The legendary Astoria Stratocaster

The Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Finsbury Park Astoria on March 31 1967 and it was the opening night of the “package tour” along with headliners The Walker Brothers plus Cat Stevens, Englebert Humperdink and other acts.
At the climax of his performance, Jimi famously set fire to his guitar. The remains of that Fender Stratocaster Strat then disappeared without trace, until…

In 2008, a burnt Stratocaster was offered up for auction and it sold for £280 000. The sellers claimed that it was the Astoria Strat and that it was press agent Tony Garland who had recuperated it and stashed it in his garage, where it was found 40 years later by his nephew. The guitar that was auctioned looked more like it had been scorched with a blow-torch rather than dosed with lighter fuel.
Something looked wrong. The severe burning “conveniently” obliterated all traces of chips and bumps which would have helped to verify the authenticity.

The auctioned Stratocaster (2008)

Backstage at the Astoria Theatre – Jimi, Cat Stevens and Gary Leeds of The Walker Brotheres.
Everyone looks fresh in the Astoria backstage photos and Jimi would hardly be walking around with his guitar after his performance.
It looks like he was about to go on. Also, we know that after the guitar sacrifice, the Astoria management were furious with Jimi, so we can imagine that he left the venue quite hurriedly.

Jimi on stage at the Astoria.
Note the identical damage chips along the left edge of the Strat.


The logo of the backstage Strat doesn’t match the one on the auctioned Srat
Hendrix researcher Caesar Glebeek (Univibes magazine) did an excellent analysis, pointing out that the guitar above and the auctioned Strat were not the same. Many details didn’t correspond and most obviously the headstock logos (old Fender “spaghetti” logo on Jimi’s guitar but a later Fender logo on the auctioned Strat).

On the left, the earlier “spaghetti” logo on the Astoria backstage Strat.
On the right, the logo on the auctioned Strat.

All this proves however, is that the Strat in the backstage photos isn’t the auctioned Strat.

It has been suggesed that the auctioned Strat is from a gig at Hastings Pier (22 October, 1967). Some fans who were there said that he set fire to a guitar that night.

Did Jimi burn the Astoria backstage Strat? – No he didn’t.

Jimi at the Carlisle ABC on April 7th 1967,
still using the same Strat that we see in the Astoria backstage photos.

Above – a comparison of the varnish chipping on Astoria backstage Strat (left)
and the Carlisle ABC Strat,
and we can see that the photos are clearly of the same guitar a week later.

The Astoria backstage/Carlisle Strat was still going strong for the Late Night Line-Up BBC TV performance on April 17th.
The screen capture from the surviving video footage (right) shows those same damage marks again.


So, if the Astoria backstage Strat wasn’t burnt, then which one was?

Time to look at the guitars that Jimi was playing immediately before the Astoria concert, during his 3 day residency at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg (17-18-19 March). From photos taken at the concerts, we see that Jimi was using two sunburst Strats – one in good condition and one with severe friction damage along the lower edge – what I call the tatty Strat.
Both the Strats had the early “spaghetti” logo on the headstock (so neither is the auctioned Strat).

The Star Club neat Strat (left) and the tatty Strat (right)

This accounts for two Strats, but Jimi could also have had another sunburst Strat at the time: the one we see backstage at the Astoria (unless that neat Strat sustained damage after that photo was taken).

The marks on the tatty Strat don’t match those on the Astoria backstage Strat, so was it the guitar that was torched at the Astoria?
It makes perfect sense that Jimi would choose the Strat in the worst condition for the sacrifice!

One more Strat to account for!

Before he left Hamburg, Jimi purchased a new Strat (March 20th, the day after his Star Club residency).
That was possibly the one in the photo or the red Strat he used on Top Of The Pops ten days later.

Did Jimi buy the guitar we see in the above photo? That was perhaps a 1965 Strat with a Fender “transition” logo. If so, it could be the Strat that Jimi torched at the Astoria.However, it’s unlikely that he would have destroyed a brand new guitar.

…or, was this the guitar that Jimi purchased in Hamburg?
Thats Jimi on Top Of The Pops (30 March 1967), the day before the Astoria performance.

So which of the 3 or 4 guitars was burnt at the Astoria?

Time to look at the Zappa Hendrix Strat

Frank Zappa with his refitted Hendrix Strat in the 70s.
Only the body is from the original guitar which was unusable when Frank received it.

Fast forward a year to the summer of 1968 where Frank Zappa recieves a burnt Hendrix guitar as a gift from Jimi’s roadie “H”. Frank was under the impression that he had been given a Strat that had been torched at Miami.

Frank was asked about his Hendrix Strat in the January 1977 issue of Guitar player:
“Well, there was this guy named Howard Parker – they called him ‘H’ – who was Hendrix’s roadie, gofer and general assistant. He stayed at our house for a couple of months in the late ’60s, and he had this guitar which Hendrix had given to him – I thought it was from the Miami concert. He gave it to me and we had it hanging on the wall as a decoration for years and years, and then I met some guys who were capable of putting guitars back together, so I had it done.”

There had never been a report that Jimi had set fire to a guitar at the festival – until recently!
Over at Steve Hoffman Forums, an eye-witness has finally come forward! Here is what he remembers:

“I was at the Miami Pop Festival (well, both of them) and yes, Hendrix poured lighter fluid on his guitar and set the fluid on fire. It didn’t burn up the guitar or anything. Just a quick stunt. Think he did it at the afternoon performance and not the evening one but maybe the reverse. It was windy and he had trouble with that. I was too young to be on drugs, so the memories are pretty clear.
The audio wasn’t so hot (not loud enough) and I think the Experience was a bit of a disappointment – so many red-hot bands there and the Hendrix band was still pretty green as a unit. I remember John Lee Hooker coming on after Hendrix and was much better, although most people had left by then. Also recall Zappa goofing on the crowd as the Hendrix helicopter touched down during the Mothers set and everyone rushed over to see him get out of the copter.
…the guitar was not consumed in flame. I remember him having trouble with the stunt. We weren’t by the stage so I can’t go into detail about damage or type of guitar. This was not all that remarkable at the time … even some local bands in South Florida would do the lighter fluid bit, often on cymbals. Usually the lighter fluid would just burn off and that was that. Bands like the Who would use stunt instruments when destruction was “in” — I can verify from personal experience, but that’s another story to be found on this forum. Maybe he gave Zappa one of those. Zappa was most definitely there. Anyway, go with your sources if you prefer … what can I say, I was there and that’s how I remember it. Also recall him humping the amps.”

So one imagines that the lighter fuel burned but the flames didn’t “take” on the guitar and the stunt was abandoned. That is the only account to have come to us so far and it certainly doesn’t account for the severe fire damage that we see on
the Zappa guitar.

Researchers have in fact long suspected that it was the Astoria burnt guitar that was given Frank Zappa after the Miami Pop Festival in May 1968.

So now we can compare that Star Club tatty Strat with the Zappa Strat.

This Star Club photo gives us a clear view of the damage to the left edge.

Looking at the edge of the tatty Strat compared to the Zappa Strat – BINGO! We have a match!

Even though the Zappa Strat is burnt, friction damage is still apparent and the scars are identical to the Star Club tatty Strat.
The above Zappa Strat photo has a higher resolution than the Star Club photo but here’s an earlier montage that I made with matching definition and it reveals the parallels more clearly:

Getty Images
Jimi is about to swap his neat Strat for the tatty Strat.

Here is what Dan discovered:

Here we see Dweezil Zappa displaying his father’s Hendrix Strat
and on the back is the huge scratch that we see on the Star Club tatty Strat!

…and here’s Frank displaying his cherished guitar.

So the marks front and back prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Zappa Strat is the tatty Star Club Strat. Jimi had arrived at the Astoria with at least 3 or 4 Strats and only one of which was torched. Logically this would have been the one in the worst condition – i.e. the tatty Strat used at the Star Club – which we already know for sure was given to Frank Zappa!

The burnt and ruined tatty Strat was kept for a while, before Jimi gave it to “H” who later offered it as a gift to Zappa. We do know that the Strat given to Frank was unusable because of the burning: “The neck was cracked off, the body was all fired, and the pickups were blistered and bubbled.” (Guitar Player 1977). This explains why their is little change in the chipping between the Star Club and the 70s photos of Frank with the guitar. It hadn’t been used since the Astoria incident.

One could of course argue that the tatty Strat had been burnt after the Astoria. However, apart from the Monterey red Strat that was torched (June 67) and another guitar at The Ambassador Theater, Washington DC (August 67), Jimi didn’t burn another guitar until his failed attempt in the wind at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 (as far as we know for now).

So the case is closed Dr. Watson.

More about the Zappa/Astoria guitar > HERE




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