[back to top]Story of the 1980 Hendrix Stratocaster prototype #1
From its owner, Hunter H:
In the mid-80s (summer of 1985 I believe), I stopped by my local vintage shop, Pete’s Guitars (my friend, the late/great Pete Alenov was a world renowned vintage dealer and a true pioneer, opening his shop in 1974 and catering to the Stones, Dylan, George Harrison, etc.) in St. Paul, Minnesota to purchase a 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG that I had been told had just come in on a trade. After arriving and finding Pete on the telephone, I decided to look around and see if the 61 Les Paul was hanging on the wall somewhere.
While searching, my eyes were immediately drawn to a very odd-looking Fender Stratocaster on display. I forgot all about the 61 LP and decided to pull down the Strat. I had never seen another like it….upside down headstock and an additional contour on the front (popup image) of the body. The questions running through my mind were soon answered when I read the words “Original Prototype, Fender Musical Instruments, Not for resale”, stamped (inked) onto the back of the headstock.
By now Pete was off the phone and he asked if I wanted to see the 61 LP we had discussed. “No,” I answered, “forget the Les Paul. How much for this Stratocaster?” Pete went on to explain that he had talked to his personal friends at Fender and they had informed him that the guitar was supposed to be called the “Jimi Hendrix” model but, being unable to get clearance from Hendrix’s estate, a total of 4-5 prototypes were made in 1979-80 before the plans had to be abandoned. This one, he said, was marked #2 under the pickguard, being the second prototype made.
Being a huge “Jimi” fan I had to have it. “How much?”, I asked. $1,750 was his answer, exactly $500 more than the price of the 61 SG LP I had come to buy, and $500 more than I had with me. I immediately said, “I’ll take it,” and asked if a $1,250 deposit would hold it until the following Monday (this was on a Friday). “No problem,” answered Pete, and we went to the counter to write it up (I still have the receipt). I was extremely excited about making the purchase and was very anxious to get to the bank Monday to withdraw the remainder of the funds and come back.
Meanwhile, the next night (Saturday), Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing at a outdoor festival called “Riverplace”. A good friend of mine had acquired backstage passes, which was pretty exciting, and I was equally excited about seeing the show.
SRV was red hot that night, I still get chills thinking of his performance – way over the top. At the end of the night, Stevie walked off stage and as the lights went down the crowd began to scream for “one more, one more”. Stevie walked back on stage with his back to the crowd and began to tweak his amp. Suddenly, he started the intro to “Voodoo Chile” and as he burst into the song he turned around to face the crowd.
I was stunned! Shocked! He was playing a Hendrix prototype exactly like the one I had just bought! I was thrilled! SRV has a guitar just like mine, I thought. How cool.
The following Monday when I excitedly walked through the door to Pete’s and saw the look on Pete’s face, I knew something was amiss. No…he didn’t, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t…”Look I’m very sorry,” he said, “but Stevie refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. He was not going to leave the shop without that guitar.” As disappointed as I was I was also a big SRV fan I thought if he had sold it to anyone else… but certainly SRV was more deserving than I and maybe I’d find one in the future.
Fast forward 15 years to 2000. I somehow ( to this day neither of us has any idea how we were first introduced) found a gentlemen/police officer (thanks again, John) in NYC who had a long time ago acquired a 1980 Fender Hendrix prototype! He described the guitar as being in excellent condition, and also said the guitar had survived a fire in which just about everything in the building was destroyed except this instrument! He also said he had and would include in the sale a “brand new” 60s Vox Wah pedal and about eighty, super rare, early Jimi Hendrix albums including some impossibly rare bootlegs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to buy it all at the time and he informed me that he was going to try selling it online!
“Oh no!”, I thought, it’ll be gone forever. I looked for it online but was unable to find it. I called John and he informed me that because the back of the headstock read “Not for Resale” the auctioneer had immediately (1-2 hours after posting) canceled his auction! I asked if he would be willing to hold it for me until I could get the money together and he agreed.
Almost two years later I had finally saved enough money to get the guitar, albums, and pedal, and called John. He still had them! I couldn’t believe it. I made arrangements for payment and delivery and anxiously awaited the arrival.
When I opened the case I was stunned! It was absolutely beautiful! The finish had turned a golden “butterscotch” color and the neck had taken on a golden almost “aged” look, maybe the result of the fire? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the batch or mixture of nitrocellulose lacquer used the day they finished it. Maybe, but it looks great and is very unique – I have never seen another like it.
I then noticed something else that was unusual. The headstock (popup image) only had one string tree. In the Andre Duchossoir book I had, there were pictures of two of the other known Hendrix prototypes, SRV’s and collector Perry Margouleff’s, and I could see in the pictures they both had two string trees. Now, if mine had two and the others had just one, I would think maybe someone added one to mine, and if just one of the others and mine had one I would think someone added one to the other guitar, but they both had two and mine had only one.
Curiosity was killing me so I carefully removed the pickguard screws and peeked under the pickguard. There, plain as day, was a stamp that said #One! I almost fell over! What could be the only thing better than owning the number two Hendrix prototype that SRV had acquired instead of me?
One thing…owning #1!
Voodoo? There’s more to the story. Part of the reason it had taken two years to put the money together for the guitar was the fact that my wife and I were expecting twins. A couple months after I got the guitar the twins (Hunter and Hailey) were born on October 3, 2001 – on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Birthday!
There are numerous articles and videos of Stevie playing the 1980 Hendrix prototype and he considered it one of his favorites with good reason. He used it mostly when he played Jimi Hendrix songs but it also was the main instrument when he played…. get this…. “SUPERSTITION” and when he played “Willie the Wimp”.
I think because of the fact that they were prototypes, they were probably “handmade” and a lot more time and consideration went into making them. I never had the chance to sit down and play Stevie’s, but this one is the pinnacle of Fender Stratocaster tone and playability, and definitely the very first and original Fender Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo” Stratocaster.
[Images: All images in this section (above and below) of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Michael Insuaste, copyright 2004, all rights reserved, courtesy of Hunter H. All images in this section of the 1980 Hendrix Stratocaster (including popups) are of prototype #1 belonging to Hunter H, courtesy of Hunter H.]