Jimi Hendrix’s 1960s Fender Stratocaster (Tortoiseshell)
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This, for the time – unusual, Strat was used around late 1967. It was first seen at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on August 18, 1967. Less than ten days later, the guitar was seen once again at the Saville Theater in London.
From then on it was played on a few more occasions, but not nearly as much as Jimi’s main white Strat with white pickguard. This guitar seemed to have been something Jimi would use mainly at the end of the set, for his usual routine of smashing it against a Marshall stack. An example of this can be seen at the Blackpool Opera House on November 25, 1967 – which is also likely the last time this guitar appeared on stage.
The Unusual Specs
What’s unusual about the guitar is the combination of the specs. While there have been a good number of white Strats in the early 60s, there were very few shipped with tortoise shell pickguard. Nowadays, these guitars are an extreme rarity. Even disregarding the unique pickguard, the year 1964, which is probably when Jimi’s guitar was made, is the year that many consider to have produced the best Stratocasters. According to Reverb’s price guide, a regular Olympic white 1964 Stratocaster is valued between $14,000 — $19,000. Of course, Jimi paid a fraction of that when he bought the guitar, presumably in 1967.
So, if the guitar was stock and the pickguard was not installed after the fact, it was an extremely rare piece, which probably wouldn’t be that hard to track down if it ever resurfaced.
Please note that the photo above was likely taken on August 27, 1967, and not on October 8, 1967 as it reads on the website. Hendrix played at the Saville Theater on both dates, and Miki Slingsby took photos at both of them, but comparing clothes and stage setup, the photos were likely not taken on the same date. You can compare the differences yourself by going through each of the galleries available at hagsphotography.com.
Hendrix Tortoise Shell Strat on Auction?
A guitar identical in appearance to this one appeared on auction in 2011. The official auction page on Christie’s website states that the guitar was actually owned by Gary Boyle of the Brian Auger Trinity, and borrowed to Hendrix on few occasions between 1966-1967. Jimi allegedly used it on some very early London gigs at The Scotch of St James, The Bag O’ Nails Club, and Speakeasy.
It’s seems impossible to confirm that Jimi used a white Stratocaster with a tortoiseshell pickguard that early on, at least based on the visual clues. On all of the photos available from around late 1966, he is seen playing a white Stratocaster with a white pickguard, which as is explained on this page is most likely the same guitar he carried with him from the US. What seems most logical is that Jimi used Gary Boyle’s guitar on the few occasions on which he didn’t happen to carry his own guitar (sit-ins with other bands), so that guitar wasn’t really something that Jimi used on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, anything that went through Jimi’s hands is bound to be sold on an auction at an increased price. This guitar was sold for $14,126 – which is actually what you’d expect from any 1964 Strat (perhaps not one with a replacement neck, which this one was – according to Christie’s listing). It ended up being sold to the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver, where it can now be seen on display.
From all this information it can be somewhat safe to conclude that these are two completely different guitars. One belonged to Gary Boyle and was borrowed to Hendrix on a few occasions in late 1966/early 1967. The other one belonged to Jimi himself and was used on tour in late 1967.
This, however, didn’t stop whoever put Gary’s guitar on display to also add a photo of the second Strat right next to it, perhaps assuming that the guitar on the photo is the exact same one on the display. The photo seen in the display box shows Hendrix backstage at the Hollywood Bowl, in August 1967, therefore it couldn’t be Gary’s guitar. Hendrix was back in the US, and at that point had more than enough money to buy a guitar of his own. It’s just a very strange coincidence which hopefully makes more sense now.
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