1965 Fender Stratocaster, as made famous by Jimi Hendrix
As close as it comes to the Olympic White rosewood board Strat that Jimi Hendrix landed in the UK with in September 1966, just before he set the world, and some sacrificial guitars, on fire. No, this isn't one of his, but it claims the birthright and carries its mid-sixties mojo with absolute integrity and unstoppable swagger. A truly stunning guitar!
For the most famous and influential guitar god in the world (probably), it's amazing how little we know about so many of the guitars that Jimi played. So many where the stories vary as to how he came by them in the first place. So many that seem to have been lost, stolen, or destroyed - admittedly, in the latter case, by the man himself. And so it is with the Olympic White rosewood-board Stratocaster he made his London debut with in September 1966. Was it the one that his girlfriend at the time, Carol Shiroky, bought him at Manny's in New York? Or was it even one that Keith Richards owned, lent to Jimi by Keith's then girlfriend Linda Keith, and never returned to Keith? And, whichever it was, where did it go? Apparently last seen in February 1967 at a gig at London's Roundhouse and reportedly stolen that night, never to be seen again. Wherever it started, wherever it ended up, in the short time between its arrival in London and its loss, it was the guitar that redefined rock music - Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, Fire, Stone Free, 3rd Stone From The Sun, Red House - all more than likely recorded on that Strat. Biographers and guitar historians way beyond my pay-grade will continue to pick over the forensics. For most of us, though, it's the music that matters - and the sheer virtuosity and innovation that Jimi brought to it.
Even if not one of Jimi's lost Stratocasters (I wish!), this 1965 Strat is a perfect stablemate. Pre-CBS small headstock, Kluson Deluxe double-line tuners, Fender transition logo, thicker C-profile neck, and a neckstamp, pick-ups and pots that give this a June 1965 production date. All the more beautiful with that aged mint-green nitro-cellulose pickguard. It looks the business. And plays to match. It may not have been in hands as famous as those of Jimi Hendrix, but session guitarist Drew Lowe described it as "the best Strat I've ever played". There's the sound, but it's the feel of the neck in your palm. It just feels right, like it couldn't be better. Leo Fender may have sold his company to CBS in January 1965, but this one's a real deal end-of-an-era Stratocaster that does impeccable justice to the guitar that was first launched only 11 years before in 1954. A proper gem!
See & Hear It In Action
Culture Club, Audley End (2021): It's never front of stage, but it's easy to spot this Strat in the hands of session guitarist Drew Lowe, part of the Culture Club line-up for the 2019 Heritage Live concert series. "The best Strat I've ever played."
1965 Fender Stratocaster, Norman's Rare Guitars: No better place to hear this than in the hands of Norman's Rare Guitars' Michael Lemmo. A mint-green nitro guard, still installed into 1965 as Fender ran down the remaining stock. This one has the original 3-way switch, which guitar gods like Jimi used to set in between positions to get that out-of-phase effect. You'll recognise some of the riffs in this demo ;-).
Black Star Dancing, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (2019): OK, not completely verified, but Gem Archer's Olympic White Strat in this video sure does look like a early/mid-60s Olympic White Strat. Check out his solo from about 4 minutes in. Whatever, it's a great homage to the 1970s Wheeltappers & Shunters Club (for those that can bear to remember that far back).
Be the first to stand up next to this mountain!
Number of Frets
Kluson Deluxe Double Line 6-in-a-row
Fender Fixed Pole Grey-Bottom Single Coil
Fender PAT. PEND. Bridge & Tremolo
This is a Strat that has had a life, not all of it natural. But thanks to the respective skills of luthier Pete Lewis and vintage guitar restoration expert Joseph Kaye, it's back to where it should be, and some. Truly masters of their art.
A bit like Hendrix's Strat, the purchase and early history of this guitar is a bit of a mystery - or, more exactly, a black hole. No-one knows. However, the story comes together in the early-70s when the next owner bought it. At that time, it had already suffered the worst of its mods - the original Olympic White nitrocellulose finish had been stripped off and replaced with a polyurethane finish. Fender themselves replaced nitrocellulose finishes with polyurethane in 1968, so the refinish may well have been a sad, if well-intentioned, effort to bring this guitar up to date.
The new owner loved this Strat, though - and kept it all the way through to 2020 (aside from one "seller's remorse" gap, when he sold the guitar, only to buy it back after a few years in the late-70s). He stuck with the poly finish, and made some minor mods:
A five-way pick-up selector switch. Fender only introduced a five-way switch as standard to new Stratocasters in 1977, but it was a mod others had been making since the 60s, following players like Jimi Hendrix who used to set the switch mid-way between positions 1 & 2 and 2 & 3, to bring in the blend of pick-ups.
A replacement volume pot - the date's obscured by solder, but what is visible is different to the format used for the clearly visible 1965 tone pots.
And then, after almost 50 years of near-unbroken ownership, he sold the guitar in 2020. The new owner was quick to get the poly finish replaced, restored and aged in nitrocellulose, thanks to luthier Pete Lewis. And he also replaced the scratchplate with a 1964 nitrocellulose three-ply "mint-green" guard. Fender phased the nitrocellulose guards out in 1964, but were still running down the stock into 1965, so there are plenty of 65 Strats that sport this glorious mint-green feature.
Just to round the story out, I bought the guitar in 2022. The guard had warped slightly, bringing the neck pick-up so close to the strings that the magneti pull of the poles changed the intonation at higher frets. Which is where vintage guitar expert Joseph Kaye came in to make the final restorations to this guitar:
Heat-treated the guard to flatten it (don't try this at home - nitrocellulose combusts at very low temperatures!)
Replaced the short pick-up height adjustment screws with longer screws to give some more leeway
Replaced the worn nut with a hand-crafted bone nut
Refretted with vintage nickel-silver fret-wire, dressing each fret to match the natural variations in the fretboard - an amazing bit of craftsmanship.
Which means that, apart from the later volume pot and pick-up selector switch, this one's restored entirely to original spec. It's not going to pass the tests for the purists who want every detail to be original, but all I'd say to them is "PLAY IT!" This is one hell of a vintage Strat, and I defy anyone not to crack their face into a smile when they take it into their hands and let it sing!
Sources & Links
The History of The Fender Stratocaster - The 1960s: From Fender themselves - the players, the specs, the evolutions. And "It must have seemed like Jimi Hendrix came out of nowhere!".
1965/66 Fender Catalogue: Thanks once again to the hugely well-researched Vintage Guitar and Bass for these shots of the 1965/66 Fender catalogue - the description for the Stratocaster's on page 4: "Perfection in a solid body comfort-contoured professional guitar". And all for $295.
Pre-CBS Stratocasters: The 1965 page, which covers the early CBS evolutions later in 1965. If you want to see more about the spec for this end-of-an-era guitar, it's worth checking out the 1964 page too - the transition logo, patent numbers, double-line Kluson Deluxe tuners, pearloid dot inlays, grey-bottom pick-ups, all introduced in 1964 and carried forwards into 1965. A fantastic site, with a page per year for every Stratocaster build up to 1965. If you really want to get into the evolution of the Strat from its 1953 prototype onwards, this is the place for you!
All The Specs at Guitar HQ: The finest online compendium of facts and detail whenever you're researching a vintage guitar. A true treasure trove!
Jimi Hendrix's Guitars (1): There may be more definitive books out there, but on the web, there's plenty to help piece together the stories behind Jimi's Guitars. Ground Guitar is a great place to start, with a page devoted to each of his most prominent guitars. This one on "Linda", the most likely Strat to travel with Jimi to the UK in September 1966. As Keef puts it "This is rock and roll history."
Jimi Hendrix's Guitars (2): A little more of a summary version, but some great pics and video to fill out the story, thanks very much to Guitar Lobby.