Sure, Jimi Hendrix was known for having an eccentric personality—and for being an equally wild and unpredictable guitarist. But look past all the psychedelic mayhem and you’ll find some of the most beautifully melodic, rhythmically complex and harmonically uncanny solos in rock.
“Purple Haze,” for instance, features some amazing fuzzed-out sounds, but it also boasts a mini masterpiece of an introduction, as well as an E Dorian solo to die for. And while “Third Stone from the Sun” is about as psychedelic as it gets, it does contain one of the most memorable octave riffs in the annals of rock.
Hendrix could also tear you heart out with romantic single-string melodies (“May This Be Love”), or take you to faraway places with silky-smooth lines (“All Along the Watchtower”). And as anyone who’s heard “Red House,” “Voodoo Chile” or “Rainy Day, Dream Away” knows, he could turn a blues phrase like no one else.
So let’s take a look at a few of Jimi’s more melodic soloing concepts and then put them together in a solo example.
Some of Hendrix’s most brilliant lead work lies in his double-stop-based R&B solos and fills, found in songs like “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Castles Made of Sand” and “Little Wing.”
FIGURE 1 is an example of his chord-tone approach over a I-ii-vi (G–Am-Em) progression in the key of G. Staying exclusively within the G major scale (G A B C D E F#), this example intersperses adjacent-string dyads with single-note lines. Notice the liberal use of grace-note hammer-ons and pull-offs, which tend to involve the 9th, 11th and 13th tones of their corresponding chord.
THE HENDRIX MINOR SCALE
Hendrix often used the minor pentatonic (add2) scale (1 2 b3 4 5 b7). FIGURE 2 employs C# minor pentatonic (add2) (C# D# E F# G# B) in an example that calls to mind the bendy blues-soaked lines of “All Along the Watchtower.” Make sure you hit the exact pitches on the double-bend/release move—and look out for the 1-1/2-step bend that follows.
FIGURE 3 is inspired by the bluesy section of Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” solo, in which he employs E minor pentatonic (add 2) (E F# G A B D). Catch those F#–D pull-offs with your 4th and 1st fingers.
OCTAVES AND FINGER GREASE
FIGURE 4 makes use of both octaves and ringing open strings in an example inspired by “Third Stone from the Sun.” Mute the string that sits between the octaves with the underside of your fret hand’s 1st finger, at the same time letting the appropriate open string(s) ring.
FIGURE 5, a nod to the solo from “May This Be Love,” demonstrates Hendrix’s single-string legato work. Although the line is faster than greased lightning, the savvy rhythmic phrasing allows for the melody to shine through.
Let’s put these concepts together with a sample solo, as shown in FIGURE 6. Discussion of the solo follows below.
The solo is inspired by songs such as “Angel,” “Little Wing,” “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” Its progression weaves through a series of major-chord changes (C, Bb, G and F) interlaced with minor chords (Am) and chromatic passing chords (B). To approximate Hendrix’s bluesy R&B sound, use your neck pickup and dial in just a hint of crunch.
The solo opens with a Hendrix staple—a series of sliding 4ths. Notice how the 4ths segue to 3rds at the end of the first measure (Bb/F moves to Bb/G, C/A and B/G). The double-stops in bar 3 borrow from “Little Wing” and “The Wind Cries Mary.”
Beginning with a slurred cascade down the A minor pentatonic (add2) scale (A B C D E G), the passage segues to a pair of inverted (3-5-1) triads (D–F–Bb and D#–F#–B, respectively) to nail the chromatic changes (Bb–B). Don’t overlook the shift from shuffled to straight 16th notes here.
Slipping back to shuffled 16ths, bar 4 exemplifies Hendrix’s countrified conversion method: the juggling of harmonic 4ths and 3rds with hammer-ons and pull-offs. Here, a 4th (D/A) is transformed into a minor 3rd (D/B) via a hammer-on (A to B) and a pull-off (B to A).
The pedal-point triple-stop action at the top of bar 5 is based on C (C-E-G), Csus4 (C-F-G) and Bb (Bb-D-F) triads. Then, in bar 6, comes a 16th-note triplet figure carved from a 12th-position G major pentatonic (G A B D E) pattern. This passage is relatively easy to manage unit you get to the pedal-steel bend—keep your 3rd finger planted across the top two strings as you bend the G string to pitch with your 2nd finger; or, barre the top two strings with your 4th finger and bend the 3rd string with your 3rd finger, reinforced by your 1st and 2nd fingers.
Bluesy bends based on E minor pentatonic (E G A B D) and Bb major pentatonic (Bb C D F G) take on the Am–Bb–F changes in measure 7. Try to keep the G and B strings parallel as you execute the quarter-step double-stop bend.
Hendrix’s bluesy side comes out in measure 8, where G major pentatonics overlap with the G blues scale (G Bb C Db D F). Following a fiery burst, the solo winds down on a direct quote from the main riff of “The Wind Cries Mary” and closes with a gospel-approved “Amen” phrase.