Jimi Hendrix changed electric guitar music. During his short life, James Marshall Hendrix managed to infect the creative minds of the generations to come with a sound that we now consider rock music. Let’s zoom in on the three main game changers the American virtuoso introduced. It’s Rocktober after all.
The ‘Jimi Hendrix’ tuning
When it comes to playing the electric guitar, it’s pretty important to know how to tune your instrument. After all, nobody likes to hear an out of tune axe. So when you use an app like KARANG or a regular tuner, you are most probably tuning your guitar in standard E tuning. That’s a nice and bright sound, still very much the standard when it comes to pop music.
So what did good old Jimi do, when he decided to give his guitar a more distinguished voice that matched his own? He adjusted the standard by tuning his instrument half a step down. By doing so, he created a sound that would change electric guitar music for good. Darker, more massive and edgy, the Eb tuning revolutionised alternative genres like metal, rock, and grunge.
To celebrate the fact that Hendrix gave us this unique piece of noise, guitarists started to call it the Jimi Hendrix tuning. Of course we can talk about different tunings for hours, but that’s not why we’re here. So if you are interested in other alternative ways of tuning your guitar, just check out our guitar tuning guide.
The ‘Jimi Hendrix’ chord
Having a tuning named after you is great, but you know what’s even better? Having a very difficult sounding chord name replaced by yours. And you guessed it right, Jimi Hendrix has his own chord, also known as the dominant seventh sharp nine chord (7#9). That’s a mouthful, but why?
This chord, filled with dissonance and tension, sounds very spicy, heavy, bright, jazzy, and bluesy at the same time. This is due to the unique combination of notes, including an altered note – #9. “But we have only 7 notes in the scale?”, you might ask! You’re right. If you see a number more than 7 it means we have to deal with a note, which acts as an upper structure for a certain chord. In more simple words – this note lies on top of the chord, adding a certain unique flavour to the overall sound.
What happens when we subtract 7 from 9? We get 2, right? So, the 2nd note of the chord is acting as an upper structure on the top of the chord. And to make it explicit for musicians, we notate 2 as 9. Let’s move on.
In the case of the Jimi Hendrix chord, we actually have a #9. Are you familiar with sharps (#)? When we increase the 9 half a step, we are altering it. Why? Just because we like that sound of the #9! And so did Jimi. Hendrix uses 7#9 type of chords a lot, especially in his signature songs “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady”.
Love for technology
So now you’re probably thinking that Jimi Hendrix revolutionised electric guitar music with his theoretical approach, and in a way you’re right. But you forget one thing, most of the people that listen to music don’t understand music theory. So why is this guy so important for rock music? Well, it’s easy: He made his guitar sound like something people had never heard before.
Jimi Hendrix is famous for his adoption of technological enhancements like the reverb, fuzz, wha pedal, echo, delay, and of course the whammy bar on his Fender stratocaster. By using all those — very new for that time — effects he could make his guitar sound like a bomber, a machine gun, and even a spaceship. In the end, his vision on guitar sound made him beloved and famous in the mainstream circles, as well as the music snob circles. Jimi Hendrix lay the fundamentals of rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, metal, and all raw electric guitar genres by revolutionizing the approach of the instrument.