How Hendrix Learned the Guitar

by Michael Black
Jimi Hendrix's guitar style is often imitated.

Jimi Hendrix's guitar style is often imitated.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Jimi Hendrix has influenced countless guitarists since the release of his first record in 1967. Although he died in 1970, his influence cannot be understated. With songs like "Purple Haze," "Little Wing," "Voodoo Child" and "Machine Gun," along with his iconic playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, Hendrix completely revolutionized the way the electric guitar is played. Examining how he learned to play the guitar is one of the best ways to begin dissecting his musical style.

Early Interest

Al Hendrix, Jimi's father, claims that Jimi's interest in the guitar was evident from a young age. When Jimi was little more than a child, Al would give Jimi a broom and send him to clean up his room. When Al would check in on Jimi, he would inevitably find him not cleaning his room, but sitting on his bed strumming away at the broom as though it were a guitar. In the mid-'50s, Al gave Jimi an old one-string ukulele. This was Jimi's first real instrument.

First Guitar

Eventually, Al Hendrix bought his son a real guitar. This first guitar was a cheap, secondhand acoustic instrument; it was right-handed, while Jimi was left-handed. Instead of trying to learn the instrument right-handed, he flipped the guitar over and learned to play it upside down. Eventually, he restrung the upside-down guitar to make it easier to play. He continued doing this throughout his life, even when he had the money to buy a left-handed instrument.

Learning the Guitar

Hendrix was mostly a self-taught guitarist. He listened to his favorite records and figured out the parts. As a result of this, he developed some "incorrect" techniques (such as wrapping his thumb around the neck of the guitar instead of anchoring it to the back of the neck) that ultimately helped define his style. Hendrix also spent a lot of time playing with other musicians, where he surely picked up some useful playing tips. He never learned to read music.

Influences

Hendrix loved the blues, and copied guitar parts from major players such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Robert Johnson. He was also a fan of rock 'n' roll, and was known to like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Hendrix also took elements of his style from jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery.

Photo Credits

  • Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images