Jimi Hendrix is synonymous with Fender Strats.
They go together like peas and carrots, and there’s many an iconic photo featuring Hendrix with Leo Fender’s finest creation.
But, as any Hendrix aficionado will tell you, Jimi also had a propensity for instruments crafted by Fender’s main rival, Gibson. And, throughout his short but memorable performing career, several of the company’s most recognizable instruments found their way into Hendrix’s hands.
Today, we’re taking a look at what is probably Hendrix’s most iconic Gibson, and where it features in his performing history.
The 1967 Flying V, with its distinctive psychedelic, hand painted design, is probably Hendrix’s most famous guitar that isn’t a Strat.
The date of purchase is unknown, but the earliest photograph of him playing it is August 15th, 1967 at the Fifth Dimension Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As GroundGuitar notes, it’s probably reasonable to assume that Hendrix bought the instrument in July 1967 while he was staying in New York, possibly from Manny’s Music Shop.
What drew Hendrix to the Flying V? Two qualities: tone and form factor. As Reverb Notes, Hendrix’s dalliances with Gibson guitars were likely down to a quest for a more blues-friendly sound, especially as his career progressed. And, for a southpaw like Jimi, the symmetrical design of the Flying V made it easy to flip for left-handed playing.
Hendrix used the V throughout the rest of August ’67, and, upon his return to the UK, it became one of his go-to instruments alongside his white Strat. Photographs evidence its use throughout the guitarist’s European tour of September 1968 and it featured during the recording of French television programme “Dim Dam Dom” in October of that year.
By March ’68, however, the V had fallen out of rotation, when Jimi went back to playing a Fender Strat. His Gibson fixation didn’t end there, though. Later that year, he’d go through dalliances with both a Les Paul Custom and a ’68 SG. The SG would even wind up on national television, during Hendrix’s memorable Dick Cavett show performance on September 9th, 1969.
As for studio appearances, rumors have persisted that it was used on some of the “Electric Ladyland” album, including “All Along the Watchtower.” But, there’s no real proof that this was the case, and the recordings themselves sound very Strat-like.
The ’67 wasn’t the last V Hendrix played. During his lifetime, he also owned a ’68 tobacco burst model and a custom left handed ’69 V. He played this custom model throughout 1970, including his appearance at the Isle of Wight concert on August 31st.
So what happened to the ’67 V? In 1969, Hendrix gifted the guitar to Mick Cox of Eire Apparent. Cox stripped the instrument of its psychedelic paint job and it was sold on through various players and shops throughout the 1970s.
Then, in the mid-1990s, producer and Hendrix collector David Brewis came across a familiar-looking instrument in a guitar shop in Newcastle, England:
“I happened to be in my local guitar shop in Newcastle upon Tyne. I knew the owner, John, very well. He said, "Hey, I've just got a Jimi Hendrix Flying V!" He showed it to me, and I asked if it really was Jimi's. He said no, but it was the same model, and added: "Wouldn't it be something if it was actually Jimi's guitar?" At this point, in the mid-'90s, nobody had seen the Jimi guitar, the one with his hand-painted decorations on it, for over 20 years.”
Following some detective work, however, Brewis deduced that it was indeed Hendrix’s guitar, and with most of the original hardware intact:
“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.”
And there you have it folks, the story of a seriously cool addition to Hendrix’s guitar arsenal.
What’s your favourite Hendrix Gibson? And, what other oddities do you remember the guitar legend using? Share your stories in the comments!