Why Was Jimi Hendrix So Important?

This is a guitar blog. So let’s list some incredible guitarists. 

We can start with Bob Dylan, a man who’s used his guitar to support some of the greatest American poetry ever written. Next up is Eric Clapton, three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and eighteen-time Grammy Award recipient.

There’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, the man who reminded everybody that blues definitely wasn’t dead even in the ‘80s (or maybe Jeff Beck, who continues to remind us of this fact even now).

How about Pete Townsend, the windmill-strumming rock genius from The Who, or the funky and magnificently well-dressed multi-instrumental stunt performer that was Prince.

Kurt Cobain kept things elegantly simple in Nirvana, Matt Bellamy keeps things elegantly complicated on stage with Muse, and Kirk Hammett continues to remind us why he’s a living legend of thrash metal. Robert Smith, John Mayer, John Frusciante, Tom Morello, we could go on and on and on… 

There is a point to this name-dropping exercise. Because we’ve only identified a fraction of the most ground-breaking musicians that have contributed to the way music has developed over the past 50 years, and even then, have only focussed on guitarists.

Artists such as jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, Hip-Hop legends like the Beastie Boys, and literally thousands of other musicians could also be included in this list for one very simple reason. They all cite Jimi Hendrix as a major influence. 

The Man 

James Marshall Hendrix died on September 18th 1970 at the age of just 27, ending an active performance and recording career that had lasted a mere three years as a solo artist and band leader. This ridiculously narrow timeframe makes his musical accomplishments and legacy, particularly with regard to rock guitar, all the more spectacular. But why? 

The Noise 

Firstly, there’s his sound. 

Guitars: Despite a number of appearances with instruments ranging from Gibson Flying V’s to Gretsch Corvette’s, it’s the Fender Stratocaster that has always been most closely associated with Jimi Hendrix, who described it as "the best all-around guitar for the stuff we're doing”. Although his habit of using a right-handed instrument strung backwards for left-handed playing resulted in a reversal of high/low string definition compared with standard Strats - the slanted bridge pickup causing the darker highs and brighter lows that became a trademark part of his tone. 

Amps: Sure, there were other guitarists in the ‘60s that liked it loud, but none of them had truly embraced the potential of wildly overdriven amplifiers, and practically every other band at the time did their best to avoid feedback. But Hendrix, newly arrived in England in 1966, had noticed a number of guitarists using Marshall equipment, and picked up a selection of amps and speakers from this indigenous British manufacturer. Setting all the controls to maximum (infamously known as “the Hendrix setting”) provided the trademark tone that, in the words of Jim Marshall himself, made Jimi the “greatest ambassador" his company ever had. 

Effects: Roger Mayers Octavia pedal along with the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face were two regular features of Hendrix’s stage and studio setup (both prominently used in “Purple Haze” for example), along with the Univox UniVibe that can prominently head in “Machine Gun”. But it was the brand new Vox Cry-Baby Wah-Wah (only invented in 1966) that became Jimi’s signature effect, providing that legendary introduction to “Voodoo Chile”… 

The Playing 

Secondly, there’s his technique 

There were undoubtedly some legendary stunts up Jimi’s sleeve such as playing with the guitar behind his head or picking strings with his teeth (not to mention actually setting the thing on fire after a few notable performances). But acting as both frontman and sole guitarist in a rock trio is a serious test of musicianship, and one that Hendrix conquered magnificently. 

Musicologists have described his chordal technique as ‘piano style’, where the thumb was used to cover the 6th string and sustain chordal roots, leaving the other fingers free to cover both harmony and lead parts - perhaps best demonstrated during the opening section “Little Wing”, and a world apart from the standard barre chord method used by everyone else. 

But it’s the virtuosity and progressive fusion of genres in his soloing that truly blew the world away, and continues to inspire musicians to this day. The solid Blues core of his style was neatly mixed with Rock’n’Roll, R&B, Jazz, Soul, American folk and British Rock influences, pushing the boundaries of psychedelic rock that no-one had come close to touching. Long-time friend Eric Clapton first witnessed this when he allowed Jimi onto the stage for one song at a 1966 Cream gig in London, subsequently recalling that "He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn't in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it ... He walked off, and my life was never the same again”. 


The Freedom 

This word can mean many different things to many different people. So, a peer review is probably appropriate here. 

Matt Bellamy has said that “what changed my life was the freedom, the expression that Hendrix brought to the performance. There was a sense of wild, reckless danger”. Robert Smith agrees, saying that "Hendrix was the first person I had come across who seemed completely free, and when you're nine or 10, your life is entirely dominated by adults. So he represented this thing that I wanted to be.” 

Other titans of the guitar world have delved more directly into the technical aspects of Hendrix’s musical freedom, with Kirk Hammett observing that "When he played a song and wanted sea-gull sounds in it, he would get those sounds. If he wanted his guitar to sound like it was underwater, he could do that." John Frusciante has taken a more holistic view, stating that "Hendrix creates a place where you can be high and hang out and lose yourself. He's bringing out aspects of sound we didn't know were there". 

Pete Townsend provides perhaps the perfect instrumental analysis; "He managed to build this bridge between true blues guitar...and modern sounds...He brought the two together brilliantly”. And we quote Yngwie Malmsteen with the perfect conclusion; "Hendrix created modern electric playing, without question ... He was the first. He started it all. The rest is history.” 

Playing in the style of Jimi Hendrix

By now you know the kind of legacy that Jimi Hendrix has left behind, his style and the influence he has had on many guitarists.  So, what’s next?  

Well, how about you actually learn how to play in the style of Jimi Hendrix?

We’ve written a comprehensive book "Soloing Techniques For Beginners," covering 11+ greatest guitar techniques along with 125+ licks in the style of many guitar gods including “Jimi Hendrix.” Check out the book and hit the code GETMY10 for 10% off.

Editor's Picks


  • Rob D
    First of all,I am green and seething with envy for those above who saw Jimi Hendrix live.It would be another 2 years after his tragic death till I was born.I think the very first thing of Jimi Hendrix I saw was from the film of Woodstock;Star Spangled Banner obviously which at 15 years old kind of flew over my head.I was heavily tuned into guitar music at that time although it took till age 17 before starting to play but I was an ardent fan of Iron Maiden,Priest,Ozzy Osbourne etc but especially AC/DC.

    A few months later with the money my granny gave me for my 16th birthday I headed directly for Woolworths to buy a record.Even more taken with the guitar than ever and hearing that Hendrix was the no.1 guitar player of all time I found Are You Experienced on vinyl.Getting home and putting it on the turntable I was blown away,what a revelation.No much in the way of heavy,compressed,saturated guitar which was a given before I’d listen to it but the sound,his tone,his playing was so full of barely contained energy.It sounded more direct and fresh than almost anything I’d ever heard before.So much more creative,more vital than everything else.
    For me personally,that album along with Led Zeppelin I and Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues is the most significant album in my own musical journey.Even down to the rear sleeve where you see the tremelo/spring cover removed from his Strat removed,every Strat I own the first thing I do is take that cover off not because I think it will improve anything or somehow channel Jimi’s spirit but simply it looks so cool it’s always stuck with me.
    I saw that interview with EC that’s quoted above where he also says he considered himself to be at the very top of the guitar tree until he saw Hendrix play then he realised he really knew nothing of the blues in truth.Anyone who could shake EC’s ego in 1967 had to be out of this world,the band was called Cream for a reason.
    I love stuff like Machine Gun and the live version of Hear My Train from the album Concerts;I’m 99% sure that was from Winterland are incredble aswell as Electric Ladyland but I keep on coming back to Are You Experienced.To have written and performed these absolutely groundbreaking songs which were honed down so precisely to fit the pop song format took pure musical genius.
    Rock music and guitar playing was never the same again,suddenly it had expanded in all directions.He showed the world in 66-67 and is still showing guitarists today the way it can and should be done.As for his technique and playing freedom works but I’ve always seen it as absolutely natural,there’s no distinction between him and the instrument,he didn’t play guitar he and the guitar were one.He made it look effortless.
    I don’t rate him high amongst guitarist but in that highest league alongside the likes of Mozart,Paganini,Robert Johnson and the like.

  • Tony C
    Jimi was an idol of mine from the first time I saw him in the 1960s.

    He exploded onto the scene in England and I was 18 at the time and he completely blew me away.
    The Beatles were undoubtedly my first love and still are because they changed everything in music.
    They opened the gates for so many other quality musicians to flourish. Too many names to list.
    But Jimis technique was something all of its own.
    His jazz guitar roots and mastery of the instrument impressed all of the guitarists of his era.

  • John
    I wish I could have seen Jimi live! He has always been one of my favorite guitarists, and definitely one of the best of all time!
  • Bill B

    I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley when I first saw Hendrix in 1967 at the Winterland auditorium in San Francisco. A bunch of us students went over to SF to the concert. We had already heard “Are You Experienced?” so we had some idea of his sound. He opened his set with Purple Haze. He did all of his theatrics, playing behind his back, using the mike stand as a slide, playing between his legs, with his teeth, but what was most surprising is that he hammered a huge portion of the song with no picking at all. With all the things that he did during that song, we were left stunned. I clearly remember that when it ended the audience stood there in complete silence. There was no applause. We all just looked at each other and thought, “What the F* just happened?” It was simply astonishing. Almost impossible to comprehend. What he played that night often sounded to me like WW III, but under total control. I saw him twice more before his untimely death. I have seen many great guitarists and performers since then, but Hendrix stands apart. His playing was seminal, as Yngwie said. His early albums are treasures to me. Like the Beatles and Dylan albums at the time, each one was a cause for celebration leading to spontaneous dorm parties. Those were happy times fondly remembered.

  • LeRoy Schoenrock
    Love the blogs and the books .kEEP IT UP!


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