Jimi Hendrix’s 1965 Fender Stratocaster (Astoria Strat)
This is the guitar that Jimi allegedly set on fire at the gig played in The Astoria, London, England, on March 31, 1967. The gig was the first concert of the Walkers Brothers tour, which also featured Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Unfortunately, not much of the guitar’s history is known. As we discussed in the article about Jimi’s 1963 Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst), he had at least two sunburst Stratocasters in mid-March 1967. The first guitar is the 1963 Strat, while the second one seemed to have been a sort of a backup/disposable guitar, to which Hendrix switched for stunts at the end of the set. Based on photos (explained few paragraphs below) the alleged Astoria Strat is neither of the two and to our knowledge, no one was successful in finding a photo of Jimi actually using it. This is troubling considering the fact that it was sold in 2008, and dubbed as the Astoria Stratocaster – the first guitar that Jimi ever set on fire.
Astoria Stratocaster on Auction
This guitar was put for an auction in 2008, after being kept for more than 40 years by the band’s press officer, Anthony (Tony) Garland. [Scorched Jimi Hendrix guitar sold on Auction – Telegraph] It was sold for £280,000 – which translates to roughly $575,000, to an American collector Daniel Boucher.
The unknown part of the story is how exactly the guitar got into Tony’s hands. Based on the story told by the media, the guitar was with Noel for some time before being picked up by Tony. The official info from the auction itself does not seem to be available anywhere online. If you happen to come across it or have it in your own collection, we’d really appreciate if you would send it to us (just leave a comment at the bottom of this page).
Some of the parts of the Astoria Strat story can be pieced together from the statements of a few different people who were there to see it with their own eyes. According to Chas Chandler, for instance, the Strat ended up with Tito Burns (band’s promoter) after the Astoria gig.
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]
Hendrix himself more or less confirmed this story in his autobiography/collection of letters and interviews.
The flaming guitar thing I did was all rigged.[…] I remember the promoter, who was in on the trick, kept screaming at me and shaking his first, shoutin’. [..] Meanwhile he was concealing the evidence for me under his coat – my burned up guitar that all the police and firemen were looking for. [Starting At Zero: His Own Story]
Tony Garland stated that he was also present during the gig and that he was in charge of getting the lighter fluid.
They said they were going to burn it – so I nipped round the corner to buy some Ronson lighter fuel. It sounds ludicrous – but they were fairly ludicrous days. [Jimi Hendrix’s PR Reveals Truth About First Guitar Burning]
However, according to Keith Altham (author, journalist) who sat with the band backstage that night, the person responsible for getting the lighter fluid was Gerry Stickells. At that time, Garry was Jimi’s roadie and the person taking care of his guitars and equipment.
Chas and Jimi were asking me about what they could do to make the headlines at their gig […] Jimi mumbled “Maybe I could smash up an elephant” , to which I replied “It’s a pity you can’t set fire to your guitar”. There was silence for a moment then Chas said “Garry, go out and get some Lighter fluid”. [The History of the NME by Pat Long]
Of course, people’s memories are not something you can build a solid case on, but it does appear that the only person to mention Tony Garland’s involvement in the story of the Astoria Strat is Tony himself.
Perhaps there’s something we’re missing, and perhaps Tony explained all of the irregularities to the people directly involved in the auction of the guitar, but the story does seem shaky. Next to that, there’s almost a perfect candidate for the Astoria Strat – the guitar given to Frank Zappa in May 1968.
A not so well Established History
So to sum it up, to our knowledge, this guitar – or the one considered to be the Astoria Strat by the public, was never seen in Jimi’s hands in March 1967, and the whole story around it is based on a statement from Tony Garland, JHE’s PR manager, and of course the same guy who actually sold the guitar on auction in 2008. As said previously, Jimi was seen using two sunburst Strats in March that year. Based on the photos available, both were early sixties models with spaghetti logos, while the alleged Astoria Strat is a mid-60s model styling a transition logo. For a photo, comparison see [Did Jimi Hendrix actually burn a guitar at the Miami Pop Festival?]
The photos of the two Strat linked above were taken at the Star-Club, Hamburg in mid-March, while the Astoria gig was played on the 31st. Unfortunately only photos taken on the night of 31st were from before the concert, and show Jimi holding one of two sunburst Strats [Jimi Hendrix backstage at the opening night of the Walker Brothers tour – Alamy] This tells us that Jimi did use one of the early sixties sunburst Strats for the gig, but it does not tell us whether that was the guitar he burned or not.
However, since Jimi used both of the early sixties sunburst Strats at the Star-Club, it seems that the second Strat – the one with a good amount of scratches on the body, would make for a perfect candidate to be sacrificed at the Astoria Theater.
This is of course only a theory, but given the evidence, it is far more likely that that was the guitar that ended up being burned at the Astoria, as opposed to what appears to be almost a brand new mid-sixties Strat which was never before seen in Jimi’s hands. You’re welcome to investigate for yourself, but from the info that we’ve been able to gather, the whole story behind this alleged Astoria Strat is based on Tony Garland’s statement. Without photos, there is, of course, no way to prove anything. It’s basically just Tony’s story versus what actually makes sense.