Jimi Hendrix’s 196? Fender Stratocaster (Frank Zappa)
This Stratocaster was given to Frank Zappa by Howard Parker – Hendrix’s roadie, at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. The history of the guitar is however far from established, and some even doubt its legitimacy since until just recently there’s been proof of Jimi only ever burning two guitars in his life – both of which are accounted for.
Well, there was this guy named Howard Parker – they called him ‘H’ – who was Hendrix’s roadie, gofer and general assistant. He stayed at our house for a couple of months in the late ’60s, and he had this guitar which Hendrix had given to him – I thought it was from the Miami concert.The Famous Zappa/Hendrix Burnt Guitar – FeelNumb
The guitar now belongs to Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa, who revealed a bit of the history behind it in an interview with Normans Rare Guitars.
But, before we try to figure out the actual story behind the Hendrix/Zappa Strat, let’s at least try to debunk some of the myths regarding the origin of the burned Strat.
All the Myths
Burned at the Miami Pop
The first and the most common myth about this guitar is that it was burned by Jimi at the Miami Pop Festival on May 18, 1968. This rumor probably originated from an interview that Frank Zappa gave to Guitar Player magazine in 1977.
The neck was cracked off, the body was all fired, and the pickups were blistered and bubbled. A lot of people thought I had Hendrix’s guitar from Monterey, but it was from Miami; the one at Monterey was white and this one is sunburst.Guitar Player magazine, January 1977
Ken Davidoff, who took photographs of both shows at the Miami Pop Festival, was kind enough to confirm via email that Jimi did not burn a guitar that day (you can visit Ken’s website for photos and prints from The Miami Pop Festival).
This was also confirmed by one of our visitors, Robb Murchison, who attended the concert. Also, even Norman, who interviewed Dweezil Zappa in that video featured on the top of this page, does not mention anything about Jimi burning a guitar. If he recalled Jimi landing in a helicopter, he would certainly remember him doing the stunt on the stage.
So, one would think that even if the guitar was indeed burned that day, there would be photos of it, and certainly at least some talk about it. Some people who were present at the festival do claim that Jimi burned (or at least tried to) a guitar that day [Did Jimi Hendrix actually burn a guitar at the Miami Pop Festival?], but these seem very rare. So why are these few people remembering something that other people say never happened – who really knows?
But, interesting to note here is that there were two sunburst Strats with Jimi on stage at the Miami Pop (see Ken Davidoff’s website for photos), so it is at least confirmed that Jimi used sunbursts around this time. This could open the possibility of Jimi burning one of the Strats after the concert (perhaps just while fooling around backstage), although making a case for it would be pretty hard without someone credible who was present coming out with the story.
Zappa Strat is the Astoria Strat
The second myth, probably originating from Frank’s quote in Guitar Player magazine from 1977, is that the Hendrix/Zappa Strat was the same one that Jimi burned at the Astoria Theater on March 31, 1967. This is a very plausible theory, but there are some parts of it that don’t really make sense.
But, before going into more details regarding this myth, it’s important to debunk the less sensible version of the myth – which is that the Astoria Strat has been restored and then burned again at the Miami Pop Festival. It was one guitar all along!
All of the Hendrix archivists and all of the books are pointing to the fact that it was originally burnt in ’67 at the Astoria and was restored and burnt again in Miami.Ted Owen, of Cooper Owen auctioneers for BBC News
Just to point out the absurdity of this – the Astoria gig was played on March 31st, 1967, and between that and the Miami Pop on May 18th, 1968, when the guitar was given to Zappa, Jimi had traveled twice to the US and did numerous tours across Europe and the UK. There’s no reason to even suspect that all this time he had the Astoria Strat stashed someplace. By that time, a new guitar was not a luxury for Jimi, and no doubt he would just buy a new Strat in the US, before caring enough to restore his old scorched Astoria Strat.
So, whoever these Hendrix archivists are, it’s highly unlikely that they have any idea what they are talking about.
Now, the trouble with the more sensible part of the theory – Zappa Strat being the Astoria Strat, is that there’s already a different Stratocaster that went through auction as the Astoria guitar. Luckily for the proponents of the Zappa/Astoria theory, that particular guitar is far from fully authenticated which leaves a lot of space for speculation and theory crafting.
Zappa Strat is the Astoria Strat – the Clues
A discussion held over at the Steve Hoffman music forums [Did Jimi Hendrix actually burn a guitar at the Miami Pop Festival? – post by Purple Jim] revealed that there’s a pretty good chance that the guitar given to Zappa is indeed the same exact guitar that Jimi burned in Astoria on March 31st, 1967.
Most of this is based on the comparison of the scratches on the body of the Zappa Strat and the Strat that Jimi was seen using at the Star Club a couple of weeks prior to Astoria.
This battered Strat in question was one of the two early sixties sunburst Strats that Jimi was seen using in March 1967, and given that he was photographed with one of those guitars prior to the Astoria gig, many assume that that other guitar was the one that was burned that night. Both of the sunburst Strats that Jimi was seen using in March 1967 are seen in the photo on the bottom of the collage shown below.
But even though the scratches match pretty well on both the front and the back of the body (see Steve Hoffman music forums thread linked a couple of paragraphs above for photos of the front), one can not help but wonder how the guitar went from London (March 1967) to Miami (May 1968).
Furthermore, Howard Parker, who gave the guitar to Frank Zappa, worked for Hendrix during the summer of 1968. [Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child by David Henderson, p. 234] Based on the information available, he did not work for him at the time of the Astoria gig. Instead, Gerry Stickells seemed to have been the person taking care of Jimi’s guitars. So this means it’s pretty hard to come up with a sensible theory that would explain how exactly Howard got his hands on it since he wasn’t even there when it happened.
Some pieces of the Astoria Strat story are known, as we already noted in the article about the alleged Astoria Strat sold on auction in 2008. For instance, according to Chas Chandler, the guy who hid the guitar after the Astoria gig was Tito Burns.
I can remember Tito Burns shaking his fist at me and saying, ‘You can’t get away with this. This wasn’t an accident. I’ll have you prosecuted.’ He took the charred guitar away with him as evidence.Tito Burns – Independent
It seems that the guitar was given back to Hendrix shortly after the gig since he mentioned in an interview given in mid-April:
I was on my knees at the time and the guitar had kept giving me slight electric shocks and shorting out. When it burst into flames, I was kinda shocked, and that’s why I just ran off. That guitar is completely ruined—I guess I’ll hang it on my bedroom wall as a memento.Jimi Hendrix Injured On Tour, Disc and Music Echo, April 13, 1967
This is unfortunately where the guitar loses all trace, so there’s a huge gap in the story between the point the Astoria Strat got back into Jimi’s hands and the point it reached Howard’s. It’s hard to think of a scenario in which a scorched Strat ends up being dragged across the ocean from London to Miami, after more than a year had passed since Hendrix had set it on fire. One would expect that Jimi would simply get rid of it, or leave it in his apartment as he stated in the interview, but apparently, that’s not what actually happened.
The Ambassador Hotel Strat
Although there seems to be no way to actually authenticate this guitar as being the actual Astoria Strat, perhaps it doesn’t hurt to at least speculate on other possibilities. The Strat was given to Zappa on May 18, 1968, and prior to this, Hendrix played at the Fillmore East in New York on May 10th. Prior to that, he played more than fifty gigs from the point of setting the foot in the US in February 1967.
In theory, the Strat could’ve been burned and trashed at any of those gigs, and then been picked up by Howard Parker after the set.
One gig that stands out as the most likely is at The Ambassador Hotel in late 1967. Jimi played at the hotel from August 9th to August 12th, for a total of six gigs (on occasions two gigs on the same night). During one of the gigs, someone took a photo of Jimi holding a Stratocaster that was set on fire, so that means that this was the third guitar in total set to flames.
My mom’s birthday gift to me: these photos she took of Jimi Hendrix (who shares my birthday). I always knew she danced on stage with him, but only recently discovered that her photo of him burning his guitar at the Ambassador Theater was the only proof of the “third guitar burn”. pic.twitter.com/et52Tmuma4— Carrie Gouskos (@cgouskos) November 28, 2019
Unfortunately, Jimi was only seen using a white Stratocaster during The Ambassador Hotel gigs, and the Zappa Strat was clearly sunburst. Jimi could’ve of course switched to a sunburst Strat just before setting it on fire, which wouldn’t be surprising, but that’s purely just a theory.
But, unfortunately for this theory, as pointed out by Monty Ray, people seem to remember Jimi burning a black-colored Stratocaster that night
The sacrificial instrument split into pieces. Someone in the crowd grabbed the neck, while the body of the black Strat went on display in the lobby. Hendrix signed the white pick guard: “Good luck, be cool, Jimi Hendrix, 8/13/67,” according to Mike Paper.When Jimi Hendrix came to Washington and blew its mind
The Zappa Hendrix Strat on Auction
The guitar was put on auction in May 2002 by Dweezil Zappa (Frank’s son) who hoped it would fetch a million dollars. After it failed to sell (it reached to bid of $500,000 [Hendrix’s flaming guitar fails to sell – BBC News]) it was put up for auction once again in September for a lowered price. For the second time, the guitar failed to reach the asking price, and to our knowledge, it is still with Dweezil.
While this is a very interesting story with a lot of unknowns, one is inclined to believe that the Astoria Strat is indeed the same Strat that was given to Frank Zappa. Just the fact that that story includes both Jimi and Frank, makes a lot of people wishful in thinking that it is true. Furthermore, most of the more conclusive clues, like the scratches on the back, also seem to point out that being the case.
As I conclude my research on this, and the alleged Astoria Strat, I would have to guess that this guitar is more likely to be the real deal. The second Strat was never seen in Jimi’s hands, and it seems that line of ownership on that guitar is a bit shady, to say the least. In any case, if you’re more interested to read about the second Strat, go to – Jimi Hendrix’s 1965 Fender Stratocaster (Astoria Strat).
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