Jimi Hendrix's BLACK BEAUTY

by Len Jones & Caesar Glebbeek

Jimi played for the very last time on THIS guitar. Once kept at the Samarkand flat he and Monika Dannemann shared in London during September 1970, it has been (reverently) locked away since Jimi's passing and Monika herself expressed a wish that the guitar should not be handled.




When faced with this legendary instrument, one feels not only respect for Monika's wishes, but also grateful to her for here we have very likely the only surviving example of a guitar played by Jimi still set up the way he liked it (unlike the white, so-called Woodstock guitar which Mitch Mitchell let a guitar reviewer ---Neville Martin--- set up 'properly’ and in the process (wait for it!) he cut the strings and tossed them in the bin! Ouch!).


Opening the guitar case was like opening up a time capsule. This black beauty still had the strings that Jimi put on about 24 years previously. It had a black polyester finish with maple fretboard, and judging by the much bolder black Fender logo edged in gold (CBS Type - see footnote #1) it was manufactured in 1968 (August?).

The first time the Strat pops up in images taken of Jimi, was at the T.T.G. studios in Hollywood, on 21 October 1968. Jimi bought the Stra in California, likely a day or so earlier. From then on we see Jimiplay this guitar n tons of concert

The accessory compartment contained spare Fender strings, his guitar lead, and the lilac guitar strap that Jimi wore at the Isle of Wight (now faded to brown). The gleaming white pickguard has now discoloured with age, and the varnish on the maple neck has faded to a golden brown.

Contrary to popular belief, the famous white maple neck Stratocaster was not Jimi's favourite guitar, his favourite was this black one. Photographic evidence of Jimi's last European tour shows that this guitar was chosen by him in preference to others available to him (including the famous 'white’).

According to Monika, Jimi told her that this 'black' was his favourite, and that when he went to jam with other musicians (or collected a guitar for playing in his hotel), this one was always his first choice.

A close inspection of the neck revealed that there was no trace of any fretwear or pitting of the finish on the fingerboard. This is a surprise when you consider the amount of use the guitar must have seen over its two years in Jimi's hands. Apparently the fingerboard is a critical feature to the sound of the Strat; a maple2 fingerboard contributes to a much cleaner sound, which is probably one of the reasons why Jimi continuously used maple fingerboard guitars towards the end of his career.

The frets themselves appeared to be the original ones even though no wear was evident. The back of the neck was pitted and scratched from Jimi's many rings. The neck itself looked very slim and the fingerboard was of the standard Fender radius of 7" [as with all Stratocasters built between 1954 and mid–1983]. The headstock had quite a lot of scorching where Jimi had parked many a cigarette.

The fifth and sixth strings both passed under the string tree which was originally intended for the first and second strings. It is interesting to note that the bottom E string (thickest) was not wrapped around the machine head post in a direction opposite to the other strings (despite popular opinion that Jimi made a practise of this to prevent the sixth from jumping out of the nut slot). With a little thought it is hard to see how this error in the Hendrix myth arose, since the sixth is firmly held in place by the string tree, as already stated. The action of the guitar, or string height above the frets, was what I would call a medium action, and the strings themselves were surprisingly light (the first was almost certainly a .009, and the sixth a .038).

Scuff marks, dents and small chips covered the body, and where Jimi's rings would have repeatedly hit the body (when trying to reach top register notes) paint and lacquer has been worn away revealing a large area of wood. This often happened to his guitars as a result of him playing the instrument upside down, a practise which made access to the highest notes far more difficult since the cutaway is made for a right handed person. Despite this obvious difficulty, his right hand would fly up the neck and his long fingers would ensure that he got those high notes.

The plastic pickguard on Stratocasters usually have a small gap adjacent to the truss rod adjustment screw at the bottom of the neck to allow for screwdriver access. This gap on Jimi's guitar has been further enlarged for even easier access, suggesting that at some time the neck needed regular adjustment (although now it appears to be straight).

The neckplate bore the serial number 222625 and had the remains of a circular sticky label covering the Fender 'F' logo. The label (possibly) once bore the price of the guitar when Jimi purchased it (now it is so worn that no information remains, although it can be seen on live footage when Jimi lifts up the guitar to play with his teeth).

The tremelo was set up hard to the body and had five springs in the rear cavity. This meant that the tremelo block and bridge could only lower the pitch, and not raise it. Usually with light gauge strings only three springs are used and the tremelo unit adjusted so the pitch could be raised or lowered with the tremelo arm; obviously Jimi preferred it resting against the body with five springs.

The adjustment screw and spring from the bridge saddle on the first (E) string was missing from the guitar – only to be found in the accessories compartment of the guitar case. Since these are used to accurately set the intonation of the first string, I wondered why Jimi had seen fit to remove them; perhaps the screw was simply not long enough to achieve the correct intonation.

Near the rear strap button bright green pieces of insulation tape could be seen. At first thought it was there to hold in place a piece of wood that had been knocked off. Closer inspection revealed that this was not the case; Jimi probably put it there simply to secure his worn guitar strap or his guitar lead to the body.

So, here we have a guitar set up just as Jimi left it in September 1970. A guitar he used frequently between October 1968 and September 1970: for the Lulu TV show, the Royal Albert Hall gigs in February 1969, the Atlanta Pop and Isle of Wight festivals, and most of the concerts of his last tour....

FOOTNOTES:
#1. June 1968 saw the Fender Company introducing a much bolder black logo known as the C.B.S logo (the Fender factory having been taken over by the Columbia Broadcasting system on 5 January 1965).

#2. A glued on maple board is distinguished from a one piece maple neck by the absence of both a walnut spot above the nut and a contrasting skunk stripe on the back of the neck. Stratocasters with maple fingerboards were not manufactured in great numbers between 1967 and 1970.

#3. Currently, Jimi's black Stratocaster is stored in an undisclosed location in England (and no, the guitar is not for sale). Hopefully, the guitar will at some point go on public display....


FIRST PUBLISHED IN UNIVIBES #10, MAY 1993 - COPYRIGHT 1993/2012 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.