How Hendrix Got His Tone

If you’re a Hendrix fan, beyond learning to play his licks and improvising in his style, you might wonder about the role equipment took in achieving his signature sound. It’s pretty obvious that he used fuzz and wah pedals. But which models were they? And what about his amps?

Well, here we’re going to take a look at exactly how it was that Hendrix achieved his tone. We’ll cover pedals, amps and guitars.

PEDALS

So, first let’s have a look at the pedals Jimi used. There was the VOX wah, the Fuzz Face, the Uni-Vibe and the Octavia pedal.

Vox Wah

The Vox Wah is the classic wah pedal that Hendrix used to create that classic intro to ‘Voodoo Chile’ and throughout many wild solos in his live performances.

It works as an envelope filter, which allows you to shape the tone of your sound using your foot. As you push the pedal down to bring out the highs and reduce the lows, the music builds in intensity. Used tastefully, this pedal almost works like a melodic and rhythmic device by itself, so it’s easy to see why a creative mind like Hendrix’ would be so taken.

Fuzz Face

Another wild sound, the original Fuzz Face pedal is what fattened Hendrix’ lead parts – as if they weren’t already larger than life.

These pedals create the heavy distortion sounds that make songs like ‘Foxy Lady’ so irresistibly filthy. Of course, Hendrix used the classic ‘Fuzz Face’, but there are many modern replications available now, some of which even sport his own, fuzzy face on the case.

Uni-Vibe

Another original, the Uni-Vibe pedal was created to try to emulate the sound of the spinning speakers in Leslie amps that were popular amongst organists in the 50s and 60s. However, they ended up creating an effect all of their own.

The Uni-Vibe worked like a flanger, chorus and phaser all in one, to create swirling sounds that were perfect in the psychedelic era of the 1960s. It’s been said that Hendrix was very visual when he talked about sound, and we can’t help but wonder what he saw as he experimented with this piece of kit – as you can hear him doing live at Woodstock.

Octavia

The Octavia pedal Hendrix used was actually designed for him by his sound technician, Mayer.

It’s a clever pedal that takes the guitar’s signal and shifts it up or down an octave, adding some extra fuzz as it does. It mixes this new output with the original output to create a fat, exciting sound like what you hear on ‘Purple Haze’.

Like the other pedals here, there are many newer pedals that modernize this effect, some of which are even designed to sound vintage.

AMPS

Marshall Plexi

The amp most people associate with Hendrix’ sound is the one he used later in his career: the Marshall Plexi. This amp was 100 watts, two channels and four inputs. It was a tube amp, which is probably why Hendrix used to like to play it cranked. And we mean cranked.

There were many disputes during Hendrix’ recording days about the volume to which he turned the amp up, as it was so loud it rattled things around that were then picked up on the recordings!

These days, you can get lower power tube/valve amps which you can turn right up without blowing the roof off. We still reckon Hendrix would have opted for loud, though :).

GUITARS

Fender Stratocaster – Upside Down!

Although he played other guitars, the Fender Strat is the one everybody sees when they picture Hendrix. As a left-handed guitarist, he had to string the guitar upside down – which made for some interesting differences in sound. Due to the design of the guitar, the lower strings usually have a longer way to go to the head. However, when it’s flipped, this rule is flipped, which in turn affects how much strength is needed to bend strings. This, according to Roger Mayer, is one of the reasons Hendrix’ guitars were often down-tuned.

Another feature that affected Hendrix’ sound was his custom sets of strings. He used half of a regular set of ’10s’, but swapped the G, A and E strings for super lights. This evened out the guitar’s response from string to string, taking focus away from the G string.

As far as volume and tone controls go, Hendrix was keen on adjusting these as he played on stage. As we’ve already discovered, he liked to turn his amps up loud, so he would then use the volume and tone controls on his instrument to shape his sound creatively as he played.

So, now you know what gear you need to achieve Jimi’s tone and you’re ready to play great music on an electric guitar. But remember, his genius was in his creativity. We suggest that, once you get hold of this equipment, you approach it with a, “What would Jimi do?” mentality, rather than a, “What did Jimi do?” …

Enjoy!

(Guest post from stellar guitarist and musician extraordinaire Roz.)

Learn more about Roz, her band and her wonderful blog @ www.guitaristroz.com!

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