Jimi Hendrix is unquestionably the most iconic guitarist of all time. Learn how you can dial in his killer tones to suit your budget and set-up.
I don’t think there is a single guitarist in the modern era who has not wanted to sound like Jimi Hendrix at some point in their playing career. He is unquestionably the most iconic guitarist of all time, and one who has influenced every guitarist that is playing today.
Most people believe Jimi Hendrix to be the greatest guitarist of all time. He introduced techniques and a style of playing that had never before been seen, and altered how musicians approached the guitar. He illustrated the immense possibilities that the guitars offers.
When it came to tone, Hendrix pushed the same boundaries. He had a set up that was far more sophisticated than that of his contemporaries, and he experimented with effects in a way that was unprecedented at the time. In doing so, he popularised effects like fuzz and wah-wah, and paved the way for modern guitarists.
As you might expect, it is challenging to sound like Jimi Hendrix on a number of levels.
Firstly, Hendrix famously paired up with an electrical engineer called Roger Mayer. Mayer is one of the best known and most highly regarded figures in the world of guitar effects. He has worked with musicians like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder and actually created the Octavia guitar pedal that Hendrix used during the solo of Purple Haze.
Mayer’s collaboration with Hendrix is well documented. He and Hendrix paid forensic detail to the set up of Hendrix’s rig, and left no stone unturned in their quest for tone.
The second and more difficult challenge, is how to replicate those beautiful Hendrix tones without sounding like a cheap imitation. I would argue that you can replicate the tones of guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Gary Moore without sounding like you’re imitating them. I don’t think the same can be said here. Hendrix used very specific effects and has a very distinctive sound.
So you have to tread carefully when you are trying to sound like Jimi Hendrix. You want to take elements of Hendrix’s rig, whilst putting your own spin on the sound. This will be the focus of today’s article. Outlined here is everything you need to sound like Jimi Hendrix.
Take these elements and adapt them and you will end up with an amazing and very versatile heavy blues and rock rig.
The Fender Stratocaster
In the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix almost single handedly resurrected sales of the Fender Stratocaster. Following huge success during the 1950s, by the 1960s the Fender Strat was starting to become unfashionable. It was becoming associated with the softer, poppier offerings of guitarists like Hank Marvin and Buddy Holly. Conversely, all of the serious blues and rock guitarists of the day played Gibson Les Pauls. All of this changed with Jimi Hendrix. He arrived in London in 1966 with a right handed Fender Strat flipped upside down and played guitar in a way that no-one had ever before seen. The Fender Strat has since gone on to become one of the most popular and iconic guitars of all time.
Over the course of his career, Hendrix had a wide assortment of 1960s model Strats, which varied in build and spec. His most famous Strat was arguably the olympic white Strat that he played at Woodstock in 1969. Hendrix used this during his iconic performance of Star Spangled Banner. It also featured on a number of other studio and live performances. The guitar was a 1968 Strat, which Hendrix liked as it had a wide neck and a big headstock. It also had a maple neck, which Hendrix generally favoured later on in his career.
As was the case with all of Hendrix’s guitars, this was a right handed model that Hendrix restrung and flipped upside down. This is worth noting, as it had an implication on Hendrix’s sound. Flipping the guitar upside down reverses the relationship between the strings and the pickups. In essence, it makes the bass strings sound brighter and sharper, whilst the treble strings sound a bit softer and warmer.
Long story short – if you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, you need to get yourself a Fender Stratocaster. Buying an original Strat from the 1960s will set you back upwards of $15,000/£11,500, depending on which model you buy and how well they have been preserved. Luckily, you can sound like Jimi Hendrix without having to remortgage your house. Not only are there Fender Strats and replica Strat models to suit all budgets, but Fender have a wide range of Jimi Hendrix inspired guitars. So if you are a huge Jimi Hendrix fan, then that’s also a route worth exploring. Budget dependant, when it comes to guitars my top recommendations are listed below.
It’s worth noting that when compared with the regular Strats, the Jimi Hendrix models are built to sound closer to the originals that Hendrix used. This is because the pickups in these guitars are reversed. So although the guitars are oriented the right way, the relationship between the strings and the pickups reflects that of Hendrix’s upside down Strat.
Beyond the Fender Strat, Hendrix also played a number of Gibson guitars, including a psychedelic Painted Flying V and a Custom SG with 3 humbucking pickups. Whilst Hendrix did use these at a number of live shows, they don’t capture the classic Hendrix sound in the same way that the Strat does. This was Hendrix’s main guitar and one of the only guitars he played – both live and in the studio.
The Marshall ‘Plexi’ sound
Jim Marshall – the founder of Marshall amps – once described Jimi Hendrix as his company’s ‘greatest ever ambassador’. Hendrix was a huge fan of Marshall amps and almost exclusively used them during his career.
Famously, he used a Marshall Super 100JH ‘Plexi’ Head that he combined with a number of 4×12 cabinets, depending on the size of the venue.
So named because of the plexiglass panels used on these amps between 1965-1969, the Marshall ‘Plexis’ are synonymous with the sound of British rock and blues. They were almost universally favoured by guitarists during the 196os, who were looking for heavy, distorted tones. At this point, PA systems were still in early production, and guitarists needed to use high powered amps in the huge venues where they were playing. The first 100 watt ‘Plexi’ amp was actually created following the request of The Who’s Pete Townshend, who told Jim Marshall that the 50 watt amps then in production were not loud enough.
Although Hendrix at this time was far from being the only proponent of Marshall amps, he was one of the most effusive. Shortly after arriving in London in 1966, Jim Marshall gave Hendrix a tour around his factory. Of the experience, Hendrix said:
Meeting Jim (Marshall) was beyond groovy for me. It was such a relief to talk to someone who knows and cares about sound. Jim really listened to me that day and answered a lot of questions. I love my Marshall amps: I am nothing without them!
If you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix and are after authenticity, then you can buy reissues of the Marshall Super Lead 100 for around $2500/£1650. Truthfully though, I wouldn’t recommend going down this route. Hendrix got his sound by really cranking up the volume on his amp. Considering that it is 100 watts, this isn’t a possibility for most of us, who have to be mindful of family/friends/neighbours.
Long story short, if you are predominantly playing at home at low or moderate volumes, please do not buy a Marshall Plexi in your quest to sound like Jimi Hendrix. You will sound stifled and thin and you will feel disappointed and disheartened by your tone.
So the real challenge then becomes how to sound like Jimi Hendrix without disturbing your neighbours. And the answer here is two fold.
Part of it comes down to having the right guitar pedals. Whilst a lot of Hendrx’s tone came from playing loud, he also pushed his amps hard with pedals and changed his tone by using an array of different effects. I’ve covered all of the pedals he used in more detail below.
The second part comes from opting for a smaller amp that will break up at lower volumes.
If you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, then I’d recommend focusing on Marshall amps. I always thought that Marshall were a bit lacking when it came to offering genuine home alternatives to their most iconic amps. But it seems like they’ve really turned that around, as they now offer a number of great amps across a range of budgets. Some of my top recommendations are:
Beyond Marshall and if you are looking to spend a bit more, I would also recommend looking at Friedman. These are brilliant amps that have beautiful clean tones but also break up into brilliant vintage sounding distortion when they’re cranked:
The Friedmans are modern voiced amps. So they won’t have quite the same vintage tones as the Marshalls. But don’t let that put you off. They are brilliant amps that will give you a great sound, whilst getting you close to those vintage Hendrix tones.
If you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, you need to invest in some decent guitar pedals. Guitar pedals played a huge part in Jimi Hendrix’s sound and were crucial to some of his most famous songs – like Purple Haze, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and All Along The Watchtower, amongst countless others. These songs are so iconic that Hendrix has come to be almost solely associated with certain guitar effects, like Uni-Vibe and Octavia. Over the course of his career he used a wide array of effects. Of these, the most important and crucial additions to your rig as are follows:
If you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, you need to start by getting a fuzz pedal. Hendrix used fuzz on many of his most famous songs – including Purple Haze, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and Red House. Fuzz is at the core of Jimi Hendrix’s sound.
During his career, Hendrix relied almost exclusively on the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. Fortunately, Dunlop still make accurate replicas of these early pedals. Of these, I would recommend opting for those that use germanium transistors. These were the transistors that were used in the early fuzz pedals and they do have implications on how the pedal sounds.
Fuzz pedals that use germanium transistors typically sound smoother and are less harsh on the ear. Conversely, fuzz pedals that use silicon transistors are sharp sounding and have a bit more bite.
With that in mind, if you want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, my top recommendation is the Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini. This is a great pedal that uses germanium transistors and will help you get those vintage fuzz tones. Beyond that, some additional germanium built fuzz pedals that I would also recommend are:
Hendrix got a broad variety of sounds from his fuzz pedals by using the volume control on his guitar to adjust the level of distortion. This is worth noting. If you really want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, it isn’t just about cranking the dial up on your fuzz pedal and letting rip. You need to manipulate your guitar to control the sound coming from the fuzz pedal and adjust as necessary to get your desired tone.
Jimi Hendrix most famously used wah-wah on the opening riff of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It is one of the best known and most instantly recognisable riffs of all time. Beyond that, Hendrix also used wah-wah on All Along The Watchtower, and regularly used it during his live performances.
Hendrix used a Vox Wah – so it you want to replicate those vintage wah-wah tones then that’s a good place to start. The Vox V847 is a great entry model, and you can pick one up for less than $100/£75.
If you are looking to get a bit closer to Hendrix’s sound, then it is worth spending a little more and opting for the Vox V846HW Wah. This is a hand-wired version of the pedal and the quality of the tone is reflective of this.
Beyond the Vox range, I would recommend looking at the Jimi Hendrix Cry Baby Wah. This is a wah pedal modelled to make you sound like Jimi Hendrix, so it would also be a great addition to your rig.
Fuzz and wah-wah are the two main effects that you need to sound like Jimi Hendrix. But beyond those, it is also worth considering a Uni-Vibe pedal. In the later stages of his career, Hendrix really got into Uni-Vibe, using it to great effect on songs like Star Spangled Banner, Machine Gun and Izabella.
The Uni-Vibe sound is often mistaken with chorus and phasers, as it modulates your guitar signal in a similar way. But unlike those effects, the Uni-Vibe has more of a pulsing, rhythmic sound. The original Uni-Vibe pedals that Hendrix used (manufactured by Shin-Ei) are no longer in production. Luckily though, there are some great modern pedals available on the market:
For general blues playing you don’t need this effect. But if you really want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, then a decent Uni-Vibe pedal will make a nice addition to your rig.
The final effect in Hendrix’s arsenal was an octave pedal. Hendrix famously used his Octavia pedal on the solo in Purple Haze. Roger Mayer invented this effect and purpose built it for Hendrix, who then combined it with his fuzz pedal to create a sound that was totally unprecedented at the time.
An octave pedal is an effect that serves a very specific purpose. So by no means is it a necessary addition to your rig. But should you wish to get a bit more experimental, then Roger Mayer still makes versions of his Octavia pedal. For authenticity that would be my top choice. But it is also worth looking at these pedals too:
Because fuzz and octave pedals are so frequently combined, there are also a number of pedals that have both effects in one unit. Of these, the Electro Harmonix Octavix and the Jimi Hendrix Octavio Fuzz pedal would be my top choices.
It is worth noting that Jimi Hendrix often played with his guitar tuned down a half step, to Eb. He did this for two main reasons. Firstly, Hendrix favoured this tuning as it better suited his vocal range. Secondly, it helped to make strong bending easier.
This down tuning had implications for Hendrix’s tone. I’m not totally sure why this is the case (if anyone does know, please post in the comments!) but tuning down a half step adds depth to your sound. It makes your guitar sound thicker and more powerful. It’s part of the reason that a lot of blues and rock guitarists – like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash and more recently Philip Sayce – favour the tuning.
Whilst I don’t think tuning down is necessary to sound like Jimi Hendrix, it will definitely help. It will also beef up your guitar sound and improve your blues tone more generally, so give it a go!
If you want to get down to a granular level in your quest to sound like Jimi Hendrix, it’s worth looking at your guitar strings. Hendrix was quite unusual in that he played with thin gauge guitar strings on his lower strings. His string gauges were as follows: .010, .013, .015, .026, .032 and .038. Conversely, a regular set of 10 gauge string run as follows: 0.10, 0.13, 0.17, 0.26, 0.36, 0.46. Compare the two and you can see that there is a big difference in gauge across the lower strings.
According to Roger Mayer, the main purpose of Hendrix’s custom string gauge was to prevent the guitar from sounding so ‘G heavy’. The lighter strings would also have helped with string bending on the lower strings. Thus the decision to play with lighter strings may have been as much about playability as tone. And I would urge you to think in the same way.
As I wrote about in more detail here, I strongly believe that you should choose guitar strings that enable you to play the way you want. After all, you won’t sound like Jimi Hendrix if you can’t play properly.
If you are totally happy with your guitar strings, then I wouldn’t overthink it. Conversely, if you think you would benefit from playing a lighter gauge, then look at Hendrix’s custom set up. It will definitely help with playability, especially across the lower strings.
Some closing thoughts…
Well there we have it, everything you need to sound like Jimi Hendrix.
Of all of the guitarists that I have so far covered in this series, none have placed as much emphasis on their gear as Hendrix. He was the first guitarist to really push the boundaries and experiment with his tone. He and Roger Mayer also spent a huge amount of time obsessing over the finer details of his sound.
It was this intense focus that led him to produce some of the greatest blues rock tones ever recorded.
Replicating these tones is not easy. And as I mentioned earlier – there is the risk that trying to do so with total accuracy will make you sound like a cheap imitation. But implement elements of this rig and put your own twist on it, and you will sound amazing. Gary Clark Jr provides a great example of how you can do this, whilst retaining your own individual sound.
Combine your own style with Hendrix’s focus and work ethic, and you will create a truly inspiring blues rock tone.
Good luck, and let me know how you get on in the comments!
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