What guitar tuning did Jimi Hendrix use? Here’s an overview of Hendrix’s preferred guitar tuning and why he used it…
Hendrix was one of the greats, a legendary pioneer when he was alive and he is now regarded as one of the greatest of all time. During his all-too-short career, Hendrix redefined rock music from the ground up, laying the foundation for nearly all the guitar-based music we know and love today.
Jimmy Page, Josh Homme, Tom Morello, Prince, and even hard-boiled metal guitarists like Dimebag Darrell and Jim Root all revere Hendrix, citing him as one of their most significant influences. Hendrix is also largely responsible for making the Fender Stratocaster so iconic. Hendrix used Strats religiously.
But the most mind-bending thing about Jimi Hendrix, when you factor in just how good he was on guitar, is that he actually only played for 12 years. Hendrix first picked up a guitar at the age of 15 and he passed away at the age of 27 – that equates to 12 years. Just over a decade, and the guy was better than everybody else on the planet, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
The word genius is used extremely liberally these days, but in Hendrix’s case it feels like an understatement. His command of the fretboard, understanding of tone, of rhythm in general, and his unique ability to craft iconic, genre-defining riffs as well as the fact HE ONLY PLAYED FOR 12 YEARS makes him a goddamn virtuoso in every respect of the word.
What Guitar Tuning Did Jimi Hendrix Use?
Like all the greats from this era of music, Hendrix played in standard. He used a Fender Stratocaster too. But unlike many of his peers, Hendrix preferred to tune down half a semitone, this is known as Eb tuning, and it has a slightly lower register than traditional standard tuning.
Eb tuning is still EADGBE, just with each string tuned down half a step (or semitone), so it looks like this Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb. This is a really popular tuning too. But it wasn’t just Hendrix that used Eb tuning – also known as E-Flat tuning. Plenty of other bands – both past and present – have used and continue to use this tuning including KISS, Guns N Roses, ZZ Top, Velvet Revolver, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, and Weezer to name just a few.
Why Did Hendrix Tune Down Half A Step?
Because of the era Hendrix lived and worked in, and the fact he was quite a private individual, there aren’t too many interviews with him where he talks about his gear, why he uses and things like his preference for tuning down half a step. But there are plenty of reasons why Hendrix would have preferred this guitar tuning which we’ll unpack below…
- It Sounds “Better” – standard guitar tuning is fine; it can sound incredibly heavy. But if you drop down the overall tone of your guitar, even half a step, it gives it a bassier, lower tone and this kind of tone lends itself beautifully to rock music of the kind Hendrix was interested in making.
- It Suited His Voice – Hendrix was a great singer and he had a beautiful, deep voice. By tuning down half a step, and making the overall tone of his guitar slightly lower, it almost certainly made it easier for him to sing and stay in key. Lower voices have to work harder to hit higher notes, so tuning down the guitar is one of the easiest ways to fix this.
- Eb Tuning is Better For Bends – When you tune your guitar down, you take the tension out of the strings. Even half a step-down, which isn’t much, is enough to remove a perceptible amount of tension from the strings. And less tension on the strings can make bending strings easier, as there’s less force acting on them. Hendrix LOVED to bend, so Eb tuning was an obvious choice for the man.
Who Were Jimi Hendrix’s Main Influences?
As noted in the intro to this post, Hendrix only really played guitar for 12 years, a fact that still blows my mind whenever I think about it. I’ve been playing for WAY longer than this and I still suck by comparison. The idea that Hendrix, after less than a decade of playing, could come up with something Little Wing is enough to break anyone’s mind.
But who inspired Hendrix to pick up the guitar and play? And, more importantly, who were the guitarists that influenced and informed his signature style of playing? According to reports, as well as Hendrix’s biography, the young Jimi learned his craft by trying to emulate blues legends like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson.
Hendrix learned to play on an acoustic. His first band was called the Velvetones. And he didn’t start using an electric guitar until about 1959. Hendrix’s first-ever electric guitar was a white Supro Ozark which was subsequently stolen and replaced by a red Silvertone Danelectro. During the height of his career, Hendrix switched over to Fender Stratocaster guitars and he used these more or less exclusively for the remainder of his career.
RichardRichard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.
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