What is the Hendrix Chord?

After playing guitar for a little while it is inevitable that you will stumble across this enigmatic chord. This was true for one of my adult students who has been having guitar lessons for a few months. A guitar playing friend had told him about the Hendrix chord, and in his next lesson he came to and asked:

“Did Hendrix invent the Hendrix chord?”

The short answer is no, he did not. A chord isn’t something you can invent. Its just something that is. Chords are groups of two or more notes played together, and they are named according to a simple(ish) set of rules.

So lets take a step back. What is the Hendrix chord?

If you have ever listened to Purple Haze or Foxy Lady then you have heard the Hendrix chord. It’s punchy, it’s bluesy, it’s rock and roll, it’s purple haze all in my brain, it’s … a dusty old jazz chord? The proper name for the Hendrix Chord is a Dominant 7#9. Which is an altered dominant chord consisting of:

  • Root note (E)
  • Major third (G#)
  • Minor seventh (D)
  • Augmented ninth (G)

“Yeah yeah yeah. Enough about intervals, how do I play it?”

Here you go:

Much of the chords tension comes from the semitone interval between the major major 3rd (G#) and the augmented 9th (G).

You can include or exclude both open E strings, the choice is yours. Remember, if you do choose to play the open strings, the chord is no longer movable up and down the neck.

There are many examples of musicians using this chord voicing before our beloved Jimi became synonymous with it with his 1967 release of Purple Haze. You can find the chord in the introduction to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s 1945 rendition of “All The things you are”. It also appears in Sunny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” from 1957. Our new favourite chord can also be found in the turn around section of Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader”, which was released in 1959. These are just a few examples of Jazz musicians who used the Hendrix chord while Hendrix was still wearing nappies.

The Beatles also used this chord before Hendrix. “Taxman” is the opening track on the 1966 album Revolver. The song uses a D7(#9). George Harrison repeatedly stabs the chord to create tension. This application of the 7(#9) chord in a pop song is much closer to how Jimi would later utilise it. No one can take away from what Hendrix did for guitar playing. He changed the game. He is the undisputed patron saint of guitar. But next time you go to play the Hendrix chord, spare a thought for the Jazz cats who were using the chord for decades before Jimi.