Jimi Hendrix’s 1963 Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst)
Hendrix was seen using this sunburst Fender Stratocaster starting in late February 1967. Based on what can be concluded from photos and research on his other guitars, it is likely that Hendrix bought this guitar upon returning to London after a short North East tour during which a couple of his guitars went missing.
One of the first gigs that Hendrix did with the sunburst Stratocaster was in Chelmsford on February 25th. Fortunately, a video recording of this gig is still available, although the footage is pretty low quality.
As you might’ve noticed from the photo above, there was another sunburst Stratocaster sitting on the stage. At this point, it is suspected that this is the same guitar that Jimi burned at The Astoria on March 1st, 1967.
Establishing the Date of Manufacture
Based on the photos, the guitar has a veneer fretboard. This means that the Rosewood is arched on the bottom end and thinner in profile in comparison to the slab fretboard used up until around mid-1962.
The second thing to point out is that the layout of the screws on the pickguard is identical to those on the models made in early 1963. Prior the this, the screw between the middle and the neck pickup was more or less exactly on the half point. In early 1963 it was moved closer to the middle pickup. [GuitarHQ – Vintage Stratocaster Info]
Third, the guitar has the old “spaghetti” logo on the headstock, which narrows the date of manufacture to between early 1963 and the fall of 1964. In mid to late 1964, the letters on the logo became thicker (now known as the “transition” logo).
Lastly, as pointed out by Chaz in the comments, Jimi was seen playing this exact guitar in a blonde guitar case. Given that this was indeed the guitar’s original case, it means that the Strat was most likely a 1963 model since in 1964 Fender changed the design of the case to a black Tolex with no logo.
Jimi was seen using this guitar (or one identical to it – no way of proving it was one guitar all along) all throughout March 1967. Most notably, the guitar was used at the Marque Club on March 2nd, which later aired on the German TV program “Beatclub”, and at the Star Club in Hamburg between the 17th and the 19th.
The guitar was also likely used during the infamous gig at the Astoria theater on March 31, 1967, during which Hendrix burned another guitar on stage – for the first time in his career.
To confirm that the guitar was used that night, if you look at a photo backstage that night [JIMI HENDRIX backstage at Finsbury Park Astoria on 31 March 1967 – Alamy], pay attention to how all the saddles are set up. The top five are pretty much all in line, while the bottom E saddle is almost hanging on the side.
Now take a look at the photo of Jimi’s 1963 Fender Stratocaster taken at the Star Club, Hamburg on 18th March 1967. Obviously, the bottom E string is broken here, but the saddles seem to be set the exact same way. The scratch marks also seem to match, although the more recent photo shows way more wear. This is obviously due to heavy use (and abuse) on stage.
This is of course not entirely conclusive, but there don’t seem to be any other guitars from around this period (or any other for that matter) that have the saddles set up in the exact same way.
The guitar that Hendrix burned at the Astoria Theater could’ve been the second Stratocaster in the Star Club photo (seen on the full-size version of the photo above) since there were less than two weeks between the two gigs. The other theory is that Jimi used almost a brand new Stratocaster at Astoria, the one that was recently sold through auction.
The Walkers Brothers tour and Beyond
Unfortunately, there are not that many photos from the 1967 Walkers Brothers tour. On a few of them that are available online, Jimi does seem to be playing on a sunburst Stratocaster, but any attempt of identification is futile due to the very poor quality of the photos.
What could potentially give us closure to the story of the 1963 Stratocaster is a video taken on May 11th, 1967 in Issy-les-Moulineaux (Paris suburb).
The guitar that Jimi is seen using during the gig is most certainly an early 60s Strat, now showing some pretty extensive wear. You can clearly spot the spaghetti logo on the headstock, and all of the other details that we talked about when we determined the date of manufacture of this guitar.
Also, some of the wear does look exactly the same as in the photo taken at the Astoria. Particularly pay attention to the two marks right next to the input jack, and the marks around the bridge area. Interesting to point out is also the black tone knob and the pickup switch. If you look again at that photo of Jimi backstage at Astoria, you’ll see that two of the knobs were missing at that point. That could possibly explain why the guitar had a black knob a few months later.
Be that as it may, the guitar disappeared from mid-May 1967 onwards, and Jimi started using a couple of red Fender Stratocasters instead.
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