The 1968 Stratocaster – Dreams Realised

“The Guitar that Changed my World” // Jimi Hendrix Style

I remember the first time I ever heard Jimi Hendrix play. The life changing moment came as a 14 year old, stumbling across a YouTube video of him playing Woodstock Festival in August 1969. I remember the dilemma it gave me as an aspiring guitar player – to carry on or to quit. There was no way I’d ever play like this guy, so why try.

What I watched birthed an image in my head that I would never forget! The way he effortlessly played things made my beginner finger ends hurt even more. The way he dressed made me question whether my mum’s wardrobe would suit me better but, more than anything, the guitar he played gave me a new desire in life – save for an Olympic White Stratocaster!

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“No guitar represents a greater convergence of artist, event, and instrument than this 1968 Fender Stratocaster played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock” (guitaraficionado, 2011)

This guitar, rather interestingly, was made during a period deemed as ‘declining’ in quality. After rising to fame since it’s launch in 1954, the Stratocaster (and Fender Electric Instrument Company) was sold to CBS in 1965 for a fee of $13million. Cost cutting meant that the extreme quality of the early guitars was beginning to fall down. The most notable change during this initial period was the introduction of the ‘Large Headstock’ shown below. Hendrix apparently purchased this in 1968 from Manny’s Music in New York City. According to Iconic Axes (2012) “This guitar was a favorite of Hendrix’s and he took pretty good care of it, which was saying a lot for a man who was known to treat his instruments with less than the utmost care. Jimi played this guitar on several occasions both in the studio and on the road”.

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Headstock Changes (Orkin, 2014) 

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‘Woodstock’ on show at The Experience Music Project, Seattle

Anyway, back to the story. After falling in love with this guitar, I found myself a similar model on eBay from 1993 – the year of my birth. I didn’t know much about the differences (and value!) of these early Stratocasters at the time so this Stratocaster was a dream come true to me. The more I dug into the history as a teenager, the more I realised the substantial differences in guitar. Although my 1993 Fender USA Stratocaster was great, it had nothing on the ’68!

After setting up The Music Locker, I decided to set a goal – “Own a 1968 Stratocaster that had birthed the passion for guitars in me”.

So now we enter 2015 – The Music Locker is finding its feet and we’re on our way to Birmingham to see a friend and regular supplier. After purchasing a couple of old Marshall’s, he mentions a guitar he’s got upstairs. After a few minutes of banging upstairs, he reappears with an old battered case. As he opens it up, my dream comes true…partly.

Inside lies a battered 1968 Fender Stratocaster refinished in a horrible dark blue coach paint. The smell of tobacco instantly filled the room and my heart didn’t quite know whether to be excited or guttered.

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Refinished in ‘coach paint’ as it came to us!

After stewing on the second hand tobacco, we decided that the dream we had set outweighed the work needed and we purchased it! On the way home, Martin and I decided to get the guitar refinished and overhauled, keeping the originality as best possible. The original 3-Tone Sunburst finish had long gone but my Olympic White dreams remained. We took the guitar to Colin Keefe, a highly praised local Luthier (http://www.keefeguitars.co.uk) who gave us an indication of the price and originality of the guitar.

After a few months waiting in anticipation, we got the guitar back with a personal confirmation of the originality. When I first opened the case, my heart skipped. The emotions I felt as a 14-year-old came flooding back. My fingers started to hurt again and the feeling to give up guitar playing was again etched into my being. Lay before me was a 1968 Fender Stratocaster in Olympic White.

We decided we’d do all we could to find the original owner and find out some history. After weeks of digging and a few phone calls, we managed to find him. Here lies a snippet of the email we received from the original owner!

“Hi Jono
 
Nice talking with you earlier. I bought the Strat in 1969 from Barratts Music shop in Manchester (then my home town) for around £200. My father paid the deposit and I paid the monthly instalments. It was my 2nd guitar, the first being a Hagstrom Fururama Coronado an absolutely brilliant guitar for the price and now worth a lot of money!
 
I was now a real guitarist with a guitar that so many people on TV had. I had the guitar for about a month when the band I was in got a weekend gig in a caravan park in Carlisle. We decided to use the time on the second day to rehearse a couple of new songs. So, we practised them in the caravan first as the heating wasn’t on yet in the clubhouse yet. When it was time to run through them with the amps them in the club, I put my coat on picked up the guitar case and there was a very rough road to walk over to get to the club. It was a bit icy and I slipped slightly and as I did the guitar lid came open, the Strat slid down this rough, stony road (face down of course) like a surfboard and I was mentally in tears wondering what I would find when I picked it up.
 
Amazingly it was quite badly scratched but still played ok and I had to leave it in that condition for many years because as a poor musician I couldn’t afford to get it done up. If it still has the original scratch plate the bit that is missing by the lower “horn” broke off that day. So, it was 1 month old and already naturally “distressed”!
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(Confirmation of the same guitar!)
 
In 1972 I moved to Cardiff and took some time out and re-sprayed the guitar white. You have to understand that back then there were very few people outside London who could mend guitars. Unlike today when you only need to look on You Tube for help and advice on any subject as I’m sure you know.
 
About a year later a guy in the next street re-sprayed cars for a living and he was a bass player. He suggested I strip the guitar completely and he would re-spray it for me. So, I did and he re-sprayed it with Leyland Jaguar blue car paint which is how you bought it. 
 
Going back to guitar repairers well in about 1997/8 I did find a brilliant one in Cardiff and I took it to him to have it re-fretted and that’s the only thing it’s ever had done to it – by me anyway. I remember him saying he was so impressed with the guitar he used the best possible American fret wire on it. Well, apart from taking tremolo springs off and I may of changed a couple of bridge saddles. Do you know until writing this e-mail it never occurred to me to ask that guy to make it “new” again –DOH!
 
It was a beautiful guitar to play and played it certainly was. It’s been the length and breadth of the UK all over Germany, Holland and Italy. I have 2 more Strats now but they aren’t a patch on that ’69 Strat. 
 
Well, that’s all I can tell you about it. I will see what photos I can find and send them as and when and I wouldn’t mind a photo as it is now.
 
Cheers for now”
It seems this guitar is a guitar that realised dreams. Through Barratt’s Music Shop, this teenager realised his dream. Through The Music Locker, my 14-year-old teenage self’s dream had been realised. And now, having had the joy of playing and owning it, we have put it up for sale for another childhood dream to be made.

http://themusiclocker.co.uk/shop/electric/1968-fender-stratocaster-olympic-white/

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