So, why did Hendrix play in E Flat tuning? Why do other players use this tuning as well? Does it have something to do with Stratocasters? Today we find out!
Why Did Hendrix Play In E Flat Tuning? A TON Of Reasons!
Jimi Hendrix changed electric guitar forever in the late 60’s when he and his band took the world by storm. Jimi was a flamboyant player and although his roots were in Jazz and Blues, he practically invented his own genre of Rock music. No one has really captured the energy and raw power that Jimi displayed, even now… 50 years later.
Jimi set some trends for guitar players that we still try to wrap our guitarist brains around today! For example, we still study the way he mixed chords and lead lines together effortlessly. He was a trailblazer in all areas of guitar whether it was playing the instrument, or working with Jim Marshall to make it louder and meaner. Combine this with Jimi’s unique approach to tone, and we have a true innovator.
Jimi accomplished more in his short years than some of us do in a lifetime. But one of the most often questions that we get regarding Jimi is: Why did Hendrix play in E Flat?
Today we are going to break down the reasons that Jimi favored E Flat tuning. But we are also going to do a deep dive into the Fender Strat, and why so many guitarists insist that it sounds better tuned down half a step. But first, let’s look at why Jimi preferred E Flat!
Why Did Hendrix Play In E Flat? Some History…
Unless you are a big Jimi Hendrix fan, you probably have no idea about his long history with the guitar. Jimi certainly wasn’t the first lefty to string a guitar upside down, since left handed electric guitars were not a popular item in the 60’s. In fact, Fender was just starting to get popular as a brand!
Jimi played a variety of guitars over his short career, and Fender is just the one that we remember him playing the most (specifically the Olympic White Strat from Woodstock). Hendrix often played Gibson and Danelectro as well as his famous Strats. But why did Hendrix play in E Flat? Well, he was a busy guy long before he ever recorded a solo album!
Jimi’s Time With Other Groups: The Ultimate Guest Guitarist!
People remember Jimi Hendrix for his original work like “Band Of Gypsies” and “Are You Experienced?”. But once Hendrix was released from the Unites States Army in the early 60s. he was ready to play guitar as a lifestyle. Jimi moved to new York, and he would play with anyone and everyone! Jimi played with:
- Ike And Tina Turner (Guest)
- Rocking Kings (Guitarist)
- Buddy Guy (Guest)
- The Blue Flames (His Band)
- BB King (Guest)
- Curtis Knight And The Squires (Touring Guitarist)
- The Isley Brothers (Recording: 2 Singles)
- Don Conway (Recording)
- Rosa Lee Brooks (Recording)
- Little Richard (Touring Guitarist)
- Ray Sharpe (Recording)
And all of these bands have something in common: They feature a horn section, piano/keys, or an orchestra arrangement. You see, horn sections will usually favor Ab or Eb tuning. Jimi was well versed in music and could have just transposed his guitar parts, but he found it easier to tune to E Flat.
Jimi may be known for his solo work, but he cut his teeth on the road with some big stars. R&B Music often featured large bands so it was easier to just tune down his guitar. After his discharge from the Army, he toured and jammed with any act that would have him. Hendrix may not have made it to 30 years old, but he got to play with a wide variety of artists. Including his idol; BB King.
So in the end, it was just easier for Hendrix to tune down his guitar if there were horns or piano players in the band. But there are other reasons as well!
Why Did Hendrix Play in E Flat? That Voice…
Another reason Jimi favored tuning down his guitar, was his natural singing voice. Jimi was a natural baritone when it came to his singing voice, so lower tunings worked better on the stage and the studio. Jimi is often passed over when it comes to praise, since he was not a “trained” singer.
But I think the lack of training made his voice extremely unique. Jimi still managed to write some beautiful melodies in songs that will live forever. Just like Bob Dylan, you do not have to be a classically trained singer to get your point across, and weave a unique story. Jimi had a naturally low voice, so the down-tuned guitar was a great compliment to his baritone sound.
Yet another reason that Hendrix would tune down half a step, is that it was common practice! In fact, it still is today!
Musicians tune down for long tours all the time, and they have for decades! This allows the lead singers to “rest” their voices a bit on cross-country tours. Singers do not need to reach so hard for the high notes, which can be a life-saver if you play 200 shows a year!
Why did Hendrix play in E Flat tuning? Well we have a few really great reasons so far, but there is another reason that many people still believe to this day. In fact… I have played guitar for almost 30 years and I absolutely agree with the final reason that Jimi tuned to E Flat.
The Fender Stratocaster: A Match Made In Heaven
The Fender Stratocaster has not changed much since it became the legend it is today. Honestly, I think the Strat is probably the most recognized guitar model on the planet. But at the time, it was a bit strange compared to the classic Gibson guitars. The main reason was the scale length of the Stratocaster.
Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster to be a versatile electric guitar, that could attract all kinds of players. But Leo was not a guitarist, and the longer 25.5” scale length was a brand new concept. At the time, the Gibson scale length was the “standard”.
So Fender was a little longer than the Gibson scale, but it seriously affects the string tension. Experienced players will notice this immediately, especially when bending notes. Couple with that, the fact that Jimi’s string gauges were 0.10-38. This was popular for the time, even if the low E seems light compared to today’s standards.
String tension can be a huge reason why you would want to tune down. Why did Hendrix play in E flat on his Stratocaster? Probably because it was easier to bend notes, especially in the E flat pentatonic position at the 12th fret. The lesser string tension caused by tuning down means you can bend notes much easier, and giant bends was one of Jimi’s trademark skills.
But there is some… mysticism when it comes to a Stratocaster and E Flat tuning. Some people think that the strings being loose make the single coil pickups have a more “bell-like” quality. This is due to the different harmonic frequencies. Stratocasters also have 3 pickups, which means there are 3 magnetic fields underneath the strings.
Some guitarists think that this 3 pickup situation causes the strings to not ring out as much, affecting the sustain. So tuning the Stratocaster down to E Flat solves the sustain issue. Have you ever played a single pickup guitar? Those certainly “feel” different.
Finally, some people (including myself) just like the sound of E Flat on the neck pickup of a Strat. The sustain, and ability to grab some huge bends makes the guitar almost sing. The clarity that you get from the single coil pickups is unrivaled, and the Fender Strat remains popular to this day for this reason.
Why Did Hendrix Play In E Flat? Let’s Wrap This Up…
For the record, Jimi Hendrix did not always tune to E Flat. Some of his recorded songs were actually in standard tuning, such as “Purple Haze. He also didn’t play Fender guitars exclusively, even though his name is almost synonymous with them. Jimi liked the sound of humbuckers for some of his slower jams, and he used Gibson guitars for those songs.
There is a giant list of players that prefer E Flat these days, and many of them were definitely inspired by Hendrix. Heck, most of them also play Fender Strats as well! The original reason that he tuned down is no longer relevant really, since we have so much technology. Tuning down is more for “feel” now.
But the spirit of Jimi and the tones that he achieved on the stage and studio still inspire players today, and I think he will continue to be history’s first “guitar hero”. While he only had 4 years or so in the limelight, Hendrix turned the guitar world upside down. Why did Hendrix play in E Flat tuning?
Because it sounds awesome.
Why Did Hendrix Play In E Flat?
Jimi Hendrix tuned down his guitar to E Flat to match the horns, keys, and orchestra sections of the bands he played with. Once Jimi went solo, he found that he enjoyed the tuning, especially with a Fender Stratocaster! E Flat tuning also accommodated his deep vocal range.
Who Did Jimi Hendrix Play Guitar With?
Jimi Hendrix played with a lot of bands in his short time on earth. Before he went solo and started his own band, Jimi played with:
-Ike And Tina Turner (Guest)
-Rocking Kings (Guitarist)
-Buddy Guy (Guest)
-The Blue Flames (His Band)
-BB King (Guest)
-Curtis Knight And The Squires (Touring Guitarist)
-The Isley Brothers (Recording: 2 Singles)
-Don Conway (Recording)
-Rosa Lee Brooks (Recording)
-Little Richard (Touring Guitarist)
-Ray Sharpe (Recording)
What Guitar Is Jimi Hendrix Famous For Playing?
Mainly, Jimi preferred Fender Stratocasters during his solo career. His famous White and Black Stratocasters were his main instruments on stage and in the studio. But he was also a fan of Gibson Flying V guitars, as he thought humbuckers sounded better for slow songs.
What String Gauge Did Jimi Hendrix Use?
Jimi’s string gauges were 0.10-38, tuned down half a step on most songs. This was a popular gauge for the time, and there were not as many string companies as there are today.