Firstly handedness is very complicated.
The world is not fair to left-handed people as everything is mostly for right-handed people. It has been the same for a very long.
And when it comes to guitars and rockstars, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar style is at the top. The way he played his guitar ambidextrously is a trait that only a few can achieve.
To talk about his playing, his guitar Stratocaster was also not a left-handed guitar. A traditional Stratocaster has a slanted rear pickup which captures the higher strings. Jimi was a natural left-handed guitar player. But he was also forced to play right-handed by his father, which gave him the ability to play the guitar right-handed and left-handed.
His proficiency in him playing with both hands was developed as he would practice playing with his natural left hand when his father was not around. His moving to London was a big move but it was all worth it. Jimi’s stage presence with his complicated-looking guitar-playing style mesmerized everyone. And the reason he played his guitar upside-down was that he was left-handed. Jimi was a pioneer in it and often play his guitar with his teeth or behind his back.
The relationship between him and his father when it came to guitar was not a good one. His father punished him for using his left hand in the early days. Philip Norman’s book Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix gives attention to this matter.
Norman wrote in his book, “The youngest of their four children, James Allen always to be known as Al arrived in 1919, strong and healthy but with an extra finger on each hand. Back then, such infant deformities were widely believed to be marks of the Devil for which, not long previously, the luckless infant would have been quietly suffocated. However, infanticide had given way to do-it-yourself amputation: Zenora [James’ mother, Jimi’s grandmother] was advised to bind the superfluous digits with silk cords, starving them of blood until they simply dropped. This they did, only to grow back in an undersized, shriveled form, complete with miniature nails.”
He continued, “Far more serious was the discovery that [Jimi] was left-handed, which many people still considered not far down the scale of Satan-signatures from surplus fingers. That such a further stigma should be added to the midget digit on each of his own hands horrified Al, and he set about correcting it in the only way he knew how. If ever [Jimi] were caught using the ‘wrong’ hand, he could expect an angry swipe around the head.”
When people see him playing his guitar upside down, most people have the same question. How did he string his guitar?
Well, he would string his guitar a little differently than most right-handed guitarists. It also helped him achieve a few good tones. Left-handed guitars were not really available those days and while some options were there they were very expensive. While stringing, he would use a right-handed guitar upside down and after flipping it, he would restring the guitar from the left-handed perspective.
Later on, after he gained his wealth and fame, he could have afforded a lot of left-handed guitars. But the way he played and his start became his own signature. He continued to play left-handed and even showed his other abilities on the stage.
Here are also some reasons why his Stratocaster was played upside down.
On a traditional Stratocaster, the highest strings are the E and B. But when it is upside down, it becomes the shortest one and that’s the reason they don’t have to be that tight to be in tune.
The alteration with the strings produced overtones. This produced vibrations on the unplayed parts of the strings which created unique sounds.
Hendrix’s low strings were very tight which made the sound of the guitar less twangy and not like the usual Stratocaster.
The distance between the magnet in the pickups of the guitar and the string varies for each of the strings. When the guitar is upside down, the magnets are closest to the strings.
However he played, Jimi is the beloved rock star of millions in the world. His left-handed playing style became his signature. Jimi Hendrix became the icon he is today. His white Fender Stratocaster at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 was an iconic moment in the history of Rock.
Here is his very last interview.