Astute collectors proclaim it the most valuable celebrity-owned guitar in history. Mitch Mitchell remembered it as “the guitar Jimi used to take back to the hotel with him.” For his historic Woodstock performance, Jimi Hendrix used a 1968 Fender Stratocaster, Serial No. 240981. Among collectors, this right-handed guitar is commonly known as “the White One,” due to its Olympic White finish. With Jimi’s death, this guitar became the possession of Mitch Mitchell, who kept it out of sight for 20 years.
In 1990, Mitchell brought the guitar to the Fender Artist Centre in London, explaining that he wanted it prepared for auction. He opened the case to reveal that the guitar’s frets had tarnished and the strings had rusted. Neville Marten, the lucky repairman who serviced the guitar, detailed its condition for a 1990 write-up in England’s Guitarist magazine: “The nut had been switched around in its slot to accommodate Jimi’s upside-down stringing method. It had a separate maple fingerboard, something Fender did for a short time in the late ’60s. Cigarette burns were evident on the headstock, as Jimi would secure his cigarette under the sixth string, and when he went off on an extended solo it would burn down to the stub. And there was staining from his shirt on the creamy-white finish. The strings were indeed rusty and the frets had gone a bit green.
“Taking the guitar to my workbench, I checked the neck for straightness and it needed a slight tweak of the truss rod. That done, 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)! It was weird to realize that the last person to restring this Strat might well have been Hendrix himself.” Martin also noted that the guitar had F-stamped Kluson tuners.
“In a final twist, I wrote up the guitar’s story for Guitarist magazine and postulated that it might make £100,000 at auction. Having been asked to submit the article to Fender for their perusal prior to publication, it was suggested I reduce my estimate to £10,000, as the original figure was unthinkable to Fender. In any event, it sold at Sotheby’s for £198,000 – a record in 1990, when celebrity guitars were a new phenomena.”
Jimi’s Woodstock Strat was auctioned again in 1993 for around $1.3 million. Through a subsequent private auction, it finally came into the possession of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Thanks to Mr. Allen, today this guitar is on display at the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, Washington.
In 2002, the museum loaned the instrument to Mike Eldred of the Fender Custom Shop. With video cameras rolling, Eldred weighed it, disassembled it, and made exacting measurements. “We measured the output of the pickups, the neck shape, everything,” Eldred said. The Fender Custom Shop then produced four “exact” copies, known as the “Hendrix Clones.” These are reported to be accurate right down to the scuffles and scratches in the finish. Fender kept one to display in the Fender Museum. The Hendrix family was presented with one, and another went to the Experience Music Project. The fourth, labeled #1, was auctioned in 1993 by Cooper-Owen auction house in London, England. It sold for just under $11,000, with proceeds going to the Experience Music Project Education Charity. “In my 24 years in this business,” Eldred said after completing the project, “I have never experienced any guitar with that much vibe.”
Paul Balmer’s excellent book The Fender Stratocaster Handbook: How To Buy, Maintain, Set Up, Troubleshoot, and Modify Your Strat includes insightful details of the rest of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock setup. Jimi’s amplifier, Balmer writes, was a “valve Marshall made in the U.K., a ‘1959’ JTM 100-watt super lead with no master volume or channel switching, powered by three 12 AX7 and four EL34 valves [tubes] – the so-called ‘Plexi’ amp. Behind him Jimi had 16 speakers in four Marshall cabinets, which he likened to ‘a couple of great refrigerators.’” In recent years, Jim Marshall has offered expensive hand-soldered duplicates of this amplifier.
Between Jimi’s Stratocaster and amp were a series of transistor-powered effects devices. The first in line was the Vox wah-wah associated with the “Voodoo Child” intro. Balmer notes that the “small Fasel inductor coils in the Italian-made original were an important part of Jimi’s distinctive tone.” Next came an Arbiter Fuzz Face, which Balmer describes as “a primitive but effective mini amp, acting as a pre-amp stage to overload the Marshall’s front end, generating a rich harmonic distortion. The germanium transistors were either two NK275s or AC128s. This detail was important, as was the matching of these wayward early transistors: a good, well-matched pair sounded terrific, but if poorly matched, they sounded like a mistake.
“The other effect on the Woodstock stage was a UniVibe (an early four-stage phaser effect first developed in Japan by the Shin-Ei company). The second ‘volume-pedal’ like device seen in the film footage at Woodstock is part of this UniVibe rig.”
And that’s what Jimi used to conjure his magic.
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© 2010 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This article may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.