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How to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix

How to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix performing at Madison Square Garden, New York City, 18th May 1969. (Image credit: Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images)

Though often remembered for psychedelic showmanship and onstage pyrotechnics, Jimi was also an amazing songwriter who would craft delicate, weaving chord parts into every piece he played. Learn some of his signature shapes here and you’ll start to get a feel for his electric guitar playing.

If there’s a ‘trick’, it’s to treat each chord as the basis for an improvisation rather than a ‘stay-on-one-chord’ kind of jam. Aim to include an occasional variation or riff idea around each chord and you’ll be in the ballpark. Pentatonic scales, both major and minor, are bang on the money here.

The chords

Thumb over the neck shapes

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Don’t worry about ‘traditional’ technique! Jimi made use of all the tools at his disposal - especially those long fingers which allowed him to reach around the back of the neck.

Just wrap your thumb round and fret the sixth string. It opens up a world of chord embellishments that just aren’t on offer if you only use your fingers. Try the G chord then hammer on with extra notes for a Little Wing vibe.

Jimi's first-finger barre trick

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Another Jimi trick is using a simple barre chord like this C/G shape as the basis for dozens of fresh sounding other chords. Just hold down C/G then let your second, third and fourth fingers run wild. You’re bound to find some new shapes. 

We’re only scratching the surface here but there really are countless chords to be found using this method.

Minor shapes

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Both the ‘thumb over the neck’ and first-finger barre techniques also apply to minor chords and we’ve given you a few here.

Remember, Jimi would often play only two or three notes from each shape - an idea that allows you to ditch the occasional note you can’t easily reach and focus on cleanly fretting the more colorful extensions.

Funk chords

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Get your fingers round these shapes and you’ll be part way to nailing Jimi’s aggressive funk-rock stylings. The 7#9 is the shape Jimi is most associated with - so much so that it’s usually referred to as the Jimi Hendrix chord. 

Shown here in E, the 7#9 (seven sharp nine) chord has an inbuilt clashing harmony (the #9 and the major 3rd are the culprits, theory fans!), but erring on the side of edgy and funky rather than harsh and dissonant. Try it out with some, er, edgy funk?

The leads

We’re looking primarily at Jimi’s rhythm style here. More of a lead guitarist? No worries! Jimi never really followed conventional rules, and his playing would flit between chords, repeating riffs and leads. That means there’s something for everyone to take away from his style, vintage- or modern-leaning players alike.

These tab lessons will help you get to the heart of Jimi's playing on songs like The Wind Cries Mary, Red House, Night Bird Flying, Foxey Lady, Purple Haze and Third Stone From The Sun.

1. Blues chord riff

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Obviously we’re calling up Red House here. More important is how the C minor pentatonic scale matches up with the C7 chord in bar 2. It’s a neat, bluesy mix.

2. 7#9 - the Hendrix chord

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This is a variation on Jimi’s better known trademark 7#9 chord shape. It’s basically the same as playing his signature shape with the root note on the 12th fret of the fifth string.

3. Pedal tone and octave lick

How to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix

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The ringing notes in bar 1 have bit of a Hey Joe vibe, though it’s a technique Jimi would use a lot. Just like the octaves in bar 2, it’s a great way to fatten your sound.

4. Diads and inversions

How to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix

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These two-note diads are a typical Hendrix high-up-the-neck idea - use it to embellish chords or in a more melodic lead guitar context. Jimi always blurred those lines!