Sunday 18 June 1967. Third and final day of the Monterey International Pop Festival. On the bill that night: The Who, Buffalo Springfield, Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. But before the Who take the stage, a relatively unknown 24-year-old guitarist delivers a visual and sonic feast that, in an industry whose marketing departments now produce “legends”, is little short of mythical. Jimi Hendrix sets the music world on fire.
Hardly anyone in America had heard of Jimi Hendrix before he played in Monterey. When he made his triumphant exit from the stage, he left behind much more than the broken pieces of his smoking guitar. He violently carved an immortal legend of himself into the face of Rock. The vision of Jimi that still endures is that of an eternally young god, kneeling before his sacrificial hell guitar, summoning the gods to make the flames rise higher with his magic fingers.
From that moment on, music irrevocably advanced, pushing the electric guitar to the forefront, transforming it into a raw instrument of limitless power.
Pamelina Hovnatanian, known professionally as “Pamelina H”, is a guitar decorating artist who has worked on many splendid exhibitions for the Fender Custom Shop. In 1997, she was assigned the task of producing a design for a Fender Stratocaster to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. It was his hand-painted Red Strat Fiesta. In the famous moment captured on film, Hendrix first sprayed lighter fluid on the body, before setting it on fire and then smashing it to pieces. “The only reference I had at my fingertips was a video of the concert, I was given a VHS that I watched in frames.”
Hovnatanian, who had attended the show as a 7-year-old with her mother, was tasked with producing a hand-painted work of art that would “evoke, rather than reproduce” the guitarist’s original work. His design refined Hendrix’s psychedelic bunches and incorporated quirky original features, such as the backstage pass over the body of the guitar. In fact, a matching laminated backstage pass was included with each of the 210 guitars in the limited run. Hendrix’s original guitar was a 1965 model, built during the CBS acquisition of Fender, and features an authentic reproduction, including the “transition” logo.
The final design was approved by Janie Hendrix. The guitar has an alder body, a “C” shaped maple neck with vintage style fret size and radius, three individual vintage style pickups, and has an incredible white fringed leather case included inside the hard case. The limited edition package also included a suede strap in the same style as the case, a vintage-style bridge cover, a “backstage pass” and a metal and leather binder containing the Custom Shop COA, plus an 8 “x10” photograph of Hendrix playing the original instrument. These custom reproductions are now possibly the most desirable Fender production models in existence.
A “Monterey Pop Strat” is known to be almost impossible to find for sale. And not to be confused with the recent release of a made-in-Mexico series called the “Jimi Hendrix Monterey Stratocaster”. The launch price was $6,999 and although Fender made the formal announcement that the Monterey Stratocasters were produced in July 1996, none of the instruments were available until the following year. This fall, Fender will introduce the first limited edition Jimi Hendrix commemorative Stratocaster. This guitar will honour the late guitarist’s explosion.
During his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also played a mid-1960s black Stratocaster with a maple fretboard, which is often seen in photos of the performance. Jimi began using this guitar in late 2003. One of the guitar’s first appearances was on December 30, 2003, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, when John played a set with Buddy Guy and Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band.
Subsequently, the guitar was used at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards on February 6, on several dates during the 2004 tour in support of the Heavier Things album, as well as on many different dates during the John Mayer Trio era.
John’s guitar, in particular, is mostly original, but some modifications were made to it. According to Mayer himself, it had a custom neck with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard and sanded back. John is rumoured to own more than one Monterey Stratocaster.
Jimi’s sister, Janie Hendrix-Wright of Experience Hendrix, concluded: “Jimi really loved his Fender Stratocaster. It was much more than just a guitar to him. It was definitely his instrument of choice.