Jimi Hendrix did most things differently. The way he strung his guitar, the gauges of his strings, his use of effects pedals, etc. But not to be excluded is the way he tuned his guitar, a way that was uncommon at the time. This begs, the question of how Hendrix tuned his guitar.
How did Jimi Hendrix tune his guitar? Jimi Hendrix tuned his guitar down a semitone, which is also known as Eb tuning. The 6th string was tuned to Eb, 5th string to Ab, 4th to Db, 3rd to Gb, 2nd to Bb, and the 1st string to Eb. In doing so, Hendrix was able to match his vocal range and reach higher notes when bending the strings.
Continue reading to learn what Hendrix’s strings were tuned to, why he tuned them this way, and the age-old discussion of if Jimi Hendrix tuned to 432Hz.
How Did Jimi Hendrix Tune His Guitar?
Jimi Hendrix tuned his guitar to Eb. Each of Jimi’s six strings was all tuned down one semitone from their original standard E tuning.
Jimi Hendrix used the following tuning on his guitar, by string:
Jimi is the most famous guitar player to ever tune down. It should be said that he did not always tune down for every song, whereas SRV did. Songs like Wind Cries Mary and Purple Haze are in standard tuning. Although, the majority of Jimi Hendrix’s body of work is in Eb flat.
Jimi started each song in Eb, he did not always end with it. Being a notorious whammy bar user, Jimi would often go out of tune almost immediately after using the whammy bar. The whammy bar stretches your strings immensely and Hendrix was heavy on it.
A famous example of this occurred at the Saddle Theatre in London. In attendance were Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and Pete Townsend. All of which had come to see this new guitar legend in the making. Hendrix played a cover of Sgt. Pepper but in his style. This style consisted of heavy whammy bar use. After the song, Jimi was extremely out of tune.
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Noticing he was out of tune, Jimi asked for Clapton in the crowd to come up and tune it for him. Meanwhile, everyone knew Hendrix could tune his guitar by ear on his own, often even during a song.
Why Did Jimi Hendrix Tune to E Flat? [4 Main Reasons]
Jimi Hendrix tuned down to E flat because:
- Matched His Vocal Range
- Eb Upbringing
- Complimented the Stratocaster
- Ability to Reach Higher Notes Via Bends
Let’s dive into each of these reasons.
1. Matched His Vocal Range
Tuning down a half-step and playing in Eb made it easier for Jimi Hendrix to sing. Hendrix had a very deep voice and the lower pitch of Eb tuning made it easier for Jimi to match it vocally.
Furthermore, Jimi toured a ton!
After singing night after night, your voice naturally gets tired. Not having to reach those high notes vocally to match standard tuning made it easier for Hendrix. Eb tuning allowed him to relax more vocally and not stretch as far.
Jimi had a great voice but he was not known for hitting those high notes. Instead, he would compensate by hitting them with his guitar. A lot of Jimi’s style was brought about by the influence of B.B. King.
B.B. would sing with his guitar and have a conversation with it. Jimi did the same. This is why it was important for Hendrix to be able to match his vocal pitch to his guitar and to do so perfectly, he had to tune down.
2. Eb Upbringing
Before Jimi Hendrix became Hendrix. He was a hired guitarist. He played for groups like the Isley Brothers and even Little Richard.
These bands that Jimi played with often had horns, pianos, and various stringed instruments as their main instruments. It was an ensemble. Horns and keys players especially favor Ab and Eb tuning.
When Jimi was playing with Little Richard for example, it makes sense that they were playing in Eb. Instead of having to transpose chords with standard tuning to Eb, he simply tuned his guitar down.
This upbringing of playing with horned instruments and keys that were playing songs in Eb is likely the reason why Hendrix started playing in Eb throughout his career.
As soon as Hendrix started to create and perform his own work, it made sense for him to stick to Eb tuning because that’s what he was used to. Eb tuning has a completely different feel to it on the guitar and that’s what Hendrix sessioned with the most before going solo.
3. Complimented The Stratocaster
Tuning down a semi-tone existed before Hendrix made it popular. But once the Stratocaster came into the market in 1954, the number of guitarists tuning to Eb skyrocketed. Coincidence? It is not.
When tuned down a half-step, Stratocasters sound better, feels better, and there is more sustain. Tuning down on the Stratocaster is the instrument’s true voice.
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The Stratocaster design simply favors being tuned down a half-step. The scale length of Fender guitars is 25.5″, .75″ longer than Gibson guitars. Scale length affects things like string tension and even the tone of the guitar. With a longer scale lengthed guitar, the harmonics are going to be spread further apart which gives the guitar more of a bell-like tone. Tuning down a half-step on a longer scale-lengthed guitar like the Stratocaster accentuates this bell-like tone mentioned above. As well as affecting the clarity received from the single-coil pickups.
“When I switched to Eb on my strat, everything changed for the better and it is fun to play when you are not fighting it with standard tuning. I can fly up and down the fretboard and make huge bends with ease. Also, the guitar stays in tune a lot better when setting up your trem to float. The sound is sweeter and better suited for the strat and single coils. There is a place for standard tuning, but Eb belongs with the strat for me!”Erik, Stratocaster Forum
4. Ability to Bend to Higher Notes
Tuning down a half-step makes bending much easier. If you have not tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so as it is life-changing. As you are well aware, bends are a large part of Hendrix’s music.
This is especially the case on the 12th fret where standard tuning bends can be slightly more difficult to grab. But when tuned down, the bends become much easier to grab and hold.
Because of the slinkier strings, not only are bends easier to grab, but they also have longer sustain. The longer sustain plus Hendrix’s Fuzz Face pedal made for the quintessential sound we have come to love.
Did Jimi Hendrix Tune to 432Hz?
No, Jimi Hendrix did not tune to 432Hz. Instead, he would tune to Eb for the majority of his songs. The 432Hz theory was created after Jimi’s death as a way to make him seem more spiritual than he intended. This frequency is said to unlock cosmic powers, but Jimi did not believe in this or do this.
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