Jimi Hendrix’s Playing Style

Continuing the mini-lesson series, now it’s time to cover Jimi Hendrix playing style. Had he lived, today Hendrix would be completing 69 years old.

Hendrix is probably the most influential guitar player of all times and is considered the greatest guitarist in history. His ferocious blues phrases and seamless chord and leads integration can be heard in all guitar music out there, from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. I particularly do not know any guitar player who hasn’t incorporated any of Hendrix’s techniques in their playing. That’s how important Hendrix is.

In this mini-lesson, we will cover the most characteristic Hendrix’s guitar tricks.

Hendrix chords

Let’s start with chords. First of all, Hendrix didn’t play barre chords. He didn’t barre his first finger, but instead played the high E and B strings using his first finger and the low E using his thumb. For instance, let’s take a look at the A major barre chord at the 5th fret position.

Hendrix playing style: A major chord

The common sense approach would be barre the first finger to play the first, second and sixth strings. Hendrix would play this using his thumb for the sixth string and barre his first finger to play the first and second strings only. The thumb-over position is essential to play some chords like the ones in the “Castles Made of Sand” intro, for instance. This is classic Jimi Hendrix playing style.

Hendrix playing style: "Castles Made Of Sand" intro
Hendrix playing style: "Castles Made Of Sand" intro

Hendrix used barre chords for playing rhythm as well, but in the position of open A. By removing the bass on the root, you create a moveable position of a major chord with the bass on the 5th. This leaves your other three fingers free to insert any licks in-between chords. Here is an example.

Hendrix playing style: Moveable bar Maj/5th chord in the open A position

You can also remove the 3rd and make it a one finger power-chord as well, which was widely used by Hendrix.

Now, if you paid attention to the chord positions, you will notice they fit perfectly in the middle of minor pentatonic scale patterns, like in this example from “The Wind Cries Mary”.

Hendrix playing style: "The Wind Cries Mary" rhythm

The best example that summarizes all of this is his iconic “Little Wing”. Every guitar player should learn to play at least the intro of this song. This is my homework to you.

Hendrix soloing

The other topic I wanted to cover about the Jimi Hendrix playing style is his soloing techniques. He relied mainly on the minor pentatonic scale and would add also a sharp 4th as a blue note. The secret sauce is how he used to bend the strings. Blues players are utterly familiar with this: pre-bending the string and then release is abused by Hendrix, as well as double-stops featuring different bending in each string — i.e. bend one string one whole step and the other a half step. Expressive vibrato is also a Hendrix trademark. As an example, take a look at the solo of “Little Wing”. It’s a lesson on its own.

Hendrix playing style: "Little Wing" solo
Hendrix playing style: "Little Wing" solo
Hendrix playing style: "Little Wing" solo

Listen to the various recordings in order to learn the exact feeling in Hendrix’s playing. Words, tabs and sheet music aren’t enough to describe it.

To finish this, I’d like to suggest some songs for you to study:

If you missed any of the previous lessons, access them here: Eric Johnson Style and Eric Clapton Style.


* Legal disclaimer: “Castles Made Of Sand” (original song by Jimi Hendrix, 1967), “The Wind Cries Mary” (original song by Jimi Hendrix, 1967) have their copyright held by Experience Hendrix LLC. The commercial use of of these pieces is not allowed. The material displayed in this page is for personal use/study only.

Jimi Hendrix's Playing Style: Mini Lesson
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Jimi Hendrix's Playing Style: Mini Lesson
In this mini-lesson, we will cover the most characteristic guitar tricks used by Jimi Hendrix: chords, licks and soloing.