November 2012 marks Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday, and we’re celebrating it by releasing the limited edition Jimi Hendrix 70th Anniversary Tribute Series. It’s made up of the four effects that were crucial to Hendrix’s signal chain: Fuzz Face®, CryBaby®, Octavio® and Univibe®. Designed by the MXR team, the Fuzz Face, Octavio and Univibe come in Phase 90-sized housings with modern upgrades such as true bypass switching, bright LEDs and 9-volt power jacks. The Jimi Hendrix Signature Cry Baby comes in a slick gloss black finish and, along with the other three pedals, is adorned with art inspired by John Van Hamersveld’s classic poster from Hendrix’s 1968 Shrine Auditorium gig.
Jimi Hendrix ushered in the modern age of the electric guitarist and set a precedent for not only creative but also musical use of the tools at his disposal. With the aforementioned effects, Hendrix was able to vary his tones in seemingly endless ways that nearly 50 years on, fail to sound dated in the least. Equal parts sonic braggadocio and understated elegance, Hendrix used his instrument, his hands, his effects, and most importantly his ears to concoct a brilliant synergy of sound and song rarely, if ever, equaled.
Below we take a look at how Hendrix used the Fuzz Face, the Cry Baby, the Octavio and Univibe effects and made them his own.
With a Fuzz Face, Hendrix could elicit an endless variety of tones by using different pickup combinations, manipulating his guitar’s volume control, and picking at different areas of a string. The Fuzz Face not only gave him a full-on primal howl with its burly, fat-sounding fuzz tones, it afforded him remarkably detailed clean textures as well.
The album Are You Experienced remains a shining example of Hendrix’s ingenious use of the effect. The song “Manic Depression,” for example, has Hendrix veer in and out of grainy yet-almost-twangy tones during the verses only to go to full-on meltdown during the solo with howling sustain and thick-as-a-brick midrange. By backing down his guitar’s volume control, Hendrix used the exaggerated treble bite and hyper-sensitive attack the Fuzz Face offers to enhance clean tones and make them really speak. Another example of this sonic yin-yang is, among others, “Third Stone From the Sun,” as it features some amazingly jangly chordal work as well as the insane sonic equivalent of WWIII, all achieved with help from the Fuzz Face.
Released in August of ’67, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” is the first recorded example of Hendrix using a Cry Baby. From then on, Hendrix used the wah wah a lot. “Up From the Skies,” from Axis: Bold as Love, shows Jimi’s jazziest and most subtle use of the wah wah as he uses it to add quick, throaty sweeps to the tune’s hip chord voicings.
For the most part, Hendrix’s wah wah technique was extremely bold. Whether it was for propulsive rhythmic accents, like on the stinky funk of “Little Miss Lover,” or as a constant force on tracks such as “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” or “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” Hendrix managed to use the wah wah in cavalier, over-the-top ways without ever wearing it out—not an easy feat!
With the release of Band of Gypsys in 1970, Hendrix managed to elevate another effect to hallowed status—the Univibe. With its thick, smoky swirl, the Univibe’s complex “phasiness” throbs and undulates throughout the entire live album. Although Hendrix used the Univibe on a handful of studio recordings late in his career, it’s “Machine Gun” from the Band of Gypsys album that stands as his ultimate statement with the effect. From the tune’s outset, Hendrix’s use of space enhances the spookiness of the Univibe’s hazy modulation. As the tune ramps up, Hendrix ups the intensity and keeps it there, starting his solo with a single sustained note that tears right through your soul.
And who can forget the singular, most important Univibe sound of all? On his version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, Hendrix single-handedly created the anthem for a generation. Utilizing the swirly, chewy goodness of the Univibe to great effect, he sent millions into a psychedelic trance that some have yet to return from.
Hendrix used the Octavio for some of his prettiest passages as well as for some of his gnarliest. The song “One Rainy Wish” from Axis: Bold as Love definitely falls into the former category as Hendrix uses the Octavio to add a dreamy otherworldliness that enhances the tune’s sweetness. However, “Who Knows” and “We Gotta Live Together” from Band of Gypsys find Hendrix eliciting barks, belches, and skronks as he unleashes a veritable clinic on using the Octavio while playing double-stop 4ths and 5ths—he even throws in some wah wah for good measure. Sick! Listen to the end riff of “We Gotta Live Together” for even more stony low note howl. The most famous Octavio track, however, is undoubtedly “Purple Haze.” You can hear how Hendrix uses his pickup and volume knob settings as well as his picking attack to vary between different flavors of effect on different parts of the tune. Master composer, interplanetary blues man, and sonic visionary—genius!
Check out the videos below to see modern blues rock master Eric Gales put the Hendrix Tribute Series through its paces.