Most guitar technicians are good players too

Jimi Hendrix & his Fender Stratocaster

by Lothar Trampert,

No other musician embodies the rock guitarist as prototypically as Jimi Hendrix. And even more than four decades after his death, he still has an inspiring effect on all people for whom a six-string has nothing to do with campfire romance. Jimi Hendrix reinvented the electric guitar - and in his particular case it was the Fender Stratocaster. Sorry Leo ...

Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in the northwestern United States, in Seattle, Washington. The parents Al and Lucille were African American and both came from poor backgrounds. In the first three years of his life her son grew up mostly with relatives and friends of the family. At the end of 1946 his father had the name changed: Johnny Allen became James Marshall Hendrix, his nickname became Jimmy. At the end of the 1950s, when Jimmy was around 15, he became increasingly interested in music. It started with various self-made “instruments”, then a ukulele came into play, followed by a cheap acoustic guitar. Due to the progress he made, Al Hendrix gave him an electric guitar a year later, on which Jimmy tried to play the rock & roll songs he heard on the radio, initially without an amplifier. With success & talent.

This is followed by a few cover bands, in which Hendrix is ​​partly engaged as a bassist and plays a lot of gigs in the Seattle area. Like his father, he earned his living as a gardener.

In 1961, Jimmy volunteered for three years as a soldier in the US Army, but had to end his career as a parachutist due to an injury and returned to civilian life in July 1962 - and wanted to be nothing more than a professional musician. It worked! Numerous own bands & projects, including with bassist Billy Cox, whom he had met in the military, emerged and failed. In various backing band jobs, Hendrix accompanied a.o. Stars like the Marvelettes, Curtis Mayfield, Jackie Wilson, B.B. King, The Supremes, Slim Harpo, Hank Ballard and Little Richard. It was then that he became interested in the blues.

This was followed by recordings and gigs with Lonnie Youngblood's band, Hendrix moved to New York City, joined the soul- and fun-oriented Isley Brothers, played with guitarist Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the MGs), and accompanied the legendary singer Sam Cooke made some of his last appearances, appeared in shows for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and with the soul duo Sam & Dave and became lead guitarist for Curtis Knight & The Squires - Jimmy Hendrix was a very busy and above all versatile musician, who had already learned his trade back then. The time had come to take another step towards independence: Hendrix gave himself a pseudonym and appeared with a band as "Jimmy James & The Blue Flames" in various New York clubs.

In the three months of their existence, this troupe has made quite a splash in the Greenwich Village art scene. Musicians like Jeff Baxter, Al Kooper and the guitarist and harmonica player John Hammond Jr. jumped in for a short time, British pop stars who were on tour in the USA, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Animals, became aware of the insider tip Jimmy James and looked for the "Cafe Wha?" and the "Cafe Au GoGo" to take the exceptional young guitarist under the microscope.

With the Blue Flames, Hendrix played not only rock & roll standards and well-known blues numbers, but also several songs by Bob Dylan, where he was heard for the first time as a singer. Jimmy has been writing his own lyrics since 1965, but he was still reluctant to write his own songs; the band repertoire at that time consisted of songs like, Hey Joe ‘,, Like A Rolling Stone‘,, Wild Thing ‘and, Shotgun‘. But Hendrix continued to see himself primarily as a guitarist, and as such he gradually advanced to become the underground insider tip of the New York summer of 1966.

At the beginning of September of that year, after a US tour, the Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who had already seen Jimmy live in July, returned to New York. He persuaded Hendrix to leave his band and come to England with him to put together a new group. Chandler had known the British market long enough and, like Animals manager Michael Jeffery, saw good opportunities to use Hendrix ’blues-oriented music commercially. Hendrix and Chandler reached an agreement, the necessary papers were obtained, and the journey into the unknown could begin ...

With this the official part of a really big, relatively short and not exactly successful rock career begins: On September 24th 1966 they arrived in London. Chandler immediately changed the spelling of Hendrix's first name; In his opinion, "Jimi" was more recognizable than "Jimmy", and recognition was an indispensable part of a star image. However, some organizers of the first Hendrix gigs had difficulties with this and announced the upcoming star on posters as "Jimmi Hendrix", "Jimmy Hendric’s Experience" or "Jimi Hendricks".

His band was practically cast together: Even in Hendrix's first days in London there were jams with the organist Zoot Money and a guitarist named Andrew Somers, who was to have success as Andy Summers on The Police at the end of the 1970s. After a few auditions with various musicians, the trio of the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" crystallized in the following month: with guitarist Noel Redding, who played bass for the first time, the jazz-influenced drummer Mitch Mitchell, who became known through his work with Georgie Fame, and of course with Hendrix himself as a guitarist and singer. The first Experience rehearsals took place on October 6, 1966, and a week later the band played a few gigs in France as a support act for French rock & roll star Johnny Halliday.

Back in London, the new Hendrix band went into the studio for the first time on October 23, 1966 and recorded the song, Hey Joe ‘, the A-side of their debut single; A good week later, on November 2, 1966, the B-side, Stone Free ‘, was created. The group's first official London club concerts will take place between the two studio appointments, which will soon make guitarist Hendrix and his band a star of the music scene here, just as they did in New York a few months earlier.

The very early live recordings that were made before the first single, Hey Joe / Stone Free ‘(12/66), show what fascination must have emanated from this musician. As a singer and guitarist, Hendrix was the complete solo entertainer, playing harmonies and riffs, interspersing the whole thing with bass lines and then really putting pressure on the wires while soloing. No other guitarist worked on his instrument like this in the mid-1960s. So it's no wonder that Hendrix unsettled the entire British music scene and turned it into fans: Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and others. could just learn something new.

The experience had its television premiere on December 13th: In the program “Ready, Steady, Go” Jimi & Band played the title, Hey Joe ‘. Three days later, the first single was released in England, which was number 4 in the English charts on February 4, 1967 - a remarkable success, which was not least due to Chas Chandler's persistent efforts to ensure the band's constant media presence. Hendrix himself was not particularly enthusiastic about the record and described, Hey Joe ‘as" really a cowboy song. "His early conclusion:" That isn’t us. "

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it: This is where the great success began. Three years with countless gigs, many studio sessions, some well-selling singles and (depending on how they were counted) five excellent albums that made music history. You can read this story in any music dictionary and it has been told over and over again in hundreds of articles and numerous biographies. The end is always the same (at least for serious biographers): On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix dies of complications from sleeping pills in St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital in London. The official communiqué of September 28th named as the cause of death "suffocation from vomit due to the ingestion of sleeping pills in combination with alcohol". The dose of sleeping pill ingested excludes suicide, so that contrary to various assumptions, an accident (negligent handling of narcotics) can be assumed.

The instrument

The name Jimi Hendrix will probably forever be associated with a certain guitar model in rock music: the Fender Stratocaster. The Strat's continued popularity is not least thanks to it. Hendrix once remarked: “The Stratocaster is the best all-round guitar for the things we do. You can get the very sharp highs and that deep bass sound with it. I've tried the Telecaster and it only has two sounds: a good one and a bad one - and a very narrow sound spectrum. "

The Strat was Jimi's main instrument when it was discovered by Chas Chandler in New York - and it remained so. But even in the years before, Hendrix owned a few Fender guitars - but only after he had gone through the hell of the cheapest department store guitars, which was known to almost every electric guitarist at the time. At the beginning of 1964, after joining the Isley Brothers, Jimi's financial situation seemed to have improved a bit, because he bought his first Fender Duo-Sonic, which cost just under $ 100 (a Strat was only available from $ 289 at the time ). The Duo-Sonic was a kind of low-price version of the Stratocaster, with, as the name suggests, two pickups.

It became his main instrument, and he also plays this guitar in later photos showing Hendrix with Curtis Knight & The Squires. During his brief stint at Little Richard, Jimi occasionally used a Fender Jazzmaster (unit price: $ 220) that had a vibrato system. It wasn't until mid-1966 that he exchanged the Duo-Sonic for his first Fender Stratocaster; he borrowed the change required for this from a friend. Although he was left-handed, Hendrix played almost exclusively the normal right-handed models of the Strat and other types of guitars. It is interesting in this context that Jimi writes with his right hand on film recordings of an autograph session. Whether or not he was forced to do this in school (as was still the case in the 1960s) can hardly be clarified today.

In any case, custom-made guitars for left-handers were difficult to obtain at the time, and in his early days, which were characterized by chronic financial difficulties, they would have been far too expensive for him. In addition, there were no left-handed models at all of the various cheap brands he used at the beginning of his career. Jimi Hendrix only owned a left-handed Strat made by the manufacturer around 1969, and very often he did not play this instrument, at least in public. So Hendrix had little choice but to convert the instruments available to him according to the following pattern: bridge and saddle were re-assembled, exactly the wrong way round; then the strings were pulled up in reverse order, and the left-hand “special model” was ready. Due to these changes and the changed way of holding the instrument, the volume and tone controls as well as the pickup selector switch and output socket of the Stratocaster were now above the strings; the same goes for the vibrato lever.

Much has been speculated about the tonal differences between a "normally" played Stratocaster and a right-handed model used in the style of the left-handed Hendrix. For example, the pickups with “staggered polepieces”, ie the pole pieces of the pickups that were attached at different heights for a balanced volume of all strings, were now under the “wrong” strings due to Hendrix handling ... However, it should now be clear that this is also the case of this musician 90s% of the sound and the ideas came from head and hands.

Of course, the Strat's single coil sound, the three (with up to five positions in between) quasi-preset sounds of this instrument and the vibrato system colored his music extremely, just like his practice of extracting maximum performance and maximum distortion from amplifiers and resulting feedback Consciously using and controlling the guitar. But: Jimi Hendrix ’instruments were a medium to make his music sound. In 1967 and 1968 he preferred Stratocaster guitars with a rosewood fingerboard (rosewood fingerboard); their necks were a little thinner than those of the guitars used later, which mostly had maple necks, the neck and fingerboard of which were made of maple wood. Almost all of these instruments were built between 1964 and 1968, so they were relatively new and off the shelf, so to speak.

Technician Roger Mayer, who was responsible for the sound adjustment and maintenance of the experience equipment, explains that most of the Strats have not been changed except for the reversed stringing and the corresponding newly installed saddles and bridges. Great importance was attached to the fact that the electric guitars worked mechanically well, which means that they were neatly adjusted so that no string creaking or similar undesirable noises could be heard when playing. In addition, the string-guiding parts were adjusted with the highest precision to ensure optimal fret purity.

The neck of the guitars was cleaned of excess paint in order to achieve a good neck-body connection and thus an optimal sustain. Roughened frets and fingerboard sections have been polished smooth; However, this happened relatively seldom, since the instruments usually did not remain in use long enough for such signs of wear and tear to occur. Before such a case could occur, they were usually taken out of service anyway because of other defects, as Hendrix often put extreme stress on his Strats while playing: The vibrato lever and the neck-body connection had to withstand a lot. Defective or destroyed guitars were dismantled, the individual parts that could still be used were used to repair other guitars or put together in completely new combinations.

On the other hand, changes have been made to the vibrato system of the Stratocaster: On some guitars, two of the five steel springs of the system have been removed in order to enable an even more extreme detuning of the strings. What is certain, however, is that this modification was not made, as is often claimed, on all Strats played by Hendrix ’. Due to the fact that the back cover of the guitar was always removed to allow a faster string change, all five springs can be seen in most photos in this view. Hendrix bent the vibrato levers of some guitars so that they not only fulfilled their intended function, but he himself was also able to touch the strings with the lever. Through the contact of a vibrating string with the metal lever or the attached hard plastic cap, special sound effects could be created in this way. The lever couldn't be too far away from the strings.

In the four successful years of his career, Hendrix owned a vast number of Strats, which differed from each other essentially only in the way they were painted or painted; The reason for the frequent change is that most of these instruments were defective at some point or were stolen or were given away by Hendrix himself to other musicians.

Hendrix himself basically had a completely carefree, almost unassuming relationship with his instruments; if he had to, he could get along with any guitar - which is not least due to the fact that in his early years he had to play mainly on instruments of the lowest price range, which are usually not that easy to handle. During this time he also developed his style and sound, made first feedback experiments and the like; even in later years his style of playing was never dependent on hi-tech instruments being available to him.

In addition, the off-the-shelf standard Strat was already a pretty perfect instrument at its time that more than met the needs of most guitarists. However, Hendrix also had no problems when he had to resort to other types of guitars such as a Gibson Les Paul or, for sessions, a semi-acoustic Gretsch, both of which have fingerboards and necks that differ significantly from the Strat. What is certain, however, is that the Stratocaster was definitely the first choice for Jimi Hendrix - this guitar made his music sound.


Jimi Hendrix Recordings

Are You Experienced? (1967)

Axis: Bold As Love (1967/68)

Smash Hits (1968)

Electric Ladyland (1968)

Band Of Gypsys (1970)


Jimi Hendrix in G&B

Test: Dunlop Jimi Hendrix WahWah (07/88)

Jimi Hendrix Revisited (02/91)

Workshop! The orchestral guitar 1-3 (02-04/91)

Workshop! Jimi Hendrix Special (12/96)

Workshop! Jimi Hendrix & Steve Vai: Red House (07/97)

Noel Redding, bassist of the JH-Experience (11/97)

Test: Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster (12/97)

Billy Cox, bass player for The Band Of Gypsys (12/98)

JH Special! The guitarist in the studio

JH Special! Amps & Effects

JH Special! Guitars & modifications


Jimi Hendrix literature

  • Menn, Don: Jimi's favorite guitar technique (in: Guitar Player, Sept. 1975). The first and essential article on Hendrix's guitar technique. Concise and very informative.
  • Milkowski, Bill: Jimi Hendrix - The Jazz Connection (in: Down Beat, Oct. 1982). An interesting examination of Hendrix ’music, which is characterized by the fact that the author thinks outside the box of rock music.
  • Murray, Charles Shaar: Crosstown Traffic - Jimi Hendrix and Post-War Pop (London 1989, Faber and Faber Ltd.). The most up-to-date and undoubtedly most detailed study of the Hendrix phenomenon in a music-historical context.
  • Shapiro, Harry & Glebbeek, Caesar: Jimi Hendrix - Electric Gypsy (London 1990, William Heinemann Ltd.); German edition with the same title (Cologne 1993, VGS-Verlag). The standard work on Hendrix. The extremely detailed listing of biographical and musical facts and dates in the 200-page appendix make the work more of a publication for Hendrix experts and collectors.
  • Trampert, Lothar: Electric! Jimi Hendrix - The musician behind the myth (Augsburg 1991/94, Sonnentanz Verlag). The standard work when it comes to the guitarist, composer & sound creator Hendrix: biography, music, interpretations, instruments & experiments are dealt with extensively here.

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