The Ultimate Hendrix Gear Guide - Part 1

A study of Jimi Hendrix's musical gear is a journey through bizarre stories and revealing history, identifying the sound effects that Hendrix used, and pinpointing when he first used them, defines the birth of a theatrical industry, much less the gear of a noted rock legend. So begins our strange musical odyssey into the guitarist's amps, axes, and effects. Featuring narration from effects innovator Roger Mayer, roadie Eric Barrett, and even the sublime Hendrix himself.

Michael Fairchild is the writer and consultant for the official Hendrix production company, Are You Experienced?, Ltd., and is the author of booklet notes for the Hendrix albums: ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?, AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE, ELECTRIC LADYLAND, :BLUES, STAGES, LIFELINES, ISLE OF WIGHT, WOODSTOCK, and more. He also programmed the song selection and wrote notes for CORNERSTONES, the highest-selling posthumous Hendrix album. Finally, Michael was the Contributing Editor and consultant for HENDRIX: CHEROKEE MIST-THE LOST WHITINGS and author of the book's Introduction.

- Pete Prown - Guitar Shop Editor, autumn 1994

JIMI'S VOODOO RIG
by Michael Fairchild

Plugging In

"I really like my old Marshall tube amps," once said the guitarist, "because when it's working properly, there's nothing can be it, nothing in the whole world. It looks like two refrigerators hooked together." The Jimi Hendrix Experience formed in England in 1966, blasting music through amps of unprecedented size and power. It was a sight we might call The Original Vision of '66 - the scene of Jimi chained to his refrigerators. Like the ancient apes confronting the monolith in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, rock audiences of the '60s cowered in awe before Hendrix's dramatic stacks. With these amps, and the rest of his rig, Jimi veritably introduced fire to cave people. Only King Kong plugged into U.N.-building-sized speakers could have made a louder noise, or so it seemed.

We imagined these Marshalls as giant transistor radios, with conductor Hendrix waiving his Strat antenna-baton out in front of this system. Jimi could receive and transmit extraterrestrial frequencies via Celestion speakers - he even used to say on stage that his music was made by "playin' the radio."

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"Oh transistor feeder can you hear me thank you?
The time has come for us to be on the watch.
To know the sent, to recognize.
To stand in visualize, stand in realize…"
- Jimi

The Original Vision of Hendrix stands as the eternal guitar archetype. Every electric guitar idea to follow in its wake is in some way derivative. "You'd think I'd found the lost chord!" Jimi once declared. "We play loud to create a certain effect to make it all as physical as possible. Everything is electrified nowadays. So therefore, the belief comes in through the electricity to the people. On stage I use two Marshalls and two Sound City 100-watt amplifiers. And I find that this combination provides the sound I require coupled with reliability. We have to change the valves every week due to loss of power. Each amplifier has four 4-inch times 12-inch speaker cabinets. It's true were one of the loudest groups around. It can be a fault to be too loud. In fact, we do play softly as well. Do you hear a whole lot of feedback in The Wind Cries Mary? You've got to have dynamics. You find all kinds of people there. You find a lot of straight people, so therefore we play twice is lower, just to see where they're really at, and they dig it, the louder the better. [Critics] are just not getting into the fact that it does make you drunk, if you let it just take you away."

Fuzz Face & Octavia

The late Frank Zappa once described how "Jimi's orgasmic grunts, tortured squeals, lascivious moans, electronic disasters, and innumerable other audio curiosities are delivered to the sense mechanisms of the audience at an extremely high decibel level in a live performance environment, it is impossible to merely listen to what the Hendrix group does - it eats you alive." And in truth, Hendrix's audiences were spellbound. No one knew how the "guitar wizard" made such mysterious sounds. No one, that is, except for Zappa and a few other guitar freaks. In a June '68 Hendrix spread in Life magazine, Zappa informed those who wanted to sound like Jimi to "buy a Fender Stratocaster, an Arbiter Fuzz Face, a Vox Wah-Wah, and four Marshall amplifiers." It was through this article that the world first learned about the Fuzz Face.

A year later Hendrix roadie Eric Barrett revealed to Hit Parader that Jimi's "favorite fuzz box is made by Arbiter in England, and the wah-wah pedal is made by Vox. They run through both amplifiers and when he presses any one of those it acts like a preamp and boosts the power tremendously. That's how he gets really high feedback...When he wants feedback he turns the guitar up and presses down on the wah-wah pedal and the fuzz." In the summer of '66, Mike Bloomfield saw Jimi using a Maestro fuzzbox in New York's Greenwich Village. During this period Jimi also said that he played through "two raggedy fuzzboxes made by one of the Fugs. I started using feedback first of all in the Village. I used a Fender amp and an old extension loud speaker. It made the weirdest sounds. I fooled with it, and what I'm doing now is the fruits of my fooling around."

Jimi in Nov. '66 - Fuzz Face on floor,
earliest pic of him with it
Fuzz Face on floor in foreground
white coil cords plugged into it.

It was the first Hendrix expedition deep into darkest England in 1966 when civilization first "discovered" the sound of Marshall amps and Arbiter Fuzz Faces. The earliest photos of Jimi with a Fuzz Face date from the second week of November 1966 when the JHE appeared at the "Big Apple" club. Since fuzz wasn't used during Jimi's recording sessions from November 2, 1966 (Stone Free) and earlier, it is probable that the Big Apple gigs in Munich, Germany (between November 8 and 11, 1966) were Jimi's first "Fuzz Face dates" (see pic at left). And since his expressive potential was so "expanded" when he finally plugged into the new unit, it's likely that he (and the audience) got so carried away by the new fuzz sounds screaming from the amps in Munich that this is what drove fans to pull him off stage. Jimi's guitar neck broke from the fall and he reacted by smashing the guitar to pieces on stage for the first time, to the hysteria of Big Apple fans. Similarly, such novel excitement may also account for the acutely inspired Love Or Confusion recording session, the first session with Fuzz Face, a couple of weeks later, on November 24, 1966, when Jimi was just 23 years old.

Revolutionary/Evolutionary Breakthrough In Fuzz Sounds

The next sonic breakthough for Hendrix occurred in January 1967 when he met Roger Mayer. "The secret of my sound," revealed Jimi, "is largely the electronics genius of our tame boffin, who is known to us as Roger The Valve. He's an electronics man working in a government department. He probably would lose his job if it were known he was working with a pop group. But he's very much a part of our organization now, he comes up with a lot of ideas. He's making something he calls the 'heavenly sound.' It sounds like all the heavens opening up. We're mostly workin' with the high-octaves scene though. He's made me a fantastic fuzztone. Actually, it's more of a sustain than a fuzz. A gadget called the Octavia, it comes through a whole octave higher so that when I'm playing high notes it sometimes sounds like a whistle or a flute."

Octavia - floor pedal stomp box

"By that time," recalls Roger Mayer today, "Jimi had an Octavia and several of my fuzzboxes and boosters. I had different fuzzboxes, another type of distortion box that I built originally for Jimmy Page and people like that, and we let Jimi use those. It's a smoother sound, basically, it sort of sings more, that Love Or Confusion sound. We had some other fuzzboxes too that were in identical castings to the Octavia and then we started playing around with some of the Fuzz Faces and finding out which ones were good.

"We had another distortion circuit that was used that was not of the Fuzz Face configuration. You've got to realize that at that time I didn't have a casting, so we could put our electronics into the actual round Fuzz Face casting. If you see a round Fuzz Face on the floor, if you don't open it up and look inside, you don't know what circuitry is inside it, do you? Because there were quite a few Fuzz Face castings lying around that didn't work, so we took advantage of the outer casing. It's the same thing with the actual Fuzz Face circuit configuration - this is what I tried to tamper with.

"You've got to realize, out of all the Fuzz Faces made, there weren't very many that really sounded great, and so obviously you've got to spend a bit of time working on them. Arbiter also tended to change around that period ('66'67), because they started using different transistors and silicone transistors, so the boxes weren't consistent. The first series of them used the Germanium transistors, which was similar sounding to the Maestro Fuzz. Then the company went to a silicone one, which gave it a much harsher sound. But to get the smoother sound, Jimi used some of my Germanium type fuzz boxes. And then also we had the Germanium version of the Fuzz Face as well. You can actually tune up the Fuzz Face if you know what you're doing. For specific songs you can give it a specific sound. You can actually alter the tone of it completely, which is what I used to specialize in. The way the sound decays is the most important thing; if it decays incorrectly it would sound horrible. There's distortion and then there is distortion, you see, and we wanted to add harmonics in a mathematical way so that the overall effect is musical. It's easy to just get fuzz and square off the signal; the real secret comes in knowing how to use the actual transistors 'not quite correctly.' Then I started going on the Experience gigs and supplying them with the Octavias, and this and that. Because what used to happen was we used to get so much stuff ripped off the stage. I mean, Jimi could have all this equipment stolen in one night! We just made them for him personally."

On floor: Wah-Wah, Octavia, Fuzz Face, UniVibe

Since Mayer's Octavias were custom built and not easily replaced, Jimi rarely used them on stage. He did, however, go through a brief "Octavia phase" in concert. It began a few minutes past midnight on Jan. 1, 1970 when A Band Of Gypsys jammed on Who Knows? The Octavia box used can be seen with Jimi's sound effects chain which appears in the fore-ground of Joe Sia's "crotch-shot" photo from Fillmore East (see pic at right). Jimi presides like a special effects alchemist over a full array of mutated signals. But the last known time that he used Octavia on stage for a song was during Voodoo Child at a May 2, 1970 show in Madison, WI. As for his innovative gadgets, Mayer explains, "I never had any involvement with the management. The financial situation was so loose. I said to Jimi, 'I don't mind helping you out with the boxes.' I mean if he took me out to dinner or to a club, you know, that's enough. I mean, he paid for the parts and in some of the interviews he was very free [giving credit]. He said, 'You gotta talk to Roger, he's the inspiration behind some of the sounds.' That was it, financially."

In 1974 the Fuzz Face was withdrawn from the market, however, the Dunlop company reissued the original "Classic Germanium" Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face in 1993, making them available to musicians again.

UNIVIBE

All of Jimi's original sound effects are now back on the market, except for the UniVibe, which went out of production in the '70s. When Record Mirror interview Hendrix in March 1969, journalist Valerie Mabbs reported, "Before I left, Jimi demonstrated a new piece of Vox equipment...a specially designed box that creates weirder and more wonderful sounds than have been heard from a guitar before - even from Jimi Hendrix!" The UniVibe was developed by the Uni-Vox company of Long Island, and Jimi may have owned an early version with the word "Vox" on it in the spring of '69.


UniVibe on floor, next to shoe
- Tinker St. Cinema, Woodstock, NY

However, the earliest recording of Jimi using a UniVibe dates from an August 10, 1969 jam session at the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock, New York (see pic at right). At every concert and session that followed Woodstock, Jimi used the UniVibe. The unit was manufactured in New York by Merson Musical Products. In 1971 a company representative told Melody Maker, "We enjoyed a close relationship with Jimi, and our engineering staff developed a great deal of electronic gear for him. The UniVibe is a device which simulates a rotating speaker sound with a wide band variable speed control. It was initially designed for use with electric organs, but was found to be quite adaptable for guitar...

Univibe chordal intro, vibrato bar, then piercing wah-wah treble at 1:44

"We gave a UniVibe to Jimi and he featured it prominently," said the Merson rep, "We also gave him one of our UniDrives, which he had started to use before his tragic death." Little is known about the UniDrive, other than that it sold for $49.50 ($60 less than a UniVibe), and that Jimi received one in mid-1970. Also, in an early-'70s issue of Melody Maker, Jimmy Page is pictured with a UniDrive. Going by its name, however, it might be safe to assume it was some sort of distortion unit.

In any case, Roger Mayer confirms that he modified some of Jimi's UniVibes. "Basically I just used to tune them up. When you get them working right they really sound very musical." A similar effect to the UniVibe is today marketed by Mayer in rack-mounted format. Mayer also markets his array of Octavias, fuzz effects, and wah-wahs through a company in Charlotte, NC. Among these effects are wah-wah pedals modified the way Jimi's pedals were for his Axis: Bold As Love album. In 1967 Mayer installed a small two-way selector switch on the side of Jimi's pedal. The switch could be set for normal wah-wah sound, or set to produce a thinner effect which Jimi called the "Chinese wah."

The Wah-Wah Arrives

Earliest Pic of Jimi & Wah-Wah
Aug. 18, 1967, Hollywood Bowl

The first known photos of Hendrix using a wah-wah date from an Aug. 15, 1967 gig in Ann Arbor. Almost all subsequent shots of the pedal reveal that he preferred the Vox wah-wah manufactured by Jennings Musical Industries Ltd. of Kent, England. "The first record I heard with the wah-wah was Tales Of Brave Ulysses [released June, 1967 as flip-side of the Strange Brew single by Cream]," noted Jimi. "It's a very groovy sound. But on Are You Experienced? [released May, 1967], on the track I Don't Live Today [recorded Feb. 20, '67] there's a guitar takin' solo on it and it's wah-wah-like. But we used a hand wah-wah then, which sounds very good. We were doin' it with hand then. So then Vox and this other company in the States, in California, they made this [foot-pedal] scene. We released a record about two or three days after Cream came out with one. It was coincidental because we didn't know anything about their record and they didn't know anything about ours."

Jimi Opens for Monkees - July 1967

What may have happened is that Eric Clapton played Cream's recording of Tales Of Brave Ulysses for Jimi in early May, 1967, just a "few days" before I Don't Live Today was released on the Are You Experienced? album. This scenario implies that Clapton recorded with the foot pedal before Jimi did. Pinpointing Jimi's first pedal-wah'd note is a quest befitting Sherlock Holmes. There are three theories as to when Jimi first used the wah-wah foot pedal: the Monkees Theory, the EXP Theory, and the Jayne Mansfield Theory.

"I had used wah-wah," said Frank Zappa in a 1977 interview with Guitar Player magazine, "during We're Only In It For The Money in '67, and that was just before I met Hendrix. He came over and sat in with us at the Garrick Theater that night and was using all this stuff we had on stage." Jimi met with the Mothers in New York on June 13, while en route to Monterey, and again on July 7 during sessions for Burning Of The Midnight Lamp.

The Monkees Theory claims that Zappa introduced Jimi to the wah-wah on July 7 and Jimi then took the device into the studio that night and recorded wah-wah overdubs to Burning Of The Midnight Lamp just hours before he joined the Monkees tour.

AUDIO: Burning of the Midnight Lamp early demo late-June 1967 - Wah-Wah Comes In at 0:37
(3:54 .mp3 file 3.57 MB)

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The 45rpm single version - July 1967

But the Monkees Theory is refuted by Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, who says, "Jimi got interested in a wah-wah pedal in London. That was at Jenning's Box on Charing Cross Road."

(Before Monterey?)

"I think so, yeah, because in London, on Charing Cross Road, that's where all the guitar shops were. I used to go and hang out in guitar shops when I had nothing else to do. And this one guy found out I was playing with the Experience and he said, 'We got this new thing,' which in those days was called a Crybaby Pedal, so he said 'bring himself in.' So I got 'himself' into the shop. Jimi tried it out and they gave it to him, which in those days was unheard of."

By Noel's account, Jimi had already used a wah pedal when he encountered the Mothers in New York on June 13. Two weeks later the JHE arrived at an L.A. studio to begin recording Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice. It is from this June 28 session that we hear what is probably the first Hendrix wah-wah tapes, recorded as movie starlet Jayne Mansfield was killed in a car crash near Biloxi. (Two months earlier, she attended a JHE gig, and in 1965 Jimi and Jayne actually recorded a song called Suey together.)

Suey - Sung by Jayne Mansfield

The Jayne Mansfield Theory maintains that Jimi's L.A. '67 sessions were the first with foot wah. From these sessions survives an early instrumental outtake of Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice. In fact, if you listen to the intro section of that tune it has a Dick Dale L.A. surf music twang to it. Dice was probably composed on the West Coast too. Jimi once said, "'Freak-out' was old California lingo for humping in the back seat of a car (laughs)." And the L.A. outtake version of STP/LSD contains a "freak out" solo section of Fuzz Face/wah-wah combined. This is probably the earliest known recordings of such freaky sound (on the take of STP/LSD that was released on record, Jimi didn't use fuzz and wah simultaneously).

STP/LSD - Wah-Wah Comes In At 0:36

But Noel's claim that Hendrix had a wah-wah prior to Monterey also supports the EXP Theory: On May 5, 1967 Jimi recorded EXP. A wah-wah was used through a Fuzz Face to get squeals on this cut, but we can't be certain that the wah-wah effects weren't overdubbed tracks added-on months later. However, if it's true that Clapton played a tape of Tales Of Brave Ulysses for Jimi in early May, "just a few days" before I Don't Live Today came out on LP (May 12), then it would seem likely that Jimi then took the pedal into the studio on May 5 and called his first wah-wah experiment EXP (posssibly EXP is an abbreviation of "Experiment", rather than "Experience").

As with the Octavia, Jimi may have initially decided to confine the wah-wah pedal to studio recording and not risk having it ripped off at gigs. This would explain why the pedal isn't present in photos of Jimi during May and June 1967. No wah-wah can be seen on stage at Monterey, so the first crowds to hear Jimi use it on stage probably did so in July (maybe Jimi's July 1st gig with the Strawberry Alarmclock in Santa Barbara - what a bizarre bill!).

As already noted, the earliest photos of Jimi's pedal date from mid-August (see pic above). Also, from July and August come recordings which reveal insights into his early attitude about the wah-wah. As heard on July '67 sessions with R&B singer Curtis Knight, Jimi initially did not mix Fuzz Face and wah-wah together simultaneously. His guitar for Hush Now (and Burning of the Midnight Lamp) features clean Strat tones fed through a wah-wah. No fuzz distortion is heard.

Early Wah-Wah Sounds on Hush Now July 1967
(Video Scenes 8mm From Sweden May 1967)

When Jimi first got the wah-wah and switched it on while the Fuzz Face was on, shrill shrieks pierced the amps. He must've been startled and then clicked the wah off quick. If the EXP Theory is correct, Jimi may have initially regarded the wah/fuzz simultaneous combination as useful only for a one-off gimmick track like EXP. At first, he probably didn't realize he could use the wah-wah to further subdue and control those wild Fuzz Face squeals heard on EXP.

Live F/X

Saville Theatre- Aug. 27, 1967

Jimi seems to have determined early that, at least on stage, fuzz and wah effects were incompatible for simultaneous use together. Anyone who stepped on a wah-wah hooked up to a Fuzz Face would bristle at the din and avoid repeating it. Two months went by before Jimi spontaneously learned how to control the fuzz shrieks with his wah pedal, and that moment when he finally crossed over into electronic freakout-land was captured on tape.

The earliest JHE concert recording with wah-wah dates from August '67 when the group returned to London after their first U.S. tour. On August 27, they played Brian Epstein's Saville Theatre (never one to be upstaged, Epstein dropped dead during the set) and a tape of the show reveals that Hendrix originally incorporated the pedal as an effect for Catfish Blues. After Mitch's drum solo, Jimi comes back in with his clean Strat tone fed through the wah (similar to his recording sessions with Curtis Knight in July '67 ).

Interestingly, during I Don't Live Today (his earliest known live version) at the Saville, Jimi uses only fuzz to probe his solo, even though the album version featured a hand-controlled wah-wah solo. Clearly, on stage Jimi was avoiding using the wah-wah pedal while his fuzz was switched on.

Fuzz & Wah on floor -
Stockholm Sept. '67

The breakthrough tapes to feature fuzz and wah in combination on stage come from two Stockholm gigs on September 4th. During the first set Jimi again confines the wah-wah to Catfish Blues riffs. We can hear him precisely switch the Fuzz Face on only after he turns the wah off. But later that night another version of Catfish was recorded (this cut appears on the EXP Over Sweden CD, along with super wah-wah concert versions of EXP and Up From The Skies).

Fuzz & Wah on floor

For the late set in Stockholm, Jimi's wah-wah solo for Catfish is exceptionally loose. A superb 8mm color film from this set shows him change to his painted Flying V Gibson for the blues. "What's the matter?," he asked the crowd that night. "Haven't you seen a guitar like this before?" During the solo, he switches over to fuzz at the usual cue, but this time the wah-wah is left on with the fuzz tone, probably by accident. This time the resulting shrieks are musical. Jimi discovers that by rocking the wah-wah pedal up and down, from treble to bass position, he can stop the fuzz tone shrieks. Suddenly, his riffs erupt and scale the Everest of his neck to it's highest pitch of peak treble intensity (on the .mp3 recording link below, listen to Catfish at 9:29 to hear the fuzz/wah squeals). The Strat SCREAMS as it has never screamed before. Stockholm is shocked. Jimi finishes his climax as the crowd roars to its feet for seventy breathless seconds. Some weird barrier had been pierced with Fuzz Face and wah-wah. For a Stockholm radio show appearance the next night (released on Warner's 1991 Stages 4-CD box set), Jimi begins to integrate the fuzz/wah combination effect into other songs, starting with I Don't Live Today. Never again would this tune be heard without wah-wah. In terms of Hendrix's guitar tone, these Stockholm shows mark the start of a whole new ballgame. In fact, my theory is that the wah-wah sound is a major factor in his future attempts to rid himself of the gymnastic theatrics on stage and focus instead seriously on the music itself. Prior to the wah-wah, the "variety" in his sets centered on the weird sounds he got by playing with his teeth, or rubbing the guitar neck along his elbow, or along the banks of amps. He used feedback squeals and visual gestures to engage the crowds. But once he mounted the "fixed" position with foot on floor pedal, a brand new range of sound varieties transformed his speakers. Suddenly it was the manipulation of all these wah-wah/fuzz signals that became the central thing on stage - like an artist going from five primary colors, to several dozen more shades. Like the true musician he was, he just became consumed by composing with this new palette, the new sounds from his amps excited him more than the pre wah-wah reliance on visual gestures for variety. From then on, his audiences were split between those who responded to his musical improvizations, and those who came to watch him molest/beat-up his instrument.

Earliest wah-wah video (see 2:59) - Stockholm, Sept. 4, 1967

LOOK FOR PART 2 OF MICHAEL FAIRCHILD'S HISTORIC LOOK INTO THE GEAR OF JIMI HENDRIX IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF GUITAR SHOP....

- Pete Prown - Guitar Shop Editor - Fall 1994

Go to PART TWO...

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- James Sedgwick]