Jimi Hendrix’s 196? Fender Stratocaster (Frank Zappa)

access_time First seen circa 1967

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 there’s proof of Jimi only ever burning two guitars in his life – both of which are now accounted for (actually only one of them beyond reasonable doubt, but more on this later).

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]

Although it is pretty much impossible from today’s perspective to figure out the actual story behind the Hendrix/Zappa Strat, we’ll at least try to debunk some of the myths. We will not deal with the timeline after the guitar came into Frank’s and Dweezil’s hands, so if you’re interested in that part of the story, we recommend watching the interview with Dweezil below.

Busting the Myths

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]

Frank Zappa on the cover of Guitar Player magazine with Jimi’s scorched guitar.

We’ve contacted Ken Davidoff, who took photographs of both shows at the Miami Pop Festival, and he was kind enough to confirm to us 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. If the guitar was indeed burned that day, one would expect that 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 they are very rare.

If by any chance you attended the festival, and you have any comments on the subject, please do so in the section at the bottom of this page. We are curious to find out what actually happened, and why the stories differentiate.

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 in the backstage), although making a case for it would be pretty hard.

Zappa Strat is the Astoria Strat

The second myth is that the Hendrix/Zappa Strat was the same one that Jimi burned at the Astoria Theater on March 31, 1967. Some go as far as to say that the Astoria Strat has been restored and then burned again at the Miami Pop Festival, which was more than a year later. Although interesting to consider as a theory, this is most likely not the case.

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 it – the Astoria gig was played on March 31st, 1967, and between that and the Miami Pop 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.

The trouble with the more sensible part of the theory – this being the Astoria Strat, is that there’s already a different Stratocaster that went through auction as the actual Astoria guitar. Luckily for the proponents of the Zappa/Astoria theory, that guitar is far from fully authenticated which leaves a lot of space for speculation and theory crafting.

But things get even more interesting the deeper we dig. 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. To remind you, this battered Strat 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 (you can read more about the two Strats in the 1965 Fender Stratocaster (Astoria Strat) article).

The scratch on the back of the body of the Stratocaster used at the Star-Club seems to be at the exact same place as the scratch on the Zappa Strat.

So even though the scratches match pretty well on both 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).

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] To our knowledge, 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 like he stated in the interview, but apparently, that’s not what actually happened.

Other Plausible Theories

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 at 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. Unfortunately, there no photos to confirm that Jimi had indeed burned a guitar around that time period, nor does anyone (at least not anyone credible and close to Jimi) remember him doing such a thing.

The only person who could possibly authenticate this guitar, and tell the story behind it is the same person who gave it to Frank, Howard Parker. Unfortunately, Parker went missing in the 70s and no one had ever heard a word from him since.

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.

[…]

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