Hendrix: Beyond the Strat
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At Sunfield, we take pride in producing instruments that keep the spirit of the electric guitar alive. For us, that means making high-quality instruments that are accessible to our core customers, who want gig-quality electric guitars at reasonable prices. You could call them “cheap electric guitars,” but Sunfields aren’t just beginner’s guitars. They’re simply priced differently—for parts and labor—in a bloated instrument market that caters to prestige and huge marketing budgets.
In the past three weeks, we’ve looked at the rigs of two of the most influential artists of 1980’s and 1990’s: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Prince (who also happen to inspire several of our best selling models, like the S.R.V. Tribute and Prince Cloud). Both of these artists are associated with particular, iconic guitars. But neither one of them used this famous gear exclusively. Like most of us, they enjoyed tinkering with different gear throughout their careers. They were searching not only for sounds to fit the songs at hand, but for new sounds to inspire them.
Today, we look at another icon with an iconic rig: Jimi Hendrix. We all know that Hendrix fancied the Stratocaster: he may have sold more of those guitars than any other single artist, and they were instrumental to Hendrix’s iconic blues-rock sound. But like the other artists we’ve profiled, Hendrix made music with whatever he had at hand, enjoyed switching guitars, and was never interested in any single “perfect “ rig.
Jimi Hendrix: Beyond the Strat
Jimi’s first electric guitar was purchased for him by his father in 1959, after years of begging, at the age of 17. It was a Supro Ozark, purchased in Seattle, Washington, where Hendrix grew up. A single-pickup guitar, it was only used in some of Hendrix’s first ever bands before being stolen. (We’ve featured Supro before in our blog on unique pickups). Supro was a brand used by Valco, a major manufacturer at that time who also made guitars for Montgomery Ward (using the “Airline” brand) and Sears (using the “Silvertone” brand).
After Jimi’s Ozark was stolen his father purchase one more axe, another single-pickup guitar, this time a Danelectro Model 3021. He named the guitar Betty Jean, a tribute to his girlfriend at the time, and continued using this guitar through his service in the military. He repainted it numerous times in many different colors.
After his time in the US Army, Hendrix had finally saved him enough to buy his first guitar purchased with his own money. He was ready to graduate to 2-pickups, and selected an Epiphone "Wilshire," featuring twin P-90 pickups. He used this with a band in Nashville he played in briefly after leaving in the military, the King Casuals.
Hendrix’s first break with a bigger band came when the Isley Brothers hired him in 1964. They gave him a guitar as a gift: Jimi’s first Fender. This was no Strat, however, but a Duo-Sonic. Originally intended as student guitars (and at first using a ¾ scale length), Duo-Sonics were a major part of the Fender lineup in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Hendrix’s was a 1959, meaning it did employ the shorter scale length, and probably cost right around $100. Jimi’s version is believed to be light brown, although it appears white in many images from the time. Some images suggest that he installed the unique tremolo unit from his old Wilshire on his Duo-Sonic.
(That's Him on the Left)
Jimmy in fact owned two Duo-Sonics after, once again, the first was stolen (the second was in sunburst). Interestingly, both of these Duo-Sonics came to owned by Patti Smith (and even played by Television’s Tom Verlaine). We believe Hendrix traded in at least one Duo-Sonic when he purchased his first Stratocaster (and we know this only because Steely Dan’s Jeff Baxter worked in that music store at the time).
Jimi was clearly coming to favor the sound of Fender single-coils, as he began favoring Jazzmasters in his later years with the Isley Brothers, and in his work in Little Richard’s band. He owned several different Jazzmasters, which can be seen in many photos from this era.
You can also see his Jazzmaster being played below, in possibly the earliest recorded footage of Hendrix:
We also know that Hendrix briefly used a Gretsch Corvette at this time, though not much is known about how or why he used this guitar:
Laughably, Jimi was unable to find a solo record deal in New York City, where he couldn’t earn enough playing on the local R&B circuit anymore. After becoming friends with Keith Richards and his then-girlfriend (who had first been mesmerized seeing Hendrix live and recommended him to Richards), Hendrix traveled to London in 1966. There, he was gifted a Fender Jaguar by none other than the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones:
Later in 1966, Hendrix would acquire his first Strat as he worked to found the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The rest is history. But Hendrix’s many guitars—even before his death at such a young age—demonstrate how even the best players like to experiment with different sounds (or use whatever they can afford). Playing guitar isn’t about chasing an iconic brand or status symbol. It’s about getting a quality instrument that makes inspiring sounds. And plugging it in.