Determining the best guitarist of all time is an age-old discussion and was likely the first argument ever had in an online forum. Many guitarists argue for and against Hendrix being the best. I decided to conduct some research and put an end to this discussion on why Jimi Hendrix was the best guitarist of all time.
Is Jimi Hendrix the best guitarist ever? Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist ever because of his guitar playing innovations like simultaneous rhythm and lead playing, triad progressions, muting technique and chord embellishments. He also led the way on multiple guitar pedal innovations and influenced generations of guitarists.
Continue reading to learn more about why Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist ever and notable guitarists he has influenced.
Is Jimi Hendrix the Best Guitarist Ever?
Musicians can be rated objectively based on many factors but a few that truly stand out. Factors like their facilities, technique, influence / impact, body of work, original style, etc. The culmination of these all these factors creates a guitarist. When all these factors are maxed out to the top, you get Jimi Hendrix, the greatest guitarist of all time.
Let’s run through how I got to this conclusion, in a non-bias way, below.
1. Guitar Playing Innovations
Jimi Hendrix was incredibly creative. He was constantly trying to push boundaries with his music, even helping to create new and innovative pedals to help him achieve his desired sound.
He was not happy settling with the traditional blues 1-4-5 and open E option. Instead, he searched for new ideas that changed the way people looked at the guitar. New ideas like using bends that work in conjunction with the melody, the Hendrix chord, raking, and double stops just to name a few.
Let’s review some of the main factors below that truly distinguish him as the best guitarist of all time.
Rhythm and Lead Playing
Jimi Hendrix created an entirely new style of guitar playing that became the foundation of nearly every blues and rock guitar player after him. Hendrix was an outstanding lead guitar player, one of the best. Although, that is not what truly sets him apart.
It was the combination of lead and rhythm playing at the same time that was especially innovative.
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Instead of being satisfied with chords to accompany the bass and drums, and then a solo section for lead, he adds dozens of embellishments. It is with these embellishments that give his songs a driving momentum. It makes each section of the song unique and complex, two factors that make a song exceptional. A perfect example of this is in Bold as Love.
To do this, Hendrix would break up his chords into smaller pieces. He would play part of the chord, often the root, and embellish the remainder of the chord. A technique like this had never been done before and would lay the foundation for his infamous double stops.
Hendrix was the master of triads. He was the first guitarist to use triads in multiple different ways. It was with this type of chord where Jimi combined his expert rhythm playing with his lead playing.
Double stops, bends, and pentatonic acrobatics were all a direct result of Hendrix’s masterful command of triads. This exposed guitar players to an entirely brand-new way of looking at the guitar and writing music.
Hendrix was not the first to use triads, but he was the first to show their true potential. He added flare to the chords and the ability to add your own unique touch / style to them in a way that has never been done prior.
2. Pedal Innovations
Working with his guitar tech Roger Mayer, the pair worked to create never before heard sounds that would change the way guitar was played.
Throughout Jimi’s career, Roger and Jimi would continuously tweak and design new pedals for Jimi’s rig. Roger would take existing pedals, gut the circuit out, and input his own modified version.
Famously, he did this with the Arbiter Fuzz Face. He gutted the inside, changed the circuits to appeal to Jimi’s desired sound, and boom, a new style of pedal was created. Roger Mayer called this pedal the Axis Fuzz. This pedal would become one of Jimi’s most used pedals and revolutionized his sustain.
The second pedal Jimi and Roger Mayer famously innovated / progressed was the wah pedal. Prior to the invention of the foot controlled wah pedal, there was the hand wah. Basically, creating the effect by controlling it in your hand. Once Vox released the wah pedal, Jimi was first in line and released one of the first albums to use it (Cream released one at the same time).
Jimi popularized the used of the wah pedal more than anyone else in the history of guitar playing. Jimi and Roger constantly tweaked the operational parameters to enhance its use with each wah pedal they brought in.
“All these tunable features (of the wah pedal) go a long way in obtaining your particular sound and after all we did not copy, we invented new sounds and I myself would never claim to give somebody Jimi’s wah sound as you would have to qualify the musical moment you are talking about as Jimi was always experimenting daily to improve his sound”Roger Mayer, Jimi Hendrix’s Guitar Tech
Without Hendrix, these types of pedal innovations may not have happened for years, if ever. Jimi pioneered these sounds and made them relevant, changing the sound of the guitar forever.
3. Technique Mastery
Jimi’s guitar technique was second to none. He was almost always on time, barely missed a note, had perfect bends, and always knew his way around the guitar.
His technique was years ahead of what anybody else was doing at the time. Let’s look into three of them.
Hendrix’ Chords Thumb Use
One notable technique creation and mastery was the use of his thumb for the low E string. He would never play a traditional bar chord. Instead, he would use the below shape to mimic the same sound a bar chord offers. This shape has much more versatility and allowed Jimi to easily switch between rhythm and lead playing, an innovation covered point 1.
The second notable technique Jimi used was embellishments. While playing rhythm, he would rarely play the chord without any added flare. Instead, he would add embellishments.
Embellishments like hammer-on and pull-offs. For these instances, Jimi would play it subtly so there is a lot of dynamics in there as well.
Another embellishment he would do was sliding into chords, filling the gap between chords, and really sounding out the song.
Finally, a third notable technique Jimi used was muting. A technique that was not often used prior to Jimi. Like raking, string muting allowed Jimi to play his signature aggressive sound without having to worry about sounding out unwanted strings.
Find Out What Pickups Jimi Hendrix Used Here
Jimi would strike all the strings and only sound out a select few with absolute precision. His revolutionary muting technique paved the way for Stevie Ray Vaughan and guitarists alike to play fast and accurately through raking and muting.
A perfect example of this technique is his version of Killing Floor.
4. Production Skills
When determining who the greatest guitarist of all time is, the discussion goes beyond just the playing. The studio work also comes into play as it exemplifies a guitarists musicianship.
Jimi Hendrix was not only an expert guitar player, but he was also a masterful producer. Jimi was doing things as a producer that was never done before, especially when Electric Lady Land was built.
Hendrix’s unusual use of stereo channels in the recording process constantly challenged and intrigued the listener. Dramatic panning effects that Jimi implemented had never been used in popular music before.
Experimentation like reverse guitar tracks and seas of overdubs was completely new and changed how people saw the guitar as an instrument as well as what was possible in the studio.
Hendrix’s innovative recording approaches created something brand new for both producers and guitarists.
Every guitarist is influenced by somebody. Most often it is the musician they hear on the radio that identifies closest with their desired style. Prior to Jimi, that style was the blues.
When Jimi came into the scene, he created his own style. A mix of blues, rock, psychedelic, and a plethora of other styles mixed together. Instead of aspiring guitarist looking to mimic the blues, they wanted to mimic the Hendrix style.
“There is only one Jimi Hendrix. There will never be another one.”Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimi’s newly invented style changed every guitarists view on what can be done and raised the bar higher than they ever thought was possible. Eric Clapton was considered a god in England prior to Jimi’s arrival and was thought to be the best guitarist at the time. After seeing Jimi perform in England for the first time, want to know what Clapton did? He went home and practiced.
This was the same with Jeff Beck. Clapton started incorporating more bends in his playing, held longer and with more purpose. He started playing some chords while playing lead, which was crazy for Clapton who never seemed to play chords up until he saw Jimi.
After Jimi’s death, his influence remained. Jimi’s playing became the focal point of guitar studying. Legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan remarked how his biggest influence was Jimi Hendrix. This is extremely evident in his playing and especially in his Hendrix covers like Voodoo Child. Hendrix influenced other genres as well. Metal guitarists often quote Hendrix as their biggest influence.
Find Out More On What Made Jimi Hendrix So Influential
Jimi not only had and has a massive influence on guitarists after his death, but guitar legends as well when he was alive. This shows Jimi’s reach and how much other guitarists worship his playing. Making him the most influential and greatest guitarist of all time.
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