Credit: Hannu Lindroos

The incredible story of how Jimi Hendrix learned to play the guitar

Jimi Hendrix is unquestionably the ultimate guitar player who the world was fortunate enough to have graced the world of music… even if it felt temporary. Hendrix elevated the instrument to heady heights, a level that had never been reached by anyone before him and he got there with grit, determination as well as more than a pinch of raw talent thrown into the mix for good measure.

Hendrix wasn’t solely born with this Godlike gift and, like anything in life, he worked like there was no tomorrow as a youngster to constantly improve inch by inch. His greatest asset was undoubtedly his commitment to the cause, a skill which was his finest attribute and led to him transforming music forever whilst cementing his status as the best guitarist who ever lived. This hard tested resilient nature prevented him from doing so and the story of how Hendrix learned to play the guitar is a tale of how determination is the most important quality to boast.

Perhaps the reason why Hendrix was so committed to learning perfection was due to the difficult circumstances in which he began to play, a factor which made him understand the importance of adaptation as he perfected his craft as a child. His musical awakening arrived when he discovered a ukulele with just one string whilst he was helping his father carry out an odd job cleaning an older woman’s garage. The woman, clearly able to see that the young Hendrix was enamoured with the ukelele and the one-string instrument, gracefully asked him if he would like to keep it. Little did she know what journey that ukelele would start.

Hendrix then spent days getting to grips with his newfound instrument, a period in which he completely adored and, as stated in his brother Leon’s book Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story, the child prodigy eventually discovered that by turning the peg on top of the instrument which would make the note louder and higher.

Leon then went on to describe how his brother, whom he affectionately calls Buster, learned to play the ukulele by ear, a showing sign of his immense will to learn. “If Buster tightened it a little more, it got even higher and vibrated less,” Leon noted. “He began turning the tuning peg as he strummed to make the pitch go up and down. Even though he was playing single notes, he still followed along to a couple Elvis Presley songs on the radio. Buster did it all by ear and matched up the notes,” he added.

“My first was a Danelectro,” Hendrix once noted about his first guitar which came shortly after he proved his worth on the ukelele and added, “Which my dad bought for me. Must have busted him for a long time. But I had to show him I could play first. In those days I just liked rock’n’roll, I guess.”

Playing live with his first group at the age of 17 also came with its own tribulations for Hendrix and, despite already mastering the guitar, remarkably didn’t feel natural on stage. “It was so hard for me at first. I knew about three songs. When it was time for us to play on stage I was all shaky,” Hendrix once recollected. “So I had to play behind the curtains. I just couldn’t get up in front. And then you get so very discouraged. You hear different bands playing around you, and the guitar player always seems like he’s so much better than you are.”

He added: “Most people give up at this point, but it’s best not to. Just keep on, just keep on. Sometimes you are going to be so frustrated you’ll hate the guitar, but all of this is just a part of learning. If you stick with it you’re going to be rewarded. If you’re very stubborn you can make it,” the guitar hero poignantly concluded.

Hendrix could have easily given up after the difficulties that he faced at the start of his career, after learning in the hardest conditions imaginable. However, that didn’t stop him from becoming the greatest of all time. After the nervewracking experience he induced when he first took to the stage, Hendrix could have decided to prevent himself any future torture by playing live — instead, he honed his performing skills and became the most must see artist on the planet.

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