He’s the legend that legends look up to. Through just 7 short years of awe-inspiring music genius, Jimi single-handedly set the new standard of guitar playing. If you idolize any modern guitarist chances are your idol is trying to get to the Jimi Hendrix sound.
You can hysterically set your guitar ablaze and spam that wah but it still won’t get you to sound close to the legendary Jimi Hendrix. It’s a giant task, tackling the crazy sounds that spit forth from Jimi’s white strat but with the right mindset, we can try to pay tribute to the guitar god.
There is something about that scratchy opening riff Voodoo Child that inspired rock and blues fans to pick up a guitar and jam along. Yet, Jimi’s sound is notoriously elusive; he was so different from all other musicians of the time. So let’s take a look at what gear, technique, and heartfelt prayer you need to get to feel like the most influential guitarist in history for a few minutes.
Jimi Hendrix’s sound can be characterized as fuzzy, “broken up”, and spontaneous. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), only half of his magic can be bought with money. Luckily Jimi kept a relatively stable – and highly iconic – gear lineup. This means it isn’t difficult to just put every piece of hardware Jimi used in a single shopping cart and call it a day. But that is not optimal and, more likely than not, going to absolutely destroy your bank.
We’re going to break down all the equipment you need to achieve that trippy and creative sound you’re longing to capture. But do not stop reading here if you’re on a budget; we’ll also be looking at alternative economical gear and tips to cut corners to shave a few precious bucks off the final price tag.
The Purist Bundle:
If you’re a die hard Hendrix fan you’ll definitely be looking to get the authentic Jimi Hendrix set up. That is totally possible; we know exactly every piece of equipment Hendrix used to create his magic. Brace yourself, however, to spare no expenses and invest heavily in a well worth it set up. So without further ado let us break down the deceptively complex layers of the Jimi Hendrix experience (pun intended).
Jimi Hendrix Guitar:
There is no going around this one; there are few more iconic guitars than Jimi Hendrix’s “Olympic White” Fender Strat. And while Hendrix was always messing around trying new formulas and guitars, this Jimi Hendrix Strat is the very same model he used most consistently throughout his career. Simply put, this guitar’s at the very core of emulating that sweet Hendrix magic.
Besides being Jimi’s, this guitar has a lot going under the surface. Perhaps the biggest feature of this guitar is one that’s immediately noticeable. Right off the bat, you can tell something’s off: the headstock is on wrong. Being a southpaw, Hendrix restrung his right-handed Stratocaster to better match his preferences. And while that does not seem to mean a lot, it is at the core of the unique Hendrix sound.
The reversed headstock has multiple implications. A classic Strat, having a curved headstock, puts more tension on higher strings. Jimi’s design, however, shifts that tension to lower strings. And that’s exactly how strings bent under Jimi’s fingers like rubber bands.
Moreover, the strings being in reverse order meant that they lined up differently on the slanted bridge pickup. As you can guess, this nuance also made Jimi’s sound a bit different to his contemporaries: it effectively mellowed and smoothed out the timbre on the higher strings.
This Fender Mexican Stratocaster costs less than $1000, a bargain for a high quality Fender electric guitar. You should consider it even if you’re not going for the Hendrix sound. It is a classic Fender Strat with an alder wooden body and a smooth neck with all the standard Strat electronics fitted in.
Jimi Hendrix Amps:
When it comes to amps, the answer is a lot more complicated. Crank it all the way up and play loud was Jimi’s life ethos. His sound was big, really big. With that – and a lot of fuzz and wah – Hendrix marked his raw, spontaneous sound as one of the most unique throughout electric guitar history. But how did he achieve that engulfing sound? The answer is too straightforward you might even be scratching your head looking for more unobvious solutions.
To put it plainly, Jimi was not very consistent with his amps. He changed his gear from gig to gig and very little remained constant in his stack between concerts. All in all, he went through amps faster than most musicians of his time. He only cared to create an even more powerful sound whenever he could, which brings us to what he was consistent about: big amps, a lot of big Marshall amps.
Before leaving us too prematurely, Jimi Hendrix was notorious for blasting through a stack of 4×12” Marshall Cabinets for most of his career. Volume was really important, so important in fact that it led to arguments recording his debut album; Jimi played so loud that the apartment the studio was in would rattle and the vibrations would get captured in the recordings.
Even though Jimi used a lot of amp heads, there is – luckily for us – one specific amp head that defined his more popular sound. That amp is the Marshall Plexi amp head, and it is glorious. Connecting it through his terrifying stacks and turning the knobs all the way to max, Hendrix was able to produce tracks from “Little Wing” to “Purple Haze” with as much clarity or distortion as he required. More specifically, he used 3 (yes, three) of the timeless 1966 100W Super Lead amp heads. If you’re a collector (and you need to be a hardcore collector to really go after the 1966 Super Lead) you might have a hard time getting your hands on the elusive amp head.
But don’t go spending your money just yet. If you get the authentic Jimi Hendrix amp stack you’ll not only punch a hole through your bank account, but also another through your ears. It is true Hendrix was big into playing loud, but unless you are playing at a decently sized venue you just won’t be able to handle the immense power.
For a more reasonable set up that will get you very close to nailing Voodoo Child, you have a number of options that are less powerful but of extremely high quality all the same. The Marshall DSL 40R pumps 40W of unadulterated power and comes with just enough oomph without compromising on clarity. Any Fender Blackface (although less orthodox) will land you pretty close to the sound and feel you are looking for.
Jimi Hendrix Pedals & Effects:
Effects were central to Hendrix’s sound. Playing loud with the right gear is just not enough to produce the kind of sound you are looking for. Hendrix was considered one of the pioneers of using heavy effects on top of his sound. In fact, he pioneered a lot of his own effects being created specifically.
Thankfully, while Jimi was considered to be using too many effects back in his day, most modern guitarists exceed the number of pedals he used. And being the legend he is, every effect he’s ever used is well documented and popularly replicated.
Can you imagine Voodoo Child without the iconic wah? What a sad reality that would be. Think even Purple Haze without the fuzz? A lot of what is associated with Jimi’s sound today lies in his expert and ingenious use of effects. So let’s take a look at them.
Before Jimi came along, a wah pedal was a niche and a gimmicky toy. And indeed, it was still young (being invented in 1965) and looking for someone to really use it to its full potential. There aren’t many options in this category, and that’s a good thing.
If you’re more of a huge Jimi Hendrix fan you might want to get the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Wah. All Jim Dunlop effect pedals are extremely high quality stuff, and this signature wah tries (and succeeds) to copy the magic of Hendrix.
If you’re more of the collector, you would be better off turning your head towards the VOX V847A Wah pedal. This is the very same (when it comes to circuitry at least) wah pedal Hendrix used on most if not all of his albums and gigs. In fact, this is the same pedal that defined the entire late 60s and early 70s music scene (think Cream, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, etc.). While what you can get now is a reissue, (unless you hunt down the original) this Vox Wah pedal sound is still the original.
The iconic fuzzy sound you can find on nearly every Hendrix classic can be attributed to the small Jim Dunlop FuzzFace. It looks like a round stompbox with 2 knobs for volume and fuzz and it couldn’t be simpler. Obviously, there are other options but why bother? This Fuzz Face pedal is the very same fuzz effect that Hendrix used and it is relatively affordable too.
It isn’t uncommon to hear people comment that Jimi’s playing sounds like multiple guitarists playing in unison. Not to take from his incredible skill and ingenuity, but at least a part of that praise could be attributed to the effect known as Octavia. The combination of distortion buzz and reproduction of the guitar sound (raised by an octave) was created specifically for Hendrix by his sound technician Roger Mayer and has since left its mark on a lot of Hendrix tracks including “Purple Haze.”
Sadly, the original Octavio (as Jimi liked to call it) that was designed and created by Roger Mayer is difficult to come across now. It is expensive, rare, and clunky, but if you’re a collector, nothing should stop you from getting the original Roger Mayer Octavia Rocket. This beast is what you can hear on classics from “Purple Haze” to “Fire” and, honestly, nothing quite hits that sound like it does.
That is not to say that all hope is lost if you can’t get your hands on the original Octavia. Dunlop jumps in yet another time to save the day with its excellent signature series Jimi Hendrix Octavio Fuzz pedals. This pedal will give you the iconic octave up sound coupled with a bit of extra fuzz to add to the Fuzzface.
The Uni-Vibe is a curious effect. The closest you can describe it to is a chorus cross-bred with a phaser, for lack of closer relatives. Yet, the Uni-Vibe is an entirely unique effect. To truly understand what it does you have to hear it in action on “Machine Gun.” The original effect was developed by Japanese company Shine-ei and that was what Hendrix employed during his later years with the Band of Gypsys.
While the original Shine-ei does not exist anymore, the Uni-Vibe effect is far from dead. Multiple manufacturers produce respectable high-quality Uni-Vibe effect pedals. Our favorite though has to be the TC Electronics Viscous Vibe. Boasting a 1:1 circuitry to the original Uni-Vibe and a compact design to fit on your pedal board comfortably, it is hard to beat this one.
Once you’ve got all the effects and pedals ready, here is how you want your pedal board to look like:
Wah > Fuzzface> Octavia > Uni-Vibe > Delay (optional)
The Budget Bundle:
Now, realistically, you’ll want to cut corners. Getting all the Hendrix gear would cost an arm and a leg, at least. Luckily, it is still entirely possible to get a great Hendrix sound but without having to sustain on breadcrumbs for an entire year.
It is difficult to recommend anything that isn’t the original Hendrix Strat. The white flipped Strat is too iconic (and functional) to willingly let go of. However, it is more than reasonable to want something more within the budget of a hobbyist or someone who just isn’t willing to go Hendrix all the way.
For that, you may very easily replace a Strat with another. Not only is it cheaper, but more familiar with a more standard form. You can fetch yourself a solid Mexican Fender Stratocaster for around $600 new or you can try your luck on craigslist. If you’re aiming for an even lower price point a Squier would do just fine at an affordable $300 new.
You can save a lot on amps if you opt for the lower power options. That does not have to mean you are limited to playing soft and low; in a small room, stacks of 200W cabinets will do you no more good than good quality combo amps.
The Marshall DSL5C 5W amp is a compact box of great music quality. At around $500 new, this little buddy does just what its older sibling does but at a lower (perhaps more suitable) power level.
The Marshall Code25 25W modeling amp is a strong contender that provides a decent amount of power along with that sweet classic Marshall distortion. This amp is more targeted at beginners and hobbyists, which may sound like a negative thing but what it essentially means is that you’re getting value for every dollar you invest in it. At $250 new, there are few options that can match the Marshall Code 25.
Effects and Pedals
Most effects are a one-piece package, you can’t really replace them for cheaper options. However, there are ways you can cut corners and still produce a respectable sound.
The most obvious path you can go to is to buy used gear. Most effect pedals and stompboxes are near indestructible and as long as you employ common sense, you can easily get away with shopping on craigslist.
Here is the thing though: you don’t have to get every effect Hendrix used ever. There aren’t that many tracks that have all 4 effects simultaneously. Jimi liked to mix and match and try different sounds out, the effects listed were simply his staple line up. The Uni-Vibe, for example, was only used on Jimi’s late-music career. The Octavia saw more niche usage to be more of the cherry on top. You can skip these 2 pedals easily as long as you know what you are missing and what songs you’ll not be able to replicate a 100%.
Okay, these were not the ones Jimi played, nor are they going to make you sound closer to Hendrix. However, they look cool. It’s just a fun homage to the soulful jammer if you’re a collector.
More Dunlop? Why not? Unlike the picks, these are faithful to some of the original Hendrix wore but like the picks, these won’t inject you with any rock magic. Overall these extra goodies are overpriced pieces of bling, but if you’re going for a high-end Hendrix gear what is an extra $50?
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are so basic to playing guitar that thinking that Hendrix was considered a pioneer for using them is absolutely mind-blowing. But it is true, these techniques would be nowhere near as popular as they are without Hendrix’s influence on music. Jimi Hendrix did not invent hammer-ons or pull-offs by any means, but he definitely used them heavily and brought them into daylight. The sweet melodies of Little Wing and the raw solo of Voodoo Child showed the world the versatility of hammer-ons and pull-offs. It’s impossible to listen to any full Hendrix track without spotting those techniques being used casually. If you want to master hammer-ons and pull-offs check the course below:
Hendrix relied heavily on both major and minor pentatonic scales. You can find the scales thrown around most of his music, often mixed together too. You can even hear this unusual mix of the two scales on “Red House.” It is no surprise that a rock and blues musician was big into the pentatonic scales. Check this Pentatonic scale course.
Bends and Vibrato
If you can’t bend it like Jimi then you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Hendrix’s music is notorious for heavy use of bends. To produce Hendrix’s sound you need to be familiar with all sorts of bends: up and down bends, full bends, half bends, pre-bends, and bend chokes. If you need to brush up your technique or learn new ways how to bend your strings you should check the course below:
Get to Work
Fancy guitars, immaculate amps, and incredible effects won’t get you very far if they’re sitting collecting dust, so get to work! While describing and dissecting Jimi’s playing style and techniques is a simple task, Jimi was no scientist; you really need to feel the very distinguishable Hendrix sound to replicate it. So, here’s a few Jimi Hendrix tabs you should check out.
Voodoo Child will give you a feel for Jimi’s iconic use of the wah effect. This legendary track, being one of Jimi’s most popular, is a prime example for the classic “playfulness” that characterizes his style.
For a more conventional bluesy song with a Hendrix flavor, look no further than Red House. With an odd time signature and use of intermixing of major and minor pentatonic scales, Red House is a masterclass on foundational Hendrix skills. Bends, hammer-ons, vocalisms, and a lot more of the same Jimi Hendrix magic makes this track a perfect example of early Hendrix sound.
Rocking hard and pushing the guitar to its limits were just a part of Jimi’s toolkit. A lot of people forget that Hendrix could get really soulful and mellow with his playing with just as much finesse. Little Wing is a must-jam-to track to give you a feel of a different mode of playing Hendrix. Still riddled with accurate hammer-ons and pull-offs, Little Wing shouldn’t be counted off as an easy track to tackle.
The world of Jimi’s music is big and there is a lot to explore. So take your gear for a jam and start improvising, don’t be tied down to rules and techniques; Jimi’s influence will mark your music anyway. Get your guitar out and just feel the music; it is the way Jimi did it and it is the way he would’ve liked his music to be honoured.