5 Pedals or Less: How to Sound Like Jimi Hendrix
There are many things that make the musicians we idolize so special. We can be drawn in by their musicianship, their songwriting, or even something as simple as the character they bring to their music. Their music leaves a mark on us that can eventually shape how we view all music going forward. But what is it about the guitar players we idolize that helps them stand out from the rest? What separates Slash from Mayer? Gilmour from Moore? Or even guitarists in the same project such as Greenwood and O’Brien?
You could answer that question in a number of ways; influences, touch, feel, style, but a clear separation that these guitarists have from each other is tone. Any musician worth his salt can spot the difference between an Eric Clapton solo and a BB King solo, despite one being heavily influenced by the other. Their tone is what makes them, them, and no two guitar players are the same regardless of how much influence they have from each other.
Unfortunately a large part of their tone is dictated by attributes that are unique to them. I’ve seen some great renditions of Eruption in my time, but there’s something about watching Eddie himself play it that just cant be attained elsewhere, because its his voice that created that solo, that style of playing that has influenced so many. Fortunately however, an equally large part of their signature tone is created by the choice of equipment they use, which we CAN take influence from, and implement into our playing almost directly.
Today, I’m going to set out on a journey to find the tools necessary to help you recreate the sounds of some of your favourite players. I’ll be giving you my picks that I think will get you one step closer to sounding like one of the all time
greats. And to challenge myself, I’m going to see if I can do it in 5 pedals or less. Mostly to keep the costs down, but also just because anyone can sound like anyone if they have endless budget and options, and where’s the fun in that?
I’ll be kicking this run of articles off with someone who has influenced almost every guitar player since he stepped on to the scene in the mid 1960’s…
What can I say about Jimi Hendrix that hasn’t already been said? Maybe that he used to like eating peanut butter straight from the jar, no one has said that before, probably because it isn’t true and I just made it up now. The point is, Hendrix is the man. The dude just took guitar playing to a level that no one had seen before and if you say that you aren’t influenced by his playing then you’re either lying or you just don’t realize it.
I’ll say this now; sounding like Jimi Hendrix is going to take a lot more than five pedals. He had a great understanding of theory he was an incredible songwriter, and a virtuosic
player. Do not, I repeat do not, expect to plug in five pedals and expect to sound like this man because you will be sorely disappointed. However, your tone will be pretty close, and if you put your mind to it and study the craft like Hendrix did before you, then you may have a shot. So lets get down to business shall we?
Pedal Pick No.1: Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face Mini Hendrix Edition (£113)
Bit of a no brainer this one. To sound like Hendrix you’re going to need fuzz, and what better fuzz to use than a signature fuzz from the man himself? The Hendrix Fuzz Face mini is a compact, affordable version of its much less pedal board friendly older brother, providing you with sweet screaming leads and chunky Red House style riffs.
A big part of sounding like Hendrix when it comes to drive is being able to roll off your volume and get a warm clean sound, which a lot of drives struggle to do well. Fortunately, this pedal does this very well. Almost like, it was designed like that to help you sound like Hendrix?
To summarise, a lot of Fuzz’s will get you close to sounding like Hendrix, but why not give yourself a break and get one that will basically give you Hendrix’s exact tone. Job done.
Pedal No.2: Dunlop Cry Baby Wah (£75)
A lot of Hendrix’s lead sound was blasted through one of these bad boys. The filtering sweeps of the classic wah pedal can be heard on most of Hendrix’s classic solos (Crosstown Traffic, Little Wing, Voodoo Chile) and is an essential pedal when it comes to sounding like Hendrix.
Now I know a lot of people love wah, and they love to talk about how every wah is different and that’s why there are like eight million versions of wah to choose from. But if you ask me wah is wah, and I’ve never once thought about replacing the classic Cry Baby wah. It does wah as well as anyone would ever need it to in my opinion (bring on the haters), there is a Hendrix signature edition Cry Baby but that costs significantly more than this one and if you want to go full Hendrix fan boy then you’re more than welcome to. For me, this is the perfect wah, and for £75 you cant goes wrong really.
Pedal No.3: MXR Univibe/ Hendrix Univibe (£120-£130)
If I’m being honest, I don’t really know what univibe is. It kinda sounds like chorus, but also has a phaser vibe to it, but it also doesn’t really sound like either of them.
What I do know, is that it sounds awesome, and Hendrix thought so too so if were gonna sound like Hendrix we need one in our rig. I’ve provided two examples here, the standard MXR univibe, and the Hendrix univibe. They both sound great, the Hendrix one is obviously a more accurate recreation of the vibe he was using at the time, but the standard one does a really good job as well. Plus, the standard univibe is a better all round univibe in my opinion, so for anyone who wants to sound like Hendrix but also wants to do some Gilmour type licks or other vibe based riffing, I recommend that. If you’re just gonna play Hendrix, then obviously the signature one is for you.
Pedal No.4: MXR Hendrix Ocatavia (£129)
This final pedal is more of a bonus one for the die hard Hendrix fans, I whole heartedly believe that if you were to acquire the previous three pedals you’d have no trouble pulling out your favourite Hendrix sounds. But, if you do fancy going the extra mile, then the Octatvia is the place to start. Again, this pedal doesn’t really make much sense to me, I’m not 100% sure exactly what it is or what bracket of pedal style it sits in. But fuzzy octave sounds cool, and is very Hendrix. They bring out a certain style of expression in your playing that will inadvertently make you play more like Hendrix, and if you’re trying to sound like Hendrix then you definitely want something in your rig that helps you do that organically. I know we’ve had a lot of Hendrix signature pedals, and I’m not the biggest fan of pushing one brand of pedals because I believe it can make your rig limiting. However, octave leads is so quintessentially Hendrix, that you’d be foolish not get a signature one if the goal is to sound like him. Its also one of the cheaper ocatavias on the market as well, so it just makes sense doesn’t it?
By Dan Tredgold
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Live Lessons: 5 Tips for Better Tone Live
There are endless ways to enjoy being a musician, from jamming with your friends to recording your music, even something as simple as playing by yourself can bring an immense sense of satisfaction. But for most, no which way is more satisfying than getting up on stage and plugging in and playing to a room full of complete strangers. It’s what fuels the fire in our musical hearts, and why shouldn’t it? The rush of playing live is a feeling that can be hard to find elsewhere, and it is something I believe everyone should experience at least once in life.
Equally however, there is nothing worse than putting time and hard work in to a performance only to get to the day and leaving the show feeling like you didn’t play your best. Or even worse, completely bombing! Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Life can just be cruel and decide that that day was just not your day, but most of the time a bad gig can come down to something as simple as tone. Ever felt like your songs sound amazing in the rehearsal room but then feel slow live? Bad tone. Ever been at a gig and felt like your face melting solos aren’t cutting through? Bad tone. Ever played a show where the singer’s vocal is completely lost during choruses? Bad. Tone.
Bad tone is the pitfall of almost any band that doesn’t cut the mustard live, and it can be so easy to forget when you’re running round trying sort out other issues that come with playing live; like dealing with difficult promoters or trying to sort out guest list for your mum.
Well I wont idly stand by whilst fellow musicians are out there getting themselves into all kinds of musical peril. Today, I’m going to give you a five-step workout plan that’s going to get your flabby tone in shape. No more unheard
solos, no more dynamic-less songs, and no more washed out vocalists. Its time to get in shape!
Tip 1: Dialing the amp tone to the room
One of the most overlooked concepts in the book, dialing your amp tone based on the room you’re in is a fundamental part of playing live. We’ve all missed it as well; I remember the first proper gig I played as a session guitarist I spent weeks getting my tone in shape. I had this really lovely clean sound that was full and warm, and then when I stuck my overdrive on I had a sweet lead sound that felt like it was going to blow the heads off of every audience member in the first five rows. Unfortunately come show time my guitar sounded like it was being played in the next room and Ididn’t even hear my solos let alone any of the audience. This is because I was playing in a venue, not my bedroom. A room that had lots of different materials on the walls and corners that sound can get trapped in and change the perception of my tone and was full of sound absorbing people (trippy concept but so true).
Put simply, you don’t have a signature tone. There is no one setting on your amp that will work for every gig you play. You have to keep your wits about you when setting up at a gig and make sure you’re thinking about the way your amp
sounds on the day, not what settings you had on it last night. This can be as simple as dialing back the reverb or adding more mids so you cut through. Its not rocket science, it just requires a final bit of care right before you play, and we can all agree that you’d rather spend another five minutes sorting out your tone so that you have a great gig right?
Tip 2: Cutting Bass
This may feel like an extension of point one, and it kind of is, but I felt like it was so important to the guitar player’s live sound that it deserved its own section of discussion. Despite how many times Meghan Trainor tries to convince us, guitar players are NOT all about the bass, quite the opposite in fact. If you consider the four members of your band as frequencies rather than instruments, then it all becomes clear. You’ve got your drummer, who takes a good 60% of frequencies with their bass heavy kick and high frequency cymbals and snare. Then you’ve got your singer who (unless
they’re Johnny Cash) will sit usually in the mid to low-highs, and then you have the bass player. Bass. Player. Who will dominate all of the lows and is the one musician us guitarists want to avoid.
We tend to forget about the relationship between guitar and bass because for a lot of us, we jam in our rooms alone and want a nice full sound so we turn the bass up on our amps and get this well-rounded tone. Well add a bass player to that sound and suddenly were not as full as we once thought. However, it’s a really simple fix, just cut the bass knob on your amp! Imagine you’re trying to sound like Brian May at Wembley when dialing in your tone. Once you reach a point where playing a loud chord is almost unpleasant by yourself, you’ve got your sound. It’ll feel weird when you’re doing it, but you’ll hear the difference in your tone almost instantly once you start playing your set.
Tip 3: Ride your volume
There’s at least one band at every gig that suffers from this. They come on stage, count themselves in and then you’re hit
with this wall of sound that gets you saying ‘Alright, this band sounds huge cant wait for their set’ and then 16 bars into the song and here we are still feeling like the song has just started because no one has turned down or stopped playing to help develop the song. This is called dynamics, and is arguably THE most important asset any musician can have when playing live. If you all just play constantly through an entire song then there isn’t going to be anywhere to go or come back from, its just three minutes of solid sound that ends up feeling unstructured.
If a song starts out big then try dropping your volume in the first verse, give the song some space to breath. Then, once we’ve established a foundation of volume to work from, we can gradually build up until we hit the chorus where you can turn back up to eleven again. Equally, if the song starts out soft then think about where the song is going. Does it need to lift in the pre-chorus? Or do you need to wait till the chorus to start pushing the volume. These little adjustments will improve your live playing ten fold, and the audience will be more engaged for it. At the end of the day we all want to have our moment in the limelight, but if we all try and do it at once then everyone loses, so is it really worth it?
Bonus tip – If you’re a guitarist in an originals band, try considering not playing anything in the first verse or other areas of the song that need space. Space is one of the most useful arrangement tools out there; it can sometimes contribute more to a song than any guitar part could, and it’s easy! You’ll literally get credit for doing absolutely nothing, and how often can you say that?
Tip 4: Know your gear
It’s all well and good spending two grand on your board and bragging to your mates about how your new delay is rack unit quality and you can’t see yourself ever going back. But if it starts producing endless feedback on stage and you have to spend five minutes trying to work out whether it’s a loose cable or a dodgy preset then you’re going to look like more of a novice than the guy who turned up with just an amp and a guitar. This tip is super simple: KNOW YOUR GEAR. I love seeing tons of pedals and effects on stage as much as the next guy, arguably more. But if you’re not going take the time to master it then you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Complicated pedal-boards that have lots of functionality require work, and I don’t just mean getting all your pedals in a nice order to soothe your OCD, I mean understanding every part of it. You need to know how to solve a problem that comes up when you’re performing pretty much instantly otherwise you risk losing the audience. You will never look more amateur than if you turn up with all the gear, and have no idea how to use it when the time comes. So take some time to master your board. You never know, you
might find some bonus info that you can brag about at the next Namm show, neat!
Tip 5: Less is more
The main message of this article has been to understand your role in a live show, when to be prominent and when to take a step back, and adapting your sound to suit the show your playing. The final tip takes that same advice and applies it to your pedal-board. Like cutting bass to sit better in a mix, or controlling your volume to contribute to the dynamics, dialing in better sounds from your pedals is no different. In my opinion the three key pedals are delay, reverb, and distortion. They’re everyone’s favourites, I get it, who doesn’t love a washed out guitar or endless delays. The problem with those sounds is similar to adding too much bass to your tone; it sounds good in your room, it sounds messy live. I’ve personally found that adding a simple quarter note delay with a few repeats has done more for my tone in a song than any multiple delay ever has. Same goes
for distortion, too much of it and you end up dominating frequencies and losing dynamics. Remember that the core tone of your guitar plays a role in your sound too, and the marriage between your core guitar sound and your pedals is what makes a great sound. Don’t get lost in pedals, it easy to do but fight the urge. You’ll be better off for it.
By Dan Tredgold