Jimi Hendrix is commonly cited as the greatest guitarist to walk the earth. While many musicians, critics, and magazines echo this claim, Hendrix’s greatness is also one of the most contested.
Prince himself said that “Santana played prettier” when asked who influenced him more between the two guitar heros. Additionally, Hendrix’s musical education is commonly seen as a weakness in which he learned to play a very personal style of guitar, one that confined him to a narrow comfort zone.
Although these claims that Hendrix was not the slickest player or the most immersed in musical theory may ring true, his greatness boils down to his soul. Hendrix poured his heart and very life essence into the instrument practically making it an extension of himself.
Furthermore, his ability to effectively express himself through the guitar, no matter how rough or incoherent, is the reason why he is called the greatest.
In 1970, shortly after Woodstock, Hendrix played a live show at the Fillmore East with his newly formed “Band of Gypsy’s.” A subsequent live album was released and the performances feature Hendrix at his loudest and most soulful.
With the emulation of gunfire and explosions through his guitar on “Machine Gun,” to the octave fuzz mystery sound on the breakdown of “Who Knows,” to the bluesy squeals on “Power to Love,” Hendrix is arguably at his most powerful regarding sheer guitar tone on this relatively deep cut live album.
Moreover, this album illustrates Hendrix’s grasp on the instrument. He chokes and wrangles the guitar neck, basically forcing scattered blues phrases out of his cranked Marshall’s.
Not to mention, Hendrix was in some ways the first guitar player- at least the first modern depiction of the guitar player. He was the first to feature blazing guitar solos in original songs, the first guitar wielding frontman and the first major guitar mad scientist.
With this, I urge you to go back and listen to Hendrix’s discography. His greatness comes in many ways other than just guitar playing- he was a gifted songwriter, frontman and countercultural icon as well. However, it is his guitar playing that is still talked about nearly 60 years after his unfortunate death and will continue to be talked about far into the future.