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Is Jimi Hendrix Overrated? A Look at His Guitar Style [2021 Edition]

Is Jimi Hendrix overrated?

That’s the question I’m going to try to tackle in this post.

Why?

Whenever the topic of who the best guitar player is pops up, there’s no doubt someone will mention Jimi Hendrix.

His legacy as an innovator with the instrument is undeniable.

At the time, Jimi’s playing with the Stratocaster overshadowed many other famous players.

Eric Clapton himself tells the story of how he was “afraid” of how good Jimi was.

Considering the evolution of the guitar after Jimi’s sudden death in 1970, was he that good? 

In this article, we will take a look at his playing style and try to answer that question.

And if you want to learn more about Jimi Hendrix, check out my 12 string guitar players article!

Is Jimi Hendrix overrated? What makes a great guitar player?

To answer this question, perhaps we should first ask what makes a great guitar player and see if Jimi Hendrix is overrated compared to this standard.

So what makes a great guitar player?

Of course, this could be the subject of endless debate.

But many consider the following qualities essential to guitar

  • Technique
  • Improvising
  • Tone and Feel
  • Writing
  • Innovations

A great guitar player generally has a high level of skill in many of these areas.

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Technique

I like to analyze technique in the context of the genres or a blend of genres that the guitarist plays.

For Jimi, his technique is a one of a kind fusion of blues and rock. With this in mind, let’s take a look at his rhythm and lead work.

Rhythm Playing

Jimi had a distinctive rhythm playing where he merged rhythm and lead.

Inspired by guitar players as Kurtis Mayfield, Jimi took this style to the next level.

He also used a mixture of interesting chord voicings and chord inversions.

The most typical example is purple haze where he plays the “Hendrix Chord” or a dominant 7th #9 chord followed by 2 major chords. 

What makes his rhythm playing special in this song is the almost funky strumming over distorted chords. For the G and A major chords, he uses partial shapes and occasionally plays lead fills.

The clean chords on Little Wing are another example of his rhythm playing.

This kind of playing assures that you get a full sound even as one guitar player.

Outlining the chord this well and emerging leads with chords is a very difficult skill to master.

Although it might not look so flashy, it involves really good in-the-pocket playing and a great knowledge of the fretboard.

Lead playing

Perhaps the most famous part of Jimi’s playing is his lead work.

His solos merged the sweetness and tension of blues with the power of rock n’ roll and the flow of psychedelic rock.

Jimmi’s lead playing was and continues to be distinctive today. So many players imitate his style today that people forget often how exactly it sounded when Jimi played it.

His note choices are bluesy and the scales he uses are blues pentatonic, but the feel and tone are rock. 

Some of his distinctive soloing techniques are:

  • Guitar rakes –  strumming muted guitar string when entering phrases
  • Double stops – playing 2 string and hammering on another note
  • Double bends – bending 2 strings at the same time
  • Micro bend – small bend to add feel to the solo
  • Octaves – same note in different strings
  • Triads- Adding chord shapes to the playing

He also can follow chords changes effortlessly with his melodies.

Improvising

Jimmi is a great example of a musician getting in the zone. In this case, I’m referring to the zone as that specific state when musicians improvise without thinking.

Being foremost a great blues player, he could play long leads and come up with truly unique improvisational ideas on the spot.

Tone and Feel

Jimi’s tone was dictated by the few gears at disposal at that time and of course his hands.

The neck pickup, edge of breaking tone, fuzz overdrive, and wah-wah are the main components of his sound.

Being part of the psychedelic movement you can hear lots of delays, panning, and other effects on Jimi’s guitar that are still used frequently today.

While on the topic of feel, I should mention vibrato. Jimi’s vibrato is sweet and bluesy. You can listen to it in his track little wing.

But he knows how to use it as an effect and adapts by making it wilder and chaotic like in his song, Machine Gun.

Writing

Jimi wasn’t just a highly proficient player, he was also a great musician and songwriter.

In Jimmie’s case, songs like Voodoo Child, Purple Haze, the Wind Cries Mary, and many others have become standards for rock and blues players to learn.

However, the chord progressions he used when writing guitar parts were not the standard blues of the time. His voice sang the blues while his guitar played unique melodies.

A great example of this is his version of All Along the Watchtower. 

Jimi’s rhythm guitar playing and leads were so good that the song became known more as a Jimi Hendrix song than a song by its original artist.

Innovations

Jimi took the electric guitar to a higher status. He innovated with the instrument both in technique, sound, and its usage in music.

His playing was so innovative that today it’s become normal to hear guitar players play his style.

Is Jimi Hendrix Overrated? The Conclusion

One way to think about the influence of Jimi Hendrix is to read interviews of other guitar legends Jimi’s influence on them.

But does influence necessarily make someone great?

Maybe not!  

But it’s easy to understate his skill in a modern context where he is constantly imitated.

This constant imitation can make modern guitarists forget how innovative and skilled he was at the time.

Let me know if you think he was overrated in the comments below!

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