As the black Strat used by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Festival returns from America to take pride of place in a new British rock exhibition at the V&A, we took the chance to experience it up close…
Back in issue 380, Guitarist magazine reported on the acquisition of the black Strat used by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, by a British collector. Since then, the guitar has been on show at Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, which is also home to Jimi’s white ’68 ‘Woodstock’ Strat, which was sold to Microsoft magnate Paul Allen, the founder of EMP, in 1992.
Now back home in London again, the Monterey Strat is set to take pride of place in a new exhibition on rock revolutionaries. Before it disappears behind glass once more, we were offered the chance to examine this iconic Strat up close at the Groucho Club by its British owner – a lifelong Hendrix buff and guitar collector who wishes to be identified only by his first name, Justin.
To recap on our last report, Justin bought the guitar from Jimi’s US manager Bob Levine, who had had it in his keeping for many years after it was sent to him by Mike Jeffrey, Hendrix’s manager, following Jimi’s death. Levine later sold it to a private collector and provided a notarised affidavit attesting to the guitar’s identity.
It was from this collector that Justin eventually bought the Strat after years of storage out of the public eye. EMP’s curators also conducted a thorough survey of the instrument before it went on show in Seattle and Fender’s own experts have also forensically examined the guitar.
Now at the V&A, London’s prestigious museum of arts and culture, this Strat will appear alongside the burnt remains of the instrument Hendrix set alight at the end of the Monterey set, as Justin explains.
“It’s from the same curators who did the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition, and what they’ve done is put together an exhibition on 60s revolution and counter-culture – and it’s called ‘You Say You Want A Revolution?: Records & Rebels 1966-1970.’
“That’s running through to 26 February next year and they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get some unique items on display, including a piece of the burnt guitar from Monterey and the black Monterey Stratocaster,” says Justin.
“So, this is the guitar that Jimi used for pretty much the whole gig in Monterey and the one that he burnt was the painted one that he swapped in for the very last number, which was Wild Thing. And most people in the audience didn’t even notice that he’d swapped guitars.”
“In learning more about Hendrix’s stagecraft, I discovered he liked gimmicks and performance,” Justin continues. “And it was not all improvised – a lot of it was really carefully choreographed, so I chatted to Tony Bramwell, who used to run the Saville Theatre shows for Brian Epstein, and he was telling me how Mitch Mitchell would use a drum riser – itself unusual at the time, with collapsible wooden supports – so at the end of the show, when he kicked them out, it would look like the whole kit had fallen apart.
“But that was very much by design. Similarly, he said that sometimes Hendrix would have empty cabs where he could poke the headstock through the front and look like he was destroying something important, but actually it was empty inside.
“I’m also friends with a photographer called Bruce Fleming who was a good buddy of Hendrix’s and who shot the British cover for Are You Experienced and they used to hang out a lot. And he was telling me how he was backstage at Monterey and knew what was coming with the setting-fire-to-a-guitar stunt, because Hendrix was kind of pointing to this lighter fuel that he had and making a sort of hush sign.
“So, in that context, the black Strat was the guitar used for what became a great recording, musically – if you listen to the gig it’s an extraordinary performance. But then at the last number he switches to a different axe. So, this guitar is the one he used for the whole of that gig apart from Wild Thing.”
To inspect this totem of tone from Jimi’s breakthrough festival gig for yourself, head down to the V&A Museum until 26 February next year, which will conveniently precede the 50th anniversary of this guitar’s – and for some, Jimi Hendrix’s – finest hour on stage.
The neck is dated as November ’64 but pots are dated December ’65. Taking several other details into account, the Strat’s probable year of completion is likely late ’65 or early ’66.
Narrow-spaced markers at the 12th fret were introduced by Fender from as early as late 1962.
Extensive beltbuckling on the rear is visible on the Monterey footage, but Jimi went on to use this guitar on many additional dates, expanding the area of worn finish.
Jimi’s upside-down and back-to-front stringing that subtly changed the voice of the now ‘reversed’ bridge pickup when in use.
The exposed vibrato cavity today contains three springs only.
Numerous small dings and scrapes attest to the dynamic nature of Jimi’s stage performances with the guitar.
See how the neck graduates elegantly into the headstock.
Note the missing strap button on the conventional longer horn from which righthanded players suspend their Strats.