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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I doubt that Jimi “customized” his guitars – more likely the parts would break or get lost and Gerry Stickells would have to replace with whatever he could find. You didn’t note that on the sunburst Strat Jimi is holding in the photo with Cat Stevens, Walker, and Engelbert, two of the knobs (volume & tone) are missing… otherwise, I appreciate your sleuthing!
Some good information here, thank you. However, one major error: “the guitar has the old “spaghetti” logo on the headstock, which narrows the date of manufacture to between early and mid-1963”. This is incorrect. The spaghetti logo was used on Stratocasters from their introduction in 1954 until mid to late 1964, when the transition logo started being used. The guitar is either a 1963 or early 1964 model – without seeing the date stamps on neck, pots, pickups (if present) and body ( body stamps discontinued mid ‘63) it’s impossible to tell for sure. Serial numbers can’t be relied upon alone to date the guitar – the neckplates were stamped in advance with the number in a large batch and fitted fairly randomly when the guitar was assembled. The numbers aren’t consecutive. Although they generally fall within ranges by year, it’s not unusual to find a guitar whose component parts date it to 1963 for example but with a serial number which corresponds to 1964 (and vice versa). I’ve looked at a lot of photos of this guitar and compared them with photos of ‘63 and ‘64 Strats and it’s really not possible to be sure whether it’s a ‘63 or an early ‘64, given the available information.
“[No photo], unfortunately, shows the headstock in such detail that would allow the serial number to be read.” In 1963 and 1964 the serial number was stamped on the neckplate on the back of the guitar – it didn’t appear on the headstock until 1976. As below, the serial number on early Sixties Fenders cannot be relied upon to date the guitar on its own. The only way to be sure is to check the date stamps on the various components. For the time being all we can say with any degree of certainty is that it’s a 1963 or early 1964 Strat.
HI Chaz. My bad on both of these, should be all fixed now.
Thanks, Dan – and for sharing your diligent research!
Looking at photos from the Star Club it seems Hendrix used both the 1963/64 Strat and another sunburst one with the transition logo and what looks like the larger headstock, introduced in 1966. In this photo taken 18th March 1967 at the Star Club it looks brand new – possibly a ‘66 or ‘67 model?
Yeah, I’ve had this photo on the page before it was removed from Getty. To me this looked like it could be the alleged burned Astoria Strat. Same specs, and Star Club was just a couple of weeks prior to Astoria.
Chaz, I made a mistake. I now remember when I was first research this I though this was a transition era strat, because the logo does look thicker on this photo. But if you look at other photos taken that night, the guitar is clearly from the spaghetti era. Scratch anything I said about it being the Astoria Strat.
Yes, I thought it was a transition logo too Dan at first but looking closely it appears to be a spaghetti one. This seems to have been his number one guitar at the time, and he exchanges it at the Star Club having broken a string for the more tatty Strat – apparently the same one he’s putting away in the ‘63 case later backstage.
Beneath the ‘63 case is a black tolex one – presumably for the better condition Strat, with the broken string. Assuming the cases are original (and Jimi’s putting them in the right ones!) this would suggest that the better condition one which he was playing to start with is an early ‘64 and the ‘tatty’ one is a ‘63. The tatty one with the scar arch on the back, seems to be the one burnt at Astoria (from your research elsewhere. Now modified and owned by Dweezil Zappa (I think you concluded, plausibly). I wonder what happened to Number 1 (possibly the ‘64 allegedly given to Leon – but I’m a bit wary of that story, though maybe?)
Agree. Of those two, at least in March 1967, the good one was the main, while the tatty one was probably a back up. But since the tatty one was so beat up, I really need to go back and see when it was first used. It had to have been way before March. And yeah, that’s a great point about the cases! It could mean exactly what you wrote.
Regarding the Leon Strat (I too am not totally convinced of that being a Jimi guitar), I did a quick search, and that guitar has a transition logo.
Anyways, this “tatty” Strat seems very interesting, especially since the scratch on the back connects it to the Zappa Strat, as you’ve said. There’s a big story hiding in there. Back to research it is.
I also saw elsewhere a photo of the neck stamp on the Zappa Strat – November 1963 – so this would correspond with it being a ‘63 model (though as it’s late in the year there’s no certainty). The Leon one is clearly not the cleaner Strat as it has the transition logo (didn’t spot that!) – I’m not convinced it’s a Jimi Strat either. It would be interesting to find out more about the “tatty” Strat – I’ll look out for any updates!
I note in the Hendrix gear book a couple of sunburst ‘65 Strats are recorded and I wonder if these might in fact be the ‘63/‘64 ones we’re discussing (I’ve never seen any photos of Jimi with a ‘65 sunburst)?
Chaz… this maple strat (pics below) was smashed into three pieces and given to the audience at the Dome in Virginia Beach, VA on August 21, 1968 …at the end of the show. Any thing you can tell me about this, is this the same Strat as above in the comments? Thanks. (Pics by Jamie Jones and Bill Stokley)
So Jimi used the ‘63 Strat featured here at the Star Club in March 1967 together with what looks like a brand new 1966 or ‘67 model. This photo of Jimi putting the earlier guitar away in a case at the Star Club is an interesting one and certainly seems to confirm the guitar is a 1963 model and not an early ‘64 one: that’s a 1963 case – replaced in 1964 by a black tolex one with no logo.
That’s a good catch! I’m however seeing conflicting info from sources, some claim that the change to the case happened in mid 1964. Can we confirm the exact date somehow?
I’ve not heard that the case change happened in mid-1964 – rather it may have been late 1963 if anything. Certainly my early ‘64 P-Bass has the black no-logo case, and all ‘64 Fenders I’ve seen have that case. Though as with anything Fender, there may be exceptions and this isn’t evidence as such – for that you’d need to see the stampings as mentioned – but for me the balance of probability now is weighted towards it being a ‘63 model.
Fair enough. I added the detail regarding the case.
Ahhhh… now I see, one of these maple Strats was played and destroyed/smashed into three pieces on August 21, 1968 in Virginia Beach, VA… at The Dome. Thrown to the audience. Pictures below by Jamie Jones and Bill Stokley. If anyone has further info, I’d love to hear it.
Hi Paul. Seeing how these photos are from August 1968, it’s highly unlikely that this is the same guitar. I’m thinking that the Strat destroyed here could be one of those seen on stage at Miami Pop, which was in May that same year. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know much more than that. For photos of those guitars, scroll down here – https://www.groundguitar.com/jimi-hendrix-gear/jimi-hendrix-1967-fender-stratocaster-white/
Awesome article about a famous guitar…I’m guessing this sunburst was used in some recordings that made it onto Are You Experienced. As an aside, in the close up pic of the Star Club gig, you can see the high E string saddle hanging off because the string was broken. Nothing holding the saddle down, obviously. The Getty Images pic it’s obviously Jimi swapping guitars because of the string break. From the scratches and wear that just occurred over a few months, it’s obvious that Jimi was a bit hard on some of his guitars. As for ‘customizing’ his guitars, a Hendrix bio book written in the late 70s claims he purposefully bent the arm of the tremolo to give it a bit more dive. How he did this, I don’t remember.
Thank heavens someone realised a hanging saddle would be a broken string. Jimi was hard on guitars, this must have happened at most gigs & hence the spare ones parked at back. I do not think he cared for any of them, they were his tools.