by Michael Fairchild

Octavia Pedal

In autumn 1994, my article for Guitar Shop magazine mentioned Jimi’s last known use on stage of a sound effect device called the Octavia. In winter 1995 Guitar Shop published a letter which suggested that I was wrong. The letter claimed that Jimi’s last known use of the Octavia was not at his May 2, 1970 show in Madison, Wisconsin (as I pointed out in my article), but rather the Octavia is heard at Jimi’s Isle of Wight concert on August 30, 1970 during the song Red House. But Guitar Shop magazine is incorrect. I sent a letter to the editor and he refused to correct the error by publishing my reply.

Madison, WI - May 2, 1970


The sound [you] refer to is not an Octavia. The best photo of Jimi’s Octavia on stage is the Joe Sia “crotch” shot from the Fillmore (see GS Fall ‘94 p. 82). The white slanted box in the foreground is Jimi’s Octavia. Hendrix photo archivist Ben Valkhoff analyzed photos from the Isle of Wight and found no evidence of an Octavia on stage there. In addition, in scenes from the 1990 film, Hendrix at the Isle of Wight (I was a consultant on that film and producer Alan Douglas didn’t list me in the film’s credits! You silly asshole, Alan), at the end of the song Spanish Castle Magic, and in the first solo of the song All Along the Watchtower, we see scenes which reveal that Jimi used only the wahwah pedal, Fuzz Face, and UniVibe devices on stage at the Isle of Wight concert. He is also playing a Gibson Flying V guitar during Red House with unusual WEM PA amps. When the fuzz is turned off, and the wah-wah is on, weird treble squeals result. It sounds almost like an Octavia effect, but lacks the distinctive Octavia “crunch” sound.

Isle of Wight - No Octavia on Floor

Guitar transcriber Douglas Nobel analyzed the Isle of Wight Red House passage (CD time: 7:58-8:32) in question and agrees that this solo lacks Octavia. The tone that [Guitar Shop] refers to for this Red House passage is heard also from Jimi’s guitar during the mid-section of Machine Gun at the Isle of Wight show. No Octavia is used there either. The camera shows Jimi’s foot on the wah-wah pedal instead.

I think it is the WEM PA amps that caused the “squeal tone” at Isle of Wight during those passages. The tone is similar to the Octavia squeal tone. Either the WEM amps, or the weird PA circuitry (which caused tones at that show to sound overly high-end or overly low-end) is the source of the guitar’s squeal. But the Octavia was not used there.

St. Paul, MN - May 3, 1970

Jimi’s last known use of Octavia on stage remains Madison, May 2, 1970 - as I originally noted in my article. On a recording from the following night of Jimi in St. Paul, MN we hear a brief soundcheck prior to the start of the show in which Jimi quickly tests the Octavia to see that it's working, but he doesn't end up using it during any of the songs played at the St. Paul show.

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The above letter concerns a technical point about Jimi’s music that is of little interest to most people. But with regards to accuracy in chronicling information about Hendrix, it is important to know when he last used the Octavia sound effect, because he pioneered its use and for decades many people have associated that sound with him. I cite this dispute as an example of The Inversion: in this case accuracy ceases to be of concern. Some editors care only to “one up” and dominate the debate. By obstructing my letter, Guitar Shop leads readers to think Jimi plays Octavia at Isle of Wight.

Unnecessary error. Retarded History in the works.