To most people the truth about when Jimi Hendrix got his first guitar and what types of guitars he played throughout his career is somewhat of a mystery. Although, he was unarguably the greatest guitar player ever, and with his fertile musical mind, perhaps the greatest composer of our generation or ever for that matter. No disrespect intended, putting Jimi in company with Bach, Beethoven and the likes. True Genius.
The path that will be described here is what I would consider the most accurate, after a lot of research and a little voodoo-magic. Realistically though, boiling down the mixture may leave some people to disagree with me, and I welcome the input.
The evidence and consistencies suggest that his first guitar was a cheap acoustic his dad gave to him, as early as eleven years old. The story goes as such, that even at a young age of six years, his school teacher mentioned to his dad, Jimi obsesses over having a guitar so much that it may be contributing to some mental health issues. Not to discount todays teachers, but that was a very perceptive statement at that time.
His first electric guitar was bought from Myers Music in Seattle in 1959. Professed to be a white, single pickup Supro Ozark. The next axe that Hendrix played was a red Danelectro single pickup Silvertone, nicknamed Betty Jean. In’62, while doing some gigs with the King Casuals in Tennessee, he traded his Danelectro for an Epiphone Wilshire, which had dual pickups and a glued on mahogany neck with a solid mahogany body, as opposed to the bolt on Fender Stratocaster guitar necks.
In 1964, Jimi would play rhythm guitar for the Isley Brothers. During this nine month gig, he finally got his first Fender guitar, a blond’59 Duo-Sonic. He next played with Little Richard in ’65, and briefly played a Fender Jazzmaster. However, he switched back to a Dou-Sonic when he played with Curtis Knight and the Squires. Even though Jimi later returned to the Jazzmaster.
A point of interest is that none of the gigs he had with the bands mentioned above lasted very long, because Jimi’s guitar work stole the show. His unbelievable guitar abilities were noticed by all immediately, which took the focus away from the musical-icons he worked for.
Jimi purchased his first Strat from Manny’s Music in New York in ’66 in the summer. Early on he would use a variety of CBS Strats with rosewood fretboards. While he was staying in Greenwich Village in late ’66 and ’67 he narrowed down his choices to a ’60’s era Reverse Fender Stratocasterblack or white Fender Strats using maple fretboards. Which, most likely is the reason the Fender Stratocaster is the most important guitar in the history of guitars and music.
From then on he played Fender Stratocasters with large headstocks. One of his many unusual playing techniques was to play a right handed guitar backwards, or in the left handed position, obviously because Jimi was left handed. In order to do that one must reverse the strings and (bone) nut so the low E was still on the top. My understanding was that he preferred the controls on the top of the guitar. Apparently he could work his magic easier with the voluminous amount of tricks he performed, partly by messing with the volume control knob. Jimi was not much on tone controls or guitar setup. Mostly Jimi spent the bulk of time modifying his tremolo to do things like lower the pitch more than usual and create trem sounds otherwise unheard of.
Naturally Jim Hendrix had purchased and played a tremendous assortment of guitars in his lifetime. During my fact finding mission, this is the list of the other guitars Jimi most likely owned and played; a Gibson ES-330, a Gibson Firebird, a Mosrite electric resonator guitar, a Guild 12 string acoustic, a Black Widow Spider acoustic, several Rickenbacker’s including a bass Rick, a double neck Mosrite, a Hagstrom 8 string bass(it was the on played on Spanish Castle Magic from the Axis Bold As Love album’, a ’67 Gibson Flying V, a ’67 Gretsch Corvette, a lefty Guild Starfire Deluxe, a Hofner electric, a ’55 Gibson Les Paul, a Gibson Dove acoustic, a Martin acoustic, a ’68 Gibson SG Custom and a black lefty Flying V. Wow!
It is not surprising that Jimi owned so many guitars. The depth of knowledge and pure unadulterated playing style was not limited to just electric guitars and Stratocasters. His unique abilities allowed him to play any guitar with the deep soul jarring vibes that were all his. It would be unrealistic to think he was limited to one style of guitar. Or for that matter, one type of music. Jimi’s interest in music extended to the world of classical music as well.
Lost to many, is the fact that Jimi was one of the best rhythm guitarists ever, most folk know him for his lead and solo guitar work, he was also an adept bass player too. And last, he was a master at the acoustic guitar, using chords in a manner unknown to mankind at that time. This combo of skills and abilities produced the man who will be forever the patron saint of rock guitar.
A long article to read indeed. A true joy putting the info together. It turned out to be a long path to find the truth. Enjoy it.