The Ultimate Hendrix Gear Guide - Part 2

In Part One of our epic look into the equipment of Jimi Hendrix, rock historian Michael Fairchild dissected the guitar legend's prodigious use of effects - one pedal at a time - instantly creating an encyclopedic mass of knowledge on this previously obscure subject. In this final installment, the author now turns his attention to Hendrix's guitars and amps - an equally broad subject, but one that surely warrants another round of microscopic rock scholarship. Now for your reading pleasure, here is the rest of Hendrix's rig, revealed at last...

Michael Fairchild is the writer and consultant for the official Hendrix production company, Are You Experienced?, Ltd., and is the author of booklet notes for the Hendrix albums ARE You EXPERIENCED?, AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE, ELECTRIC LADYLAND, :BLUES, STAGES, LIFELINES, ISLE OF WIGHT, WOODSTOCK, and more. Michael is also an editor and consultant/or the Jimi Hendrix Exhibition: On The Road Again tour, and the author of the 1988 historical novel A TOUCH OF HENDRIX and the 1993 short novel, REALLY A STRANGE TOWN.

- Pete Prown - Guitar Shop Editor, winter 1995

BURNING OF THE MIDNIGHT AMP
by Michael Fairchild

The Zappa Strat

"I like things from The Mothers," Jimi once said of Frank Zappa's band. "I like to listen to them. We (the Jimi Hendrix Experience) had a chance to go into that bag because everybody's mind is still open. But we decided that we didn't want to get that way completely towards strict freak-out."

In addition to his connection with Jimi's fuzz face and wah-wah stories, Frank Zappa is also at the center of a bizarre Hendrix equipment incident. In 1977, Zappa told Guitar Player that a Stratocaster he owned was the one Hendrix burned at the Miami Pop Festival. It was given to me by this guy who used to be his roadie. I had it hanging on the wall in my basement for years until last year. Then I gave it to Rex (Bogue) and said, 'Put this sucker back together,' because it was all tore up, the neck was cracked off, the body was all fired, and the pickups were blistered and bubbled. That's the one that's got the Barcus-Berry in the neck. A lot of people thought I had Hendrix's [burned] guitar from Monterey, but it was from Miami; the one at Monterey was white, but this one is sunburst."

Zappa Strat

Jimi set fire to his guitar once in London (March 1967) and once at Monterey (June 1967). He also said that one of his guitars caught fire in Washington, DC (August 1967) - "But that was accidental." However, both Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell of the Experience recall Jimi doing his "lighter fluid routine" only twice: London's Finsbury Park show, and Monterey. He possibly never did it again, certainly not at the May '68 Miami Pop Festival to which Zappa referred. With ABC-TV filming that Miami show, Linda Eastman taking photos, and with multi-track tapes being made, everyone would have known if Jimi burned up a guitar in Miami. The recording of the JHE at Miami Pop concludes with an emcee interrupting their set right at the end of a routine version of Purple Haze. "You know, we've gotta finish!" protests Mitch Mitchell. The emcee butts in: "I would like to ask everybody to do us a favor. We were supposed to be outta here five minutes ago, and there are no lights in the parking lot. So everybody move very slowly, and kind of quick, and we'll do the whole thing again tomorrow." The fact that it's the end of the show that night reveals the Jimi did not climax his set fire (nor even a smashed axe) in Miami. To boot, the next day's show was rained out

"That burning thing," Jimi warned, "We don't do it very much. Let's see, I've done it a couple of times just for kicks, 'cause the guitar might have been broken anyway. It would've only lasted about five or six more performances, so I might as well burn it up, as long as it's still working, so no one will think it's a fake."

Keith Altham was with the JHE in June '67 and wrote about how they "set out to find an 'indestructible' guitar for Jimi?We failed to find the model Jimi wanted, but somehow he later acquired a guitar in Monterey. It was the wrong color but he remedied that by spraying it white and drawing swirling designs all over it with a felt pen."

On the guitar Zappa was given there are a few markings which faintly resemble the patterns Jimi drew on his Monterey Strat. But Zappa's Strat is sunburst, not white. And the guitar seen in the video of Monterey appears to have a red body beneath the white paint. Furthermore, that Strat was also smashed into three pieces, each part then being tossed into the audience. It's unlikely that all of the pieces were collected together and rebuilt into the Zappa Strat. But Jimi's Finsbury Park Strat never got tossed into the crowd after it was burned, and descriptions of the show give an impression that this guitar was much less savagely attacked than the Monterey axe.

Jimi kept this guitar and two weeks after the gig Melody Maker visited him at home and the interviewer reported how Jimi was "fingering the burnt-out wreck of his guitar, which burst into flames on the opening night of his tour with the Walker Brothers." This must be the Stratocaster that Frank Zappa had. (Some concert-goers report seeing Hendrix burn guitars at other shows, but I've found that often their memories are faulty. Still, if any reader has any sightings to report or real evidence, please contact me about it.)

Axes: Bold As Love

Like the Zappa Strat, each of Jimi's known guitars tells a historic tale. Several of his most famous guitars are currently in the collection at Seattle's Jimi Hendrix Museum, where they'll eventually reside on public display. But the earliest report we have of a "Hendrix guitar" comes from bluesman Eddie Kirkland, who remembers meeting a 13-year-old Jimi in 1956. "He was trying to learn how to play the bass," recalls Kirkland. "He had kin people in Macon, Georgia, he came down there in the summer and he said, 'Man, I want to learn; I want to play guitar.' I said, if you're trying to learn how to play bass, just switch over to guitar. We bought him one of those Sears Roebuck guitars, one of them kind they made like a bull's head. And he started playing." Another Macon bluesman, Percy Welch, says, "I remember, Jimi had a little old green-and-white guitar; I didn't pay no attention where it came from. He had it before he met me."

Jimi left that axe in Macon and returned home to Seattle determined to get a guitar. "My first was a Danelectro," he recalled, "which my dad bought for me. I didn't know that I would have to put the strings 'round the other way because I was lefthanded, but it just didn't feel right. I can remember thinking to myself, there's something wrong here. One night my dad's friend was stoned and he sold me his guitar for five dollars. I changed the strings 'round, but it was way out of tune when I'd finished. I didn't know a thing about tuning, so I went down to the store and ran my fingers across the strings on a guitar they had there. After that I was able to tune on my own. Then I went into the Army and I didn't play much guitar because the only guitars available were right-handed ones.

"I play Fender Stratocaster, with Fender light-guage strings, using a regular E string for a B and sometimes a tenor A string for a little E. To get my kind of sound on the Stratocaster, I put the strings on slightly higher, so they can ring longer. The Stratocaster is the best all-around guitar for the stuff we're doing. You can get the very bright trebles and the deep bass sound. I tried a Telecaster and it only has two sound: good and bad, and a very weak tone variation. The Guild guitar is very delicate, but it has one of the best sounds. I tried one of the new Gibsons, but I literally couldn't play it at all.

Black Pepper Strat at Monterey

"I need a Fender. It gets used pretty hard in the act and they're the only make which will stand up to it. I'm used to only one kind of guitar, see, the nuts here are steel. We can play, but since I'm out of tune most of the time, it might slip out of tune a bit right in the middle of a song and I'll have to start fighting to get it back in tune. You might not even notice it, but with the way I play the guitar, it might jump out of tune, and so I have to take away thirty percent of my playing for three or four seconds to get the guitar back in tune to keep playing right. It's really a drag when you're tryin' to play some sounds and the strings slip off the thing up there. We'll just pretend there ain't no strings, so therefore it'll not slip off."

Black Pepper Strat at Fillmore West

Whereas May 1967 was largely the month of Jimi's two red Stratocasters (rosewood neck and maple neck, both last seen in late May); June was the month of the black Strat with rosewood neck. The black Strat was debuted during the 4 June gig at the Saville Theatre in London where the JHE opened their show with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - as if to celebrate the new LP release with that same tide by The Beatles. That's why I like to refer to that guitar as the "Back Pepper Strat." Later that same month Jimi's Pepper Strat was seen at the Monterey Pop Festival and at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, before last being photographed during the free concert in San Francisco's "Golden Gate Park" on June 25.

.

When the JHE were at Monterey, Al Kooper attended the afternoon rehearsals of the JHE and later in 1968 Jimi asked him to do some studio work for the Electric Ladyland release. The story goes that during the session Al admired Jimi's black Strat, and when their work was done Jimi gave Al the guitar as a gift. It was the only black Strat with rose-wood neck - the Black Pepper Strat.

Black Pepper Strat at Monterey

Newark, NJ, April 5, 1968 w/white Strat, one of 3 guitars this night.

Newark Sunburst Jazzmaster

Sometimes by examining Jimi's equipment we find answers to non-equipment debates. For example, photos of the guitars used at a Newark '68 gig prove that one famous story about Hendrix should be "revised". JHE tour light-show operator Mark Boyle is quoted in several books and on film describing how Jimi played a dirge in Newark (April 5, 1968) for Martin Luther King, who had just been assassinated. "Jimi abandoned completely his normal set," said Boyle, "he began an improvisation that was simply appallingly beautiful. The whole audience was weeping...When he finished, there was no applause. Jimi just laid his guitar down and walked quietly off the stage."

Newark - w/Les Paul "Black Beauty"

Boyle's memories suggest that Hendrix played just one long lament to Dr. King, but photos of the show reveal Jimi playing on three different guitars that night: a white Strat, a black Les Paul, and a sunburst Jazzmaster. The band played a lot more than one long jam that night (eye-witnesses, like photographer Michael Montemurro and his friend, recall a one-hour set and Jimi ending with theatrics). In fact, Newark is the only known gig where Jimi uses three different guitar models in one show. Just as unusual are the models themselves. The Jazzmaster shows up only at a couple of other dates, while Jimi's black Les Paul period seems to have been confined to April and May '68 during the peak period of recording sessions for his Electric Ladyland album.

Newark

The Black Beauty was used for blues and its early-April debut waved a black flag of mourning in the wake of Dr. King's death. There exists great 8mm color film footage of Jimi wailing blues on his Gibson "Black Beauty" Les Paul custom axe at a May '68 Zurich gig (see below). Just a few weeks later came Jimi's mid-June jams with Jeff Beck (June 13-16, 1968), featuring a mysterious "Blonde Beauty" Les Paul. Hendrix was photographed playing this axe at a Scene Club jam with Beck, and also in the Record Plant on June 14 during sessions for South Saturn Delta. The blonde Les Paul may have been one of Beck's guitars that he temporarily loaned to Jimi.

Video of Jimi Playing Gibson Black Beauty

But the standard "alternate" guitar for Hendrix throughout 1967 and 1968 was his painted Gibson Flying V. "I've got about 8 guitars," he revealed in '67, "but the two I use are a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Flying Angel, which is shaped like a letter A. What's wrong, haven't you seen a guitar like this before? It's extremely rare in Britain, the only other one I know about is owned by Dave Davies of the Kinks."

Ann Arbor, Aug. 15, 1967

Jimi's painted V debuts in photos from the August 15, 1967, show in Ann Arbor. Two days later a spectacular 35mm color film was made of Hendrix playing his new V at the Valentineo mansion in L.A. There are many concert recordings of Jimi playing this axe; usually he used it for blues. Then in January '69 he gave it to Mick Cox (guitarist for Eire Apparent), who sold it to Mick Box of Uriah Heep. By late '68 Jimi was replacing his V with a white Gibson SG. His SG period ended in autumn '69. In 1970, he began using another standard black Flying V. This guitar is featured prominently in the film Jimi Hendrix At The Isle of Wight (BMG 1990) - but the most sublime of all black V scenes is the transcendent unreleased Maui footage of Dolly Dagger and Villanova Junction (July 30,1970).

But back in late '68, Jimi also broke a major Strat habit. He switched from using rosewood necks to using maple necks. Until this time, all known Hendrix guitars had been with rosewood necks except for a guitar Jimi used for his Europe '67 Are You Experienced? tour. Are You Experienced? was released on May 12 and three days later Jimi turned up in Berlin using a cherry-red Strat with a vanilla maple neck. The most delicious Hendrix color home movies ever seen show Jimi molesting this instrument at his first-ever Swedish gig (Gothenburg, May 19, 1967). Jimi finished out the tour with that guitar and it is even seen on Swedish TV video tapes. But then it's gone, never to show up in photos again (it's likely he painted swirling designs on this Strat at the end of the tour and used it to smash the guitar onstage at the June 4, 1967 Saville Theatre concert in London, when the four Beatles came to see him a few days after their landmark Sgt. Pepper album came out).

The Red Strat's Last Stand? June 4, 1967
Painted for the "Beatles" Smash-up Occasion
Sacrifice to "The Universal Gypsie Queen"
Beatles Stare in Amazement

Central Park - July 5, 1967

Photographs of Jimi on stage between mid October 1966 and mid February 1967 usually show him with a white Strat with rosewood neck. Noel Redding noted that Jimi's white guitar was stolen at the Roundhouse in London on February 22 1967. A sunburst Strat re-placed the stolen Strat, followed by the red axe period, and then followed by the Black Pepper period. Then on 6 July 1967, Jimi's "Central Park" show marked the return of the white Strat. For the next fifteen months this model is seen in about 90 percent of all Hendrix stage photographs, until Jimi enters his maple neck period in October 1968. The rarest exception seems to be the Newark (4 April 1968), as far as I know the only known gig where he used three different guitar models (Les Paul, Jazzmaster, and Stratocaster).

Maple Neck Period - TTG Studios

Jimi then returned to using rosewood fingerboards. This reunion lasted until the San Francisco dates in October '68 at Winterland. The six Winteriand gigs are the last known rosewood shows. On October 24th Jimi was photographed with a maple-neck black Strat at TTG Studios in Hollywood. (The woman Jimi was with at the time of his death confiscated this instrument.) Two days later he debuted his new "Black Beauty" in Bakersfield for the start of his Electric Ladyland tour. The following week, from a November 2nd show in Minneapolis, came the first shots of Jimi's white Strat with a maple neck (photos of Jimi's gear discussed in this article can be seen in the book Cherokee Mist published by Harper Collins, 1993). Until his death nearly two years later, Jimi mostly played Strats with maple necks.

Oct. 1968 at TTG Studios with Sunburst Strat

The "Great Wall" of Amps

When the Experience formed in England during 1966, they had at their disposal amplifiers such as the world had never before seen. One rock tabloid of the day even went so far as to dub them the "Chinese-nightmare-wall-of-amplifiers."

During the '68 Electric Ladyland tour roadie Eric Barrett told Hit Parader, "I have to change speakers after every show. Jimi destroys at least two whenever he plays. I have 16 spare speakers. When he smashes them, I put in the spares and send the broken ones back to New York to get re-coned. Then there's the wah-wah pedal. Most people just touch it with their foot. Jimi jumps on it with his full weight, so I carry about three extra wah-wah pedals and ten extra fuzz boxes. He ruins a lot of tremolo bars too. Very often his guitar has to be stripped right down and built up again...We used to carry a PA system, but it got to be too much to handle so we hire PAs for each gig. We use Altec stuff for the PAs and I carry our own Shure mikes...I use two 200-watt Sunn amplifiers for Mitch [drummer Mitch Mitchell] and four Sunn speaker cabinets. For Noel, I use two brand-new Sunn 200-watters and seven Sunn cabinets. Noel uses Altec 15" inch speakers and they carry very well...I never have trouble with Noel's equipment, but Mitch breaks a lot of bass drum pedals. He very seldom breaks the drum skins...Jimi also burns up a lot of tubes because of the great volume. When a tube burns out, the volume starts to drop. If he's into something and his volume drops, he gets extremely angry. 'Fix it!' he yells."

"That's our road manager Eric Barrett from Scotland. I guess the rest of the show won't sound too good. You're looking at eight blown amplifiers. I can't fix an amp. I'm not an amp repairman. It makes me twice as mad when the road manager tries to tell me that they're overworkin' too much. I guess we have to sit up here. I don't get much set every fuckin' night because of these damn amplifiers. We're playing out of the shadows and ashes of the last gig we did; it's not very healthy. We'll try to pick up the pieces. I think I've got about four speakers left and about three more valve tubes, and Mitch Haze on his third pair of arms."
-Jimi, November '68

New Haven, Nov. 17, 1968

Barrett continued, "At a recent concert we played at Woosley Hall in New Haven (November 17, 1968); the whole place was wired for DC, and amplifiers are AC! We had to find power a mile away on the Yale campus and the only wires that long were very thin. We need- ed two heavy wires that can take twenty amps, but these thin wires couldn't take the power. As soon as Jimi began to play, all the fuses blew! We had to set up new equipment and run two heavier wires. Then, the hall was so huge that there was too much echo and the microphones couldn't be heard. One night Jimi burned out four amplifiers. See, his amplifiers are turned full up and pushing what they're supposed to push, but then the speakers are pushing, plus the fuzz and the wah-wah. There's ofter more power than the amplifiers car take. We've ordered some new Marshal equipment for Jimi. I've told them what goes wrong and they're building new stuff to compensate, plus he wants a lot more treble."

The JHE completed their American tour on Dec. 1, 1968, and took a break until the new year. Another of Jimi's roadies, Henry Goldrich, claims that the Marshall factory then customized Jimi's amps with heavier tubes and re-soldered them to withstand massive volumn shakedowns. When the Experience regrouped in England, Jimi's souped-up customized gear was ready to roll for the January 4th kickoff of the 1969 European tour. But Jimi never got a chance to use any of it. As one Danish paper reported, "The group's newly purchased, special-made equipment was stolen...in London where the group's equipment was locked up in a van. The amplifier equipment and Hendrix's special gear cannot be replaced...he will have to play on rented equipment...the audience cannot avoid the technical hazards that have characterized earlier concerts by Hendrix."

Stock replacement amps were quickly shipped from the factory. Jimi toured the Continent in January 1969 and was plagued by the same nagging drag as before:

"I'd like to warn you now, it's going to be a tiny bit loud for those that forgot to bring ear muffs, because like these are English amps and we're in Sweden and the electricity scene is not workin' out with this Australian fuzz tone, and this American guitar. We're having technical difficulties..." - Jimi

Jan. 9, 1969 Stockholm, Sweden
Jimi Plays Exhausted on 2nd Night of the Tour

Letters to the Editor: Guitar Greaser Rag

MP3 AUDIO: GUIDE TO JIMI'S MUSICAL GEAR - From Minute Musical Details to the Broadest Philosophical Context

[Please be aware that for years the owners and staff at the Yahoo search engine have artificially/surgically removed this rockprophecy.com website from all listings under the words "jimi hendrix." Following the example of Paul Allen, the owners of Yahoo are intent on concealing the insights and research of Hendrix scholar Michael Fairchild, out of sheer pathological jealousy.

- James Sedgwick]