To avoid any misunderstanding, let me make myself clear that my point here is to stress out that Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing was a huge starting point to many Heavy Metal players, and that his playing set foot to many guitar standards commonly used today. That’s all! I am in no way saying that he invented Metal. But, there’s a big but in here, his music should be considered as one of the proto-metal influences or so. What I’m saying here is that he was one of the most influential guitar players ever.
I know that metal fans distrust, and disdain, Jimi’s guitar abilities because of his strong hippy image, and as most of you know, metal grew opposing to all that flower power bs. Believe me, I’ve been there too. I just couldn’t understand how a guy like Saxon’s Graham Oliver had Jimi’s pic at his guitar, and why so many guitar Metal players worshiped him. But guys, Hendrix belongs to another level.
In his own opinion, Hendrix was a blues guitar player. That’s how he saw himself, and that’s how he started professionally playing. He was the backup guitarist to guys like Little Richard and Curtis Knight and the Squires. But sometimes life his its own shifts and England popped up as a valid option to his career in order to establish himself as a headline guitarist. In England, life put him and Chas Chandler, who was seeking a manager career, in touch. Chandler was the first to strongly believe in his guitar capabilities and provided Jimi the conditions to prove it to the world. Funny that some people used to say that he was an american blues player that brought the american blues to the english blues, and the english blues to the american blues. Got it?
All that said, let’s go to some characteristics of his playing that changed guitar playing. In a nutshell, let’s resume them in two most important:
1. The technique
Jimi was a guitar aficionado. He just loved the instrument to the point of sleeping with it. Friends tell that it was usual to see him carrying the instrument wherever he used to go. That led him to be a researcher of the instrument, I mean, he spent all the time he had in studio to study how to develop new techniques to the instrument. Pay attention to the name of his band: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. That’s what he did a lot: experience. For instance, he was one of the first guitar players that used and abused of the whammy bar and the effects it provides. And he was a pretty fast guitar player. Remember, we are talking about the end of the 1960s. He also shaped the most usual blues chords to fit into what he was playing, it means with lots of overdrive effect. He could combine the chords that worked best with the distortion he applied to his music. By the way, he can’t be considered a riff lord, but most of his songs were riff oriented. Does it ring a bell?
2. The effects
Jimi used to play very loud. But very loud, even to today’s patterns. He was the first one to understand how to use gain, feedback and distortion on his behalf and to pleasantly control them into his music. No one could do so in the 1960s. Most just thought: ‘What the hell is this guy doing?”. It was too much noise for that time. He also introduced efficiently to the rock world pedal effects like the wah, the phaser, the chorus, and the delay. Jimi was a guitar player that was able to use a lot of effects. Guys like Tom Morello, Brad Gillis and Andreas Kisser, just to name a few, own him a lot. Not to mention that he used to play a Flying V guitar. Need some more?
Here I listed four videos that can explain musically better everything I wrote. Watch them paying close attention to the guitar lines: