Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster (Woodstock)
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This is probably the best-known guitar of Jimi’s. It was used at the Woodstock Festival on August 18, 1969. Before Woodstock however – things are somewhat unclear. It seems that the guitar was used from around the same time as Jimi’s black Strat, around October 1969, but have gone out of rotation sometime in 1969 in favor of a different white Strat that looked nearly identical.
The Woodstock Strat was used probably from late October or early November 1968. Based on the photos available, The Bakersfield Civic Auditorium on October 26th was played on the black Strat and one of the older white Strat with a rosewood fretboard, while the next concert on November 2nd featured a white Strat with a maple neck. One is inclined to assume that this is the Woodstock Strat, although there’s no actual way to prove it. As is often case with Jimi’s guitars, the only option is to speculate.Embed from Getty Images
All of the gigs played from November 1968 to August 1969, were played on either the black Strat, the white Strat, or occasionally a few different Gibson guitars. The white Strat seems to have been used most extensively during the 1969 North American tour, which included the performance at the Woodstock Festival. It probably continued being used in 1970, but this is where all the confusion begins.
The Woodstock Strat in 1970
The white guitar that Jimi used from around April 1970 had a notch on the body, clearly visible on photos against the plain white color of the guitar. The Strat that was used during Woodstock didn’t have this notch, but that doesn’t mean much since Woodstock obviously took place in August 1969, and more than a half of year of use would allow for a few scratches to form on the body.
The thing that is confusing is that the Woodstock Strat is accounted for, and it’s currently sitting in the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly EMP Museum) in Seattle. It has no notches where they are supposed to be. However, given how strong the line of ownership is behind the Woodstock Strat, there’s no reason to assume that it’s a fake. So there either had to have been two nearly identical white maple neck Stratocasters in 1970, or there’s something else at play.
Woodstock Strat at MoPoP
Just a bit on the subject of the legitimacy of the guitar currently held at MoPoP – a note from a different auction of one of Jimi’s guitars reads that two guitars were found in the Electric Lady studios by Jimi’s management around the time of his death – a sunburst Stratocaster that was the subject of the auction, and a white maple Stratocaster with the serial number 240981 (same as the EMP Strat) [Jimi Hendrix Rock and Pop Memorabilia – Christie’s]
This confirms that the EMP Strat did, in fact, belong to Jimi, but it raises the question of why the guitar possibly wasn’t used almost at all in 1970. Perhaps Jimi left it in Electric Lady Studios in late 1969/1970 when he was in New York playing Fillmore East and never bothered to pick it back.
If indeed this is the case, that there were two different white Strats in 1970, it means that the Woodstock Strat was not used on concerts from April 1970 and until Jimi’s death. This is important to note because it is often mentioned in various articles and books that the Woodstock Strat was used on the last Experience concert at the Open Air Love & Peace Festival in Fehmarn, Germany on September 6, 1970. All the photos from the gig show the white Strat with the notch on the body, meaning that it possibly wasn’t the Woodstock Strat for reasons already established (see this photo of Jimi at the Open Air Love & Peace Festival and compare the guitars yourself).
One possible explanation
When the guitar was first discovered in 1990 and was in the process of getting ready to be auctioned, one very important mistake was made. It was completely cleaned. Below is the quote from the person who did the cleaning, explaining the state of the guitar at that point. To see the interview in full, check the source below the quote.
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Cigarette burns were evident on the headstock; and there was staining from his shirt on the creamy-white finish. […] I cut off the strings and threw them in the bin. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Today they alone would probably be worth £50,000 (with Jimi’s DNA all over them)!
Having cleaned the whole guitar and polished the frets the next step was to restring it and set the action. It was weird to realize that the last person to do this might well have been Hendrix himself, as there are well-known photos of him doing it backstage before a gig.Jimi Hendrix Week: “I played Jimi’s Woodstock Strat”
What’s worth noting here is that around the time Jimi started using this guitar, he also started placing cigars in between the strings and the headstocks while playing, and while the cigarettes were often forgotten and burned all the way to the filter, they created those burn marks on the headstock. If you look at the photo above, you’ll notice that in the process of cleaning, those burn marks from the headstock were completely removed.
One could assume that if the notch on the body of the second Strat wasn’t really scratch but just a piece of dirt from Jimi’s fingers, it could be that it too was removed when the guitar was cleaned.
It seems unlikely that a piece of dirt would be so stubborn to attach itself to a smooth guitar finish, and remain there for months, but it is a possibility. One that would make the story of this guitar a lot more simple.
The Woodstock Strat on Auction
Corbin from IconicAxes has done a great job of telling the story behind the auction of this guitar. We recommend reading it since it also contains a full transcript of Mitch Mitchell’s letter of provenance provided to Sotheby’s (the auction house). [Jimi Hendrix’s “Woodstock” Fender Stratocaster – IconicAxes]
In short, the guitar was given to Mitch Mitchell at some point in 1970 by Hendrix, who kept it in his possession until 1991. At that point, it was sold through auction for £198,000 to Gabriele Ansaloni, Italian TV host, and music critic. The guitar was sold once again after only two years to Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder for an undisclosed amount. From that point on, the Woodstock Strat is kept safe at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, founded by Allen in 2000.
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