Anyone with a passing knowledge of the guitar world knows who Jimi Hendrix is. The guitarist and performer was known for his high-energy psychedelic-tinged performances and otherworldly playing style. If you have ever seen videos of Hendrix performing live, you may have noticed him holding his guitar upside down.
This may lead you to wonder, “Did Jimi Hendrix play the guitar upside down?”. Today we will be answering this question and understanding why this guitar legend may have resorted to playing in this arrangement.
Did Jimi Hendrix Play His Guitar Upside Down?
You don’t need to look very far to find pictures of Jimi Hendrix playing a Fender Stratocaster. The guitar’s body shape had already become iconic by the 60s and can be recognized by just about anyone with an interest in guitars. However, if you look closer at these pictures, you may notice something slightly strange.
The double-cutaway guitar we know and love features an asymmetrical body with an extended top “horn” and a shorter lower “horn”. A quick glimpse at Hendrix’s Stratocaster reveals that the top horn was shorter than the lower one.
The above information may lead you to believe that the guitarist was in possession of a special type of Stratocaster with a reversed body design. However, the truth is far cooler: Jimi Hendrix was playing the guitar upside down.
Why Did Jimi Hendrix Play the Guitar Upside Down?
One of the first things that stands out when you see pictures of Hendrix performing is how he holds his guitar. The Voodoo Child composer held his instrument’s neck in his right hand and strummed using his left hand. This meant Hendrix was playing the guitar in a left-handed configuration.
It is a well-known fact that Jimi Hendrix was left-handed and that he played the guitar in the lefty configuration. However, left-handed guitars were quite rare in the 1960s. This likely led to Hendrix being forced to purchase and learn on a right handed guitar.
Did Jimi Hendrix Flip His Strings?
Looking closely at videos of Hendrix’s performances reveals that the guitarist was in fact holding the guitar upside down. However, his chord shapes matched that of a guitar being played right-side up. This meant Hendrix had flipped the arrangement of his strings so that the thick E-string was at the top while the thin E-string was at the bottom.
There are also many rumors that suggest Hendrix was able to play a right-handed guitar upside down without the strings being reversed. This meant the thin E-string would be near the top while the thick E-string would be at the bottom. Playing in such a manner would have required Hendrix to learn chord shapes upside down, which would have been quite difficult.
Did Jimi Hendrix Ever Purchase Left Handed Guitars?
It is believed that Hendrix did acquire left-handed guitars later in his career. However, he still preferred to play his right-handed Stratocasters upside down. This was likely due to a preference or an attachment that the guitarist had to his early instruments. We know this because of the wide number of challenges associated with playing the guitar upside down.
What are the Challenges of Playing the Guitar Upside Down?
Playing the guitar upside down is no easy feat. However, it is something that many left-handed guitarists were forced into doing if they were unable to acquire a left-handed guitar. Some of the challenges associated with playing the guitar upside down include:
Flipping the Strings
If you are a left handed guitarist with a right handed guitar, you would have two possible choices to choose from when learning your instrument. The first one is to learn to play the guitar upside down without flipping the strings. This meant that the thin-E string would be at the top while the thick E-string would be at the bottom.
Such an arrangement is challenging because you would need to learn chord shapes upside down. This can be tricky because many chord shapes were designed to be easy to play in the normal string configuration. Playing them upside down would be quite uncomfortable, as you would need to contort your fingers into unnatural positions to hold chords that other guitarists would find easy to play.
It also makes it more difficult to switch between chords easily, as you would likely be using your thumb to play certain chords such as G-major. This is troublesome because the thumb is usually used to hold the guitar’s neck and provide support for the other fingers pressing down on frets.
Many left-handed guitarists would prefer to avoid the problems mentioned above by flipping the strings on their guitar. This ensures that the thick E-string is at the top while the thing E-string is at the bottom. However, flipping your strings can be a challenge in itself.
The reason for this is due to the guitar’s “nut”. The nut is the rectangular piece of plastic situated at the top of the neck. It contains slots that each string is meant to pass through before arriving at the tuning knobs. Flipping your guitar strings is challenging because the nut slots meant for the thin strings cannot accommodate the thicker ones.
For example, the nut slot meant for thin E-string would be far too narrow to fit the thick E-string. As a result, you would need to remove the guitar’s nut and flip it around. However, this is something you may want to avoid on a rare or priceless guitar.
The other alternative is to sand down the thinner nut slots and widen them so that they can accommodate the thicker strings. This arrangement also isn’t optimal as it may damage the nut. The thin strings would also have too much room to move around in the nut slots meant for the wider strings. This may lead to unwanted buzzing while playing the thinner strings.
The Guitar Cable Getting in the Way
Another major problem associated with playing a right-handed guitar upside down is the position of the output jack. Most output jacks are positioned either near the pickguard or on the side of the instrument. Both these positions are less than ideal if you are playing the instrument upside down. This is because your elbow or arm is likely to come into contact with its output jack and the cable while strumming.
Hitting the output jack or cable repeated during a performance is likely to wear them out. It may also cause connection issues mid-performance.
Jimi Hendrix’s story should inspire any guitar who feels they are unable to get good at playing the instrument due to physical limitations. After all, when there is a will, there is almost certainly always a way.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.