isle of Wight was a unique left-handed guitar. Custom ordered from Gibson, Jimi's example featured gold hardware, a bound fingerboard and "split-diamond" fret markers that were not found on other 60s-era Flying Vs.

Amplifiers and effects

Hendrix was a catalyst in the development of modern guitar amplification and guitar effects. His high-energy stage act and the blistering volume at which he played required robust and powerful amplifiers. For the first few months of his touring career he used Vox and Fender amplifiers, but he soon found that they could not stand up to the rigors of an Experience show. Hendrix soon discovered a new range of high-powered guitar amps being made by London audio engineer Jim Marshall and they proved perfect for his needs. Along with the Strat, the Marshall stack and Marshall amplifiers were crucial in shaping his heavily overdriven sound, enabling him to master the creative use of feedback as a musical effect, and his exclusive use of this brand soon made it the most popular amplifier in rock music.

The sound of Hendrix's recordings seemed to have progressively changed from the "sharp edge" of 1966 and 1967 to the warmer sounds of 1969 and 1970. The first two albums were recorded in England with his British-made Marshall amps operating at 240 volts/50 Hertz. He then recorded in the US (beginning in May 1968 on Electric Ladyland), under 110 volts/60 Hertz.[citation needed] The evolution in the Stratocasters used (pre-68 v.s. post-68 models) may have contributed to this change as well. Weather conditions may also have had an effect on his amps: the warm sound of Woodstock contrasts to the "edgy" sound of the Isle of Wight recordings.

Hendrix also constantly looked for new guitar effects. He was one of the first guitarists to move past simple gimmickry and to exploit the full expressive possibilities of electronic effects such as the wah-wah pedal. He had a fruitful association with engineer Roger Mayer and made extensive use of several Mayer devices, including the Axis fuzz unit, the Octavia octave doubler, and especially the UniVibe, designed to electronically simulate the modulation effects of the Leslie speaker. He also used an Arbiter Fuzz Face for a time. It should be noted that while Jimi never used an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, he did try out prototypes before he died and the tone of the pedal was modeled after Hendrix's tone.

The Hendrix sound combined high volume and high power, feedback manipulation, and a range of cutting-edge guitar effects, especially the UniVibe-Octavia combination, which can be heard to full effect on the Band of Gypsys' live version of "Machine Gun." He was also known for his trick playing, which included playing with only his right (fretting) hand, using his teeth or playing behind his back, although he soon grew tired of audience demands to perform these tricks.

See his guitar tips, guitar technique on VDO bar above

Photo from www.theapplecollection.com

Jimi Hendrix homepage

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