Slight Return: Tracking Down Jimi Hendrix's Wayward Gear

Editor's note: Jimi Hendrix was known to be somewhat flippant with his instruments and gear—hawking his guitars at pawn shops, gifting them, setting them ablaze, or misplacing them as he cut his path through rock history. Below, musician, producer, and Hendrix gear dealer David Brewis shares some stories about some of the legend's wayward guitars, effects units, and other gear he's come across in his profession, including a Jazzmaster he's currently selling.

Jimi Hendrix used a range of musical gear during his short career, and some of that gear had to wait to be discovered after decades of being somewhere else. When this gear does turn up, often it will travel on to other owners, and then… well, who knows where?

Here's a selection of Jimi's gear that comes into that category of a "Slight Return," and all of them I've either found, bought, or verified—and usually then sold through the Rock Stars Guitars, a business I run with Greg Dorsett.

There's always another one. Or is there? And wait a minute, because some of these are somewhere else again. The cycle continues.

The 1967 Painted Gibson Flying V

'68 Gibson D-45, '67 Gibson Flying V, and '68 Fender Showman

Featured since in many publications, this famous guitar was played live and on record by Jimi from mid-1967 through to early 1969, when he gave it to Mick Cox of Eire Apparent. You can hear it on "All Along The Watchtower," "Little Miss Strange" (recorded straight into the mixing board, according to Noel Redding), "Catfish Blues," and other famous Hendrix tracks, and you can see Jimi playing it on video on UK and USA tours.

Chas Chandler told me that at a gig in Belfast, Jimi threw this guitar at his Marshall cabinets as part of the show, missed completely, and the guitar went through a window at the back of the stage and was hanging outside by the guitar cord, feeding back. And still it never suffered a headstock break.

When Mick Cox got it, he stripped off the psychedelic paint job that Jimi had applied in 1967, and then it was sold on through various shops and players (in the mid-'70s, for example, Duane Eddy's rhythm guitarist—possibly Roger Saundersused it on TV on Top Of The Pops). I found the guitar, painted black, in Newcastle upon Tyne in the mid-'90s, with most of its original hardware and still no damage. I positively identified it by matching the wood grain with old photos. Amazing! I then restored it and sold it on to a collector, and it's since changed hands at least once.

Jimi Hendrix - clips from Experience, a 1968 documentary by Peter Neal

The ca. 1961 Epiphone Wilshire

When Jimi was in the Army in Nashville in the early '60s, he used this very rare, low-production guitar, with its factory Epiphone vibrato. It was photographed at various shows—including at the now-demolished Jolly Roger club—and had additions of stuck-on fake block inlays made from white plastic tape. Eventually, its pickguard, truss rod cover, and other parts were painted white to give it an upscale and showy Custom-type look.

ca. '61 Epiphone Wilshire

The guitar was never photographed with Jimi after he left the Army, but it turned up in the mid-2000s through a couple of dedicated collectors and guitar archeologists, who found it somewhere in Tennessee. I had to fly from the UK to Memphis for a day to help authenticate the instrument, and it was then sold to a collector. It still had lots of traces of the white paint from Jimi's "upgrades."

There was no documentation of a serial number or anything from the Jimi days, but it was such a rare vibrato model—with its unusual white paint additions and an altered top nut for a lefty player—that it had to be the same guitar. The wood grain did appear to match up to those period photographs, too, which was reassuring.

The 1968 Fender Dual Showman 2x15 Speaker Enclosures

'68 Fender Showman Cab

Jimi used these hefty, huge cabinets on his 1968 U.S. tour, and they're visible in pictures of the stage at various gigs (including the "Newport 69" festival held at Northridge, California, in June '69), usually alongside Marshall stacks. There were six Showman cabs originally, and they were powered by Dual Showman heads. These were the days when all of the guitar sound came from the backline and vocals went through the PA system.

Slightly later, the cabinets were powered by Fender Twin combos, as extensions. During the tour, they must have passed through the Fender factory for a service or upgrade, as they were retrofitted with 15-inch JBL speaker units, and an appropriate JBL badge was added to the front of each one. Perhaps the original Jensen speakers didn't last long with full-power Showman heads running through them? It's clear that the Fender factory did the work, as its date stamp (during 1968) is visible all over the interior of each cabinet once the back is removed, which itself isn't an easy job, as there are lots of tight-fitting screws.

Two of these cabs were in storage in New York from the late '60s until 1994, when they were sold through Bonhams auction house in London, along with other instruments, clothes, and goodies belonging to Jimi. They were in remarkably clean condition, with the waterproof covers. I bought the two from the auction, one of which later went to Experience Music Project in Seattle, while the other is still in stock.

The c.1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom

Hendrix's Gibson Les Paul Custom

This guitar is mentioned in Caesar Glebeek's book Electric Gypsy as a Gibson Les Paul with a too-short serial number. The original receipt does show this, describing it as an "outfit," meaning a guitar with matching amplifier and case.

An American collector found a Gibson Les Paul Custom from around 1969 with this same partial serial number. The thick black lacquer finish had totally covered the rest of the number, so it was unreadable. Jimi reputedly gave the guitar away while it was still brand new, and the guitar showed heavy wear and tear from a right-handed player. It was sold via Robert Johnson, the guitar collector from Memphis, to a private collector around 2003. Bonhams sold Jimi's matching Gibson Les Paul amplifier in 1994.

The 1968 Martin D-45

Mentioned in a couple of books about Jimi, this Martin D-45 was made in the first year this high-end model was reissued with Brazilian rosewood back and sides, and only 229 were made in 1968 and '69. It remains a highly desirable model on the collector's market today.

Jimi's D-45 was sold by Mitch Mitchell through Sotheby's auction house in London in the '90s, which is how I bought it. The guitar had always been strung right-handed, unlike most of Jimi's guitars, which were converted at the nut to be re-strung in reverse.

I had conversations with two singers and musicians from the musical Hair, and they confirmed that Jimi was seen at a London party with this guitar around 1969, playing country songs and fingering the chords in reverse, playing right-handed. I sold the guitar through Rock Stars Guitars to the Experience Music Project in Seattle (now the Museum of Pop Culture).

The 1968 Carroll Flex-A-Tone

Ever wondered what made the sound like a ship's bell on the masterpiece that is "1983" from Electric Ladyland? The answer turned up in a bag of '60s percussion instruments from Jimi's studio gear that appeared in the 1994 Bonhams sale. I didn't buy any of it at the time.

'68 Carroll Flex-A-Tone

In the bag were claves, a triangle, shakers, and a Flex-A-Tone—"a new sound-effect instrument" introduced by the Carroll company of New Jersey early in 1968. Carroll's promo material said the Flex-A-Tone "is played by shaking to cause wooden balls to strike a tempered spring. Tone may be varied by flexing the spring varying degrees with the thumb," adding that it "may be played with one hand."

When recorded, it sounds like the bell on the Hendrix track, but slightly higher pitched. However, when slowed down using varispeed techniques (usually by recording with the tape machine running faster than normal), it becomes recognizable as the exact sound of the mysterious ship's bell.

If you've also wondered about the noises on the track that sound like seagulls crying, that is Jimi pulling his studio headphones away from his ears and causing feedback through the vocal microphone. Creative, or what? The track is full of impressionistic sounds and effects, and it ends with tape delay panned left to right, sounding like a futuristic aircraft.

I bought the Flex-A-Tone from an Australian collector many years after the original sale, and I sold it on to one of the world's largest collections of instruments. Jimi didn't need a guitar—and sometimes not even an instrument—to make beautiful sounds.

The 1964 Fender Jazzmaster

Jimi really liked Jazzmasters, having used them on the road with Wilson Pickett and other soul acts before he became famous, and occasionally he used them with the Experience. He had a few, at least, and they are hard to track precisely.

Except one, that is, which belonged to Billy Davis, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee who played with Hank Ballard on the original version of "The Twist." He also worked with The Isley Brothers and Jackie Wilson: Billy played that amazing riff on "It's Your Thing," and he's on "Higher And Higher" alongside a moonlighting James Jamerson. He's still playing today at age 80.

Billy was hanging out at Jimi's apartment in 1969 playing Jimi's '64 Jazzmaster, and when they went out to a club, Jimi said, "Don't forget your guitar," and gave it to him. Billy had a shop convert the nut back to a right-handed setup. That guitar is still around, currently held securely by us at Rock Stars Guitars (more info at our Reverb shop). We have a couple of videos of Billy talking about the guitar's Jimi connection and of him playing it. Jimi gave Billy two more Gibsons, an ES-335 and an SG (exact models unknown), but those are long gone.

The 1969 Maestro Rhythm 'N Sound

'69 Maestro Rhythm 'N Sound

This early multi-effects unit, made by the American innovators Maestro, combined such effects as octave, fuzz, and auto wah filter, and also it offered triggered percussion sounds. It allowed the guitar signal to have effects applied or to trigger sounds such as claves and maracas.

The guitar side of the Rhythm 'N Sound is quite good, and may have been used on the studio version of "Star Spangled Banner," as it has a very similar tone, not at all like a Fuzz Face through an amplifier.

I seem to remember a pot date of January 1969, which I noted when looking at the innards of this unit in '94 with an engineer who helped me replace a fuse or some other component (and yes, it works fine now). It was originally offered through Bonhams in 1994 from the New York stash, and I have not used it since but kept it for display or museum use. It's rather like an organ console and cannot be operated as a pedal with your feet, which does rather limit its use to the studio as opposed to the stage.

The 1967 Fender VI

'67 Fender VI

Noel Redding bought this six-string bass in Manny's in New York City, brand new, around May '67. Noel was originally a guitar player and tried this model to see what he could get out of it. He soon went back to his Fender Jazz Bass for most of his work, but he kept this bass around.

When "1983" was being recorded in New York, Jimi played the bass solo on this instrument. Noel wasn't at the session, but he told me his gear was in the studio—his Jazz Bass, the VI, and his Gibson J-160E—and so Jimi apparently gave the VI a try. And it worked.

Later, Noel tried stringing it as a regular guitar, but that didn't work for him either. In 1999, when I was visiting him at his house in Ireland, I asked where the VI had gone, and he said he couldn't remember. He called a few days later and said he'd found it—under the kitchen table. Would I like to buy it? Yes! A few weeks after that, Noel found the original instruction booklet that came with the guitar and posted it on to me. Currently, the Fender VI is on loan through Rock Stars Guitars to the British Music Experience in Liverpool, where it's on display.


About the Author: David Brewis is a musician and producer (The Kane Gang, Prefab Sprout) who has been involved in Hendrix collecting since he bought a Gibson J-200 from Jimi's manager Chas Chandler in the mid-'80s. He lives in north-east England and today he and his business partner Greg Dorsett (in San Diego) run Rock Stars Guitars. More info at rockstarsguitars.com.


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