Jimi Hendrix never really had a fancy, signature Stratocaster, at least not when he was actively performing and recording. Had he lived longer, Fender probably would have hooked him up with something nicer than the right-handed Strat we always saw him with.
But Hendrix was only 27 years old when he died, and hardly had a chance to build his career as a musician.
Yet, he's recognized as one of the best - if not the best - guitar player of all time.
For his limited career - Hendrix preferred the white, right-handed Stratocaster that he would string upside down so he could play it with the favored left-handed setup. We'll look at the details of the guitar and some alternatives in this article.
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The Hendrix Stratocaster
Hendrix primarily used white '60s Fender Stratocasters, with the slightly larger headstock design. The guitar he played during Woodstock when he performed the Star Spangled Banner is pictured on display, below:
While Hendrix played other guitars, this is the one most often associated with him. Since it was a right-handed guitar (Hendrix played left-handed), the guitar was flipped over and strung for a left-handed player. This meant the low E string was actually brightened up a bit, with the flipped pickups. Higher strings would also come out a little lower with more warmth.
When you think Hendrix, think right-handed Fender Stratocasters with the large headstock design.
In today's world, any kind of Fender '60 Stratocaster model will be fairly close in sound and playability.
Read more: Best Fender Stratocasters
The Signature Model
Yet, long after Hendrix's death, Fender also developed the Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster, with an upside-down bridge pickup to mimic the polling arrangement we saw in the original Hendrix setup.
This is how Fender chose to setup the signature model instead of turning a left-handed model upside down.
Here are some of the highlights of this particular guitar:
- Pure Vintage '65 Fender pickups included
- Bridge pickup is upside down
- Headstock is upside down
- Guitar is technically right-handed, with knobs and pickup selector in the right-handed position (not upside down)
You can see from looking at the pictures that not all of this guitar is backwards like the original Hendrix guitar. In other words, it's right-handed, yet made to have some of the features of a left-handed guitar strung up for a right-handed player.
It can get a bit confusing.
Hendrix's actual Stratocaster would look more like this:
The above picture shows a left-handed Stratocaster strung for a right-handed player, which more accurately portrays what it would have been like to play a Hendrix guitar.
Basically, whatever hand you are, flip the guitar over and string accordingly.
- The actual Jimi Hendrix guitar: Right-handed model, strung for a left-handed player
- Other models or Jimi Hendrix signature guitars: Left-handed model strung for a right-handed player
- Fender's current Jimi Hendrix model: Right-handed guitar with certain upside down components
I would argue that without the "upside down factor" you lose a lot of the feel of Hendrix's guitar. While he had other models and even other Strats, it was this upside down setup that he seemed to always go back to, and is known for to this day.
What about the rest of his rig?
We'll take a look using an old Guitar Geek rig diagram.
The Rest Jimi Hendrix's Gear
Before he died, Hendrix was playing through two Marshall JMPs, four cabs, and a few simple effects. Note that in this diagram, the depiction of the guitar is correct in that it is shown to be a right-handed guitar, where the left-handed stringing is assumed.
Fender Stratocasters and Marshall amps ruled the day when Hendrix was big, so that's all he ever really needed.
It's a shame that Hendrix didn't live longer. Though it's also amazing that he accomplished as much as he did while checking out at just 27.
He's perhaps the greatest guitar player that has ever lived, and certainly the greatest to never really get a signature model. Even those we do have seems to hold some design elements that are not faithful to Hendrix's preferences.
Because if Hendrix were to build his own guitar, would he still want it to be upside down?
I think so.
Because even when he started making a ton of money and could afford whatever guitar he wanted, he still kept going back to that upside-down right-handed Stratocaster.
What do you think?
What's your take on this?
Should Fender put out a Hendrix signature model that is more true to how Hendrix played? Maybe move the volume knobs and pickup selector on top of the pickups?
Let us know in the comments section below.
Corrections, stories, other questions, and suggestions are welcome there as well.
Written by Bobby on Electrics and Roundups
I recently converted a left handed Chinese Strat to a right handed Strat by putting a right handed bone nut on it and setting it up to play right handed. I wanted to understand how Hendrix approached the guitar physically. It is quite different to play like this in many ways. The formerly “upper” bout on a Strat blocks access to the higher frets starting at about the 17th fret so you can’t really play up high. The knobs and trem arm are just a little in the way unless you’re willing to sort of angle your picking arm in a different way, say with your elbow sitting more toward the bottom strap button . But I have to say, the placement of the trem arm keeps your pick or thumb in a better place, for me at least. You can palm the trem arm while picking at the same time while ALSO not really affecting the pitch of the strings with the trem unless you want to. Or you can just flick it out of the way or remove it completely. On a right handed Strat, the low E string only goes an inch or so past the nut before it is wound onto the tuner. When you flip the guitar over, the low E string has about 6 inches to go past the nut before it hits the tuner. The E string will buzz due to the inherent low angle of the Strat headstock so I ended up putting a string tree on the low E and A strings. And as it turns out, most photos I’ve seen of Jimi’s guitar have the tree string on the A and E as well. Anyway, I really do like the left handed guitar strung up for right handed players, There’s just something about the way it feels that changes how I approach the guitar. It’s very cool. But to tie it back to your post, I think if Fender feels like they have to make a buck off this man, they should respect his experience and just flip a left handed guitar to right handed and call it a day.
Hey Rick – thanks so much for sharing this. It’s definitely true that Fender is just trying to figure out how they can make a Hendrix model that’s going to be the most profitable. I would say (like you have alluded to) that it does a disservice to the original story behind Hendrix’s guitar. It’s really an awesome story, and a shame to water it down so much.
I think they literally JUST angled the bridge pickup differently. Otherwise, it’s just a right-handed Strat. 😐