Back in March 1967, Jimi Hendrix gave a landmark performance at the Finsbury Astoria, London, where he closed his set by setting fire to his Fender Strat. Now that guitar is up for auction and is forecast to command a $1 million-plus price.
Hendrix played the Astoria as support act on the opening night of the Walker Brothers tour on 31 March 1967. Hendrix was only allowed into the UK on a temporary visa at the time, so was determined to leave an indelible impact on the audience. After he'd instructed his press officer, Tony Garland, to buy lighter fluid from a local hardware store, Hendrix redefined the art of stagecraft by setting fire to his guitar at the end of his set. He was then taken to hospital with minor hand injuries.
The guitar has since been in the keep of Tony Garland and remains in one piece.
"We can only find evidence of Hendrix definitively burning two guitars," says Ted Owen, of auctioneers The Fame Bureau. "And because this piece is a one-off original, I feel that this is the most important Hendrix guitar ever to be offered for sale - even eclipsing the Woodstock Stratocaster which eventually sold for $1.8 million."
Though Owen would say that. He's on a percentage.
What price history?
That said, these guitar auctions are weirdly exciting affairs. This MusicRadar writer was at Sotheby's in 1990, at the first auction of the iconic Fender Stratocaster Hendrix played at Woodstock. Everyone in the auction room was aghast when the Strat, sold by JH Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, went for a 'huge' £198,000. It was, back then, the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction.
In 2008, that money wouldn't probably buy you the shoes Jimi wore on that day. And a few years later, the Woodstock Strat was bought - as Owen says - for $1.8 million.
Hendrix famously repeated his guitar burning stunt at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 (see Related Links), but the Astoria Strat remains the only burnt guitar that is fully intact. The only doubt in my mind over the estimated price for the Astoria Strat is this: Jimi's Monterey pyromania was caught on film and on (still) camera. For that reason alone, the Monterey Strat is possibly more iconic.
The auction takes place on 4 September. The auction also includes the last surviving drum kit of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, Jim Morrison's final notebook of poetry and musings before his death from Paris in 1971, and a songsheet for USA For Africa's We Are The World signed by the Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and more.
MusicRadar will be in the front row. With shallow wallets.