Introduction: la guitare comme instrument d'imitation

Following a hint from Hendrix who describes his electric guitar as a "public saxophone" we examine the history of guitar playing from the perspective of imitation.

Jimi Hendrix Night Train 1965

If Hendrix words aren't evidence enough this video of his early days in rock and roll bands surrounded by saxophone players might convince you of my claim that his guitar style involves emulation of horn playing.

Jimi Hendrix plays Public Saxophone in Berkeley in 1966

Jim Hendrix introduces his band at the 1966 Berkeley Community Theater concert. It is interesting and revelatory of his guitar style that he introduces himself as playing the "public saxophone".

Louis Armstrong - A Rhapsody in Black and Blue (1932)

This clip includes a performer of National tenor guitar playing strums typical of the banjo's role in early jazz bands. This illustrates the transition from banjo to guitars in the jazz rhythm section.

Django Reinhardt - J'attendrai 1939

Django Reinhardt's solos use many figures inspired by the button accordionists he worked with. These can be seen in the chromatic and diminished chord runs here.

John Renbourn plays "Lord Franklin" using single string melodic arrangement

John Renbourn took up Sitar after Ravi Shankar's visit to England in the 1960's. Many of his guitar arrangements subsequently reflected modal melodic arrangements on the middle strings with drone accompaniment on the outer strings. John set this one up in standard tuning requiring some clever harmonizations and partial barre chords. John told me that "Lord Franklin" reflected his early approach to this before Davey Graham showed everyone how much easier this sort of thing was in alternate tunings, e.g. DADGAD.

John Renbourn - lord Franklin
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John Renbourn teaches DADGAD "Sandwood down to Kyle"

Originally recorded on his "Ship of Fools" album, this song illustrates John's arranging approach where he combines three ideas: double stop harmonization on the center strings, melodic motion along the strings (instead of across), and the outer strings as pattern picked rhythmic drones. This synthesis of British Isles source material, American pattern picking, European harmony and North Indian chordophone technique is a distinctive feature of his guitar style.

Here is the original song he is teaching.

His singing is stronger on the album track.

See below for transcriptions and better quality video and audio than the youtube examples.