Jimi Hendrix’s 1960s Fender Duo-Sonic

Shortly before his nine-month gig with The Isley Brothers in 1964, Jimi, then known as Jimmy James, acquired his first Fender guitar. According to the information from the book Jimi Hendrix Gear, the guitar was a gift from O’Kelly Isley. This likely occurred just after Jimi joined the band, following his audition in February 1964.

Regrettably, Jimi’s time with this Fender guitar was short-lived. It is said that someone stole it just a couple of months after he acquired it.

Jimi Hendrix with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. Photo was taken around the time he toured with the Isley Brothers.
Jimi Hendrix with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. Photo was taken around the time he toured with the Isley Brothers.


Jimi’s Duo-Sonic was likely from the early to mid-60s, certainly not older than late 1964, when the model underwent some significant design changes. The guitar featured a 22.5-inch short-scale rosewood neck, two single-coil pickups, a fixed bridge, and a white pickguard.

The finish on Jimi’s guitar is less clear. It appears to be lighter than the standard finish commonly found on these guitars.

A vintage 1960 Fender Duo Sonic for reference. Note the color of the body is closer to brown than white. Photo by Myxi 2/Flickr
A vintage 1960 Fender Duo-Sonic for reference. Note the color of the body appears to be much darker than on Jimi’s guitar. Photo by Myxi 2/Flickr

The Color Confusion

Upon examining Jimi’s guitar, it does appear to be white. However, the white color only became available on the Duo-Sonic II model, introduced in mid to late 1964.

This second version of the Duo-Sonic featured numerous changes to the original design, including a metal plate beneath the volume/tone controls, different body and headstock shapes, and an entirely different control layout, among other things. These changes made the two versions easily distinguishable from one another, so there’s no doubt that Jimi’s guitar was indeed the older model.

It’s possible that Jimi’s guitar was one of the rare Duo-Sonics that left the factory in a custom color. Such guitars resurface very infrequently today, but there are a few that left the factory as early as 1962 with a finish other than light brown.

Another theory suggests that the guitar was actually light brown but appeared to be white in the photos. Comparing this finish to Gibson’s ‘TV yellow,’ which was designed to appear white on black and white cameras, lends credibility to this theory.

If you have ever seen early black and white television footage from the 1940s and ’50s, you have probably noticed that white objects often appear unnaturally bright, “blown out”, haloed, or blurry.  To mitigate this problem, legendary inventor, guitarist, and TV star Les Paul (for whom the Gibson Les Paul® line of guitars is named) suggested a wheat-colored guitar finish. The color would appear white in live television broadcasts, but because it wasn’t actually white it wouldn’t overwhelm the cameras under bright lights.

TV Yellow – The Faded Origin of a Classic Guitar Color by Aaron Cheney, Warmoth.com

Tremolo Added

Based on the photos available, at some point, Jimi installed what looks like a VMA-1 tremolo on this guitar. The interesting thing to note is that this is the same tremolo from the 60s Epiphone models. So, it is possible that Jimi himself fitted the tremolo on the Duo-Sonic from his old Wilshire.

2010 Duo-Sonic Auction

In 2010, a Fender Duo-Sonic was auctioned off with the claim that it had once belonged to Jimi Hendrix. However, the guitar in question did not resemble the one he was known to play with The Isley Brothers. Specifically, it lacked the screw holes from the tremolo and showed no evidence of being refinished to cover them up.

One possibility is that the auctioned Duo-Sonic was simply another guitar that Jimi happened to own. However, with the history of fraud associated with the auction house [Cameo Auctioneers found guilty of fraud – BBC.com], it’s also possible that there was something fishy going on with the sale. Without concrete evidence, it’s difficult to say for sure.

What is clear is that the absence of screw holes on the guitar suggests that it did not have a tremolo bridge at one point, unlike the Duo-Sonic that Jimi played with The Isley Brothers. This raises even more questions about the guitar’s authenticity and history.

It’s important to remember that assumptions can be made, but they should be taken with a grain of salt until tangible proof is obtained. With such a high price tag on the auctioned guitar, it’s reasonable to assume that proper research was done before the sale. However, until more details emerge, the mystery surrounding Jimi’s guitars will continue to captivate fans and collectors alike.

Jimi had at one stage fitted his Duo-Sonic with an Epiphone (Maestro) Vibrato unit but had later taken it off. The rumor is that this guitar went missing whilst on tour in the USA but contrary to this Jimi just tired of using it and it was put away for a while and resurfaced years later in Chas Chandler’s London studio. Chas Chandler discovered and managed Jim, and later sold the guitar in 1982 for £400 to Rod Weinberg, who in 1983 reunited the Animals for a world tour.

information posted on the original auction page

They mention that the guitar had a tremolo but fail to explain the absence of the holes. Complicating matters, Chas Chandler, who the seller claims originally owned the guitar, passed away in 1996, casting doubt on the guitar’s provenance. Unless Chandler signed a letter of authenticity when he sold the guitar to Rod Weinberg, the line of ownership becomes less credible.

It’s important to remember that any assumptions made are just that until tangible proof emerges. Nothing stated can be considered a fact until proper research is conducted. However, considering the high price the guitar sold for, it’s reasonable to assume that proper due diligence was conducted before the sale, and more details about the guitar’s history were available to potential buyers.


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Robert Sherman
Robert Sherman
1 year ago

Fender colors back then were shot as color coat and then a clear lacquer coat on top. Over time the clear lacquer darkens, which may explain how the recent photo differs in color from the photo taken when the guitar was new. Same happens with the neck as well.