Jimi Hendrix in action, May 10, 1968
The wild guitar god: virtuoso, innovator, brand
He was probably the most influential guitarist of all times: Jimi Hendrix, who would have celebrated his 80th birthday on November 27, 2022. Nobody played the electric guitar as innovative and revolutionary as he did. That's why Hendrix is still regularly voted the best guitarist of all times in various polls. In the few years from his first record until his early death on September 18, 1970 at the age of 27, he changed the history of the instrument and rock music forever.
Behind Hendrix's unique playing was not only virtuoso skill, but also a lot of then new technique, which he used either first or at least like no other. The guitarist was also a sound creator who used all available effects in the studio and on stage, combining and creating new sounds.
His preferred electric guitar was the Fender Stratocaster (although he liked to smash or burn it occasionally on stage). Not least thanks to Hendrix, this guitar is still one of the best known and best-selling instruments today, almost unchanged. Although manufacturer Fender optimized the Stratocaster selectively (see e.g. US4803906A), since Hendrix' times the instrument is offered essentially unchanged (of course there are also various Hendrix "signature" models).
„Whining“ hook and howl effect
One of its technical features was the tremolo lever (patented in the USA in 1954, US2741146; see also DE1297970A). Hendrix was the first to fully exploit the tonal possibilities of the vibrato lever (sometimes affectionately called the „Jammerhaken - whining hook in German) making it an important stylistic element of his playing. His famous version of the American anthem at the Woodstock Festival - unthinkable without this patent! The vibrato lever is still being improved today, see e.g. DE202019000687U1.
A technical innovation was also made popular by Hendrix: the wah-wah pedal, an effect device for which there is a US patent ( US 3530224) from 1967 with a German family member ( DE1264225A). It can be heard at the intro to "Voodoo chile", for example.
Hendrix' sound today
In order to get close to his complex sound (which is difficult, if only because the left-handed virtuoso played an upside-down right-handed guitar), Hendrix' countless imitators used to have to buy various devices for a lot of money and assemble his "line-up" of guitar, effects units, amplifier. Thanks to various technical innovations, it is now possible to digitally imitate Hendrix' analog sound with just one device. Using the so-called modeling technique, digital signal processors can be used to program amplifiers, effect devices and even electric guitars in such a way that the typical sound characteristics of certain popular models can be called up at the touch of a button. While the traditional tube amps used by Hendrix and his successors (always turned on full throttle) practically only offer a characteristic tone, a modeling amp can digitally mimic numerous "classic" rock sounds - even at room volume.
Although some traditionalists reject this "synthetic" sound, the underlying technology is highly successful on the market and is being refined more and more, as newer patents show. Hendrix' guitar maker Fender also introduced a digital module for universal use in electric guitars and accessories ( US 7678985 B2 (1,2 MB),registered 2007).
Other manufacturers offer, for example, a programmable amp pedal board that provides the guitarist with freely selectable digital effects and switching functions on stage ( US 8957297 B2 (1,21 MB), registered in 2013).
Playground for sound wizzards
Even the feedback effect, which Hendrix used excessively, can be generated artificially today: DE102015002381B4 demonstrates how the effect of endless tones can be achieved with digital amps at low volume without the need for a fully turned-up amplifier to make the guitar held directly in front of it vibrate, so that the tones generated in this way are in turn reflected back with high amplification and can thus produce a noise of any length.
Jimi Hendrix liked to overwhelm his audience with various technical tricks and sometimes played his guitar with tongue and teeth. His colleague Eric Clapton (otherwise a sincere admirer of Hendrix') ironically called this "pyrotechnics". Today, new registrations take this almost literally, such as "Guitar with integrated fog machine and laser technology"( DE202019004187U1).
Hendrix would have liked that
For some time now, effect devices can even be built directly into acoustic guitars. "Stringed musical instrument and acoustic effect device" EP4064269A1 (1,18 MB) installs an effect device in the top of an acoustic guitar that is mounted directly below the strings near the sound hole, so that it can be operated without having to take the (right) hand off the strings.
Hendrix had roadies who took care of the transport of his equipment. Anyone who has to transport their guitars long distances themselves knows how bulky the cases are. Foldable instruments provide a remedy. One of the latest ideas is "Foldable stringed Instrument". US11443722B2 (2,97 MB) makes it possible to fold the neck and head of an electric guitar flat backwards in the middle. Thanks to a special suspension bridge, the strings can be relaxed but remain in position and can be played again immediately when unfolded with only minor retuning.
Some electric guitars, especially the popular Gibson Les Paul models (which Hendrix did not play), weigh a fair amount. This can sometimes cause back pain for the guitarist who has it hanging around his neck. The "guitar holder for electric guitar" ( DE202021106974U1 (1,63 MB)), an additional suspension that can be attached to the belt, promises a remedy. By means of this, the load of the guitar is then evenly distributed.
These and all other important technical innovations in rock music can be easily researched in the patent database of the DPMA DEPATISnet.
The Munich incident
Hendrix made his first appearance in Germany in November 1966 in a club at Leopoldstraße 25 in Munich. This basement was called the "Big Apple". It was there that an incident is said to have occurred that was to make his shows notorious from then on: Enthusiastic fans pulled Hendrix and his guitar off the stage and into the audience. When he fought his way back onto the stage, he discovered that his guitar was broken (he had, it is said, just bought it in a shop across the street). In anger, he smashed the guitar entirely, creating an infernal noise. The audience thought it was part of the show and was entranced. Therefore, manager Chas Chandler suggested that the work of destruction be incorporated into future performances. Hendrix was to smash a lot of stage equipment after that. The most famous is probably his "sacrifice" at the Monterey Festival, when he set fire to his Stratocaster on stage (by the way, this performance, with which Hendrix became world famous, was conveyed by Paul McCartney).
Hendrix as a trademark
Jimi Hendrix, the wild guitar god, has long since become a trademark himself - in the literal sense: his name is registered as a trademark at the DPMA (DE30232623, also EM004626685); his signature is registered as a word/picture trademark for classes of goods such as music or clothing (EM011816485).
It was not until the mid-1990s, after long disputes, that Hendrix' father James Al succeeded in bringing all rights to Jimi's estate under the family's control. He founded a marketing company, the "Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.", in Jimi's birthplace, Seattle. Since then, this company has been exploiting the possibilities of intellectual property rights to the full and has been aggressively marketing Hendrix products (recently even mouth-nose masks).
Are you experienced?
Only in 2018, for example, did the company secure the word mark "THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE" (EM017877400)for clothing and music (Nice 25, 41) - after the name of the band Jimi played with in 1966-69 and became a superstar. Also the title of the debut album from 1967, "ARE YOU EXPERIENCED" has been a trademark since 2018 (EM 017877399, Nice classes 25, 41). The names of some of his most famous songs have also been registered as trademarks, such as "Voodoo Child" (EM 013608567) or "Purple Haze"(EM 01787739).
Half a century after his death, more Hendrix music is sold than during his lifetime. Of course the distribution of music has changed a lot today. But the streaming and sales portals keep „classics“ like Hendrix alive. For example, the operating principle of one of the leading streaming providers is explicitly explained in a recent patent application using the example of a Hendrix song ("Media content steering", EP3648106A1).
Pictures: Steve Banks (by Creative Commons, CC by SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons), DEPATISnet, DPMAregister, Warner /Reprise Records uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia / Public domain, DEPATISnet
Last updated: 20 July 2023