A quirky homage to Jimi’s idiosyncratic Stratocasters delivers sonic dividends at an accessible price.
It’s impossible to replicate the sound, soul, and impact of Jimi Hendrix’s playing. But that hasn’t kept folks from replicating his gear. Nearly every piece of Jimi’s signal chain has been pored over and built anew at some point—right down to cables and straps.
The new Fender Hendrix Strat isn’t the first Stratocaster built in Jimi’s honor. Nor is it some dead-on replica of, say, the guitar he played at Woodstock or Monterey. Instead, the Mexico-made instrument is designed to deliver the most authentically Jimi-like sounds at an accessible, sub-Custom Shop price—largely via use of a reverse headstock and reverse-angle bridge pickup.
A Tip of the Velvet Hat
Purists will contend that Jimi-izing a Strat for right-handers is easy. You just take a left-handed Strat, reverse the nut, and you’re done. At that point, you’ve got everything situated the way Hendrix would have, including tone knobs, pickup selector, whammy bar, and input jack sprouting out of the top left bout. Obviously, it’s not the most practical or efficient hardware layout, but it’s certainly authentic.
For players more fixated on tone than visual authenticity, the Hendrix Strat design is a great compromise. There are plenty of unmistakably Jimi-inspired visual elements. The alder body is painted in Woodstock-style Olympic white (black is also available) and the pickup covers and hardware knobs are a faded, antique white. There are also a few cool “special edition” touches, like a Jimi portrait engraved on the neck plate.The pickups are very nice Fender American Vintage ’65s. Curiously, though, the maple neck has a modern 9.5" fretboard radius and medium jumbo frets rather than the 7.25" radius and smaller frets you would see on a vintage Stratocaster. It’s a detail that can seem doubly strange given that there are other vintage-style, Mexican-built Strats in the current Fender catalog that feature a 7.25" radius. Players that like easier string bending will no doubt dig the change. Hardcore Hendrix freaks may be less excited.
The angle at which the bridge pickup is situated is, of course, reversed, which also changes the relationship between the pole pieces to the strings. The low-E string pole piece is closer to the bridge and string, while the high-E pole piece is further away from the bridge and string.
Fly on—in Reverse Running the Hendrix Stratocaster through a big amplifier with lots of headroom is key to an authentic Hendrix, ahem, “experience.” In this case, an Orange OR50 with four 12" Celestion Vintage 30s did the trick. And boy, do the Strat and the Orange scream together. To my ears, the high-end response from the bridge pickup seems slightly subdued (an as-intended consequence, no doubt, of the reversed pole piece position). It’s still, however, a bold-sounding pickup and very dynamic.
While the pickup position delivered discernible sonic differences, the effect of the inverted string lengths are less apparent. I sensed little to no difference in playability or elasticity compared to my own late-’60s-style Stratocaster. Nor did I hear any appreciable difference in bass resonance or treble intensity from the two pickups that aren’t situated at different angles.
Don’t get me wrong, though: This guitar still sounds 100 percent like a ’60s Stratocaster. If I pounce on an Analogman Sun Face, I get walls of the same teetering-at-the-verge-of-feedback howl that Hendrix made into one of his most essential sonic tools. With a wah in the mix, it’s pure joy.
The Hendrix Stratocaster is no less expressive with a little amp. Combining the Strat with a Fender Champion 600 (with a Jensen Mod 6 speaker) was a sweet tandem for Jimi’s quieter soul ballads or bluesy fare like “Voodoo Chile” (sans the “Slight Return”). The pickups are no more or less noisy than any ’60s style Stratocaster pickups I’ve worked with. And the volume consistency is exceptional, which is especially nice when exploring Jimi’s mellower moods. The neck tone pot is particularly sensitive and has a huge sweep. At its lowest levels it’s great for jazz moves or for expanding the voices of trebly, fuzzy effects.
I was slightly frustrated with the tuning hardware on the Hendrix Strat, simply because it exhibited the same stability issues on the high strings as my own Mexico-made Stratocaster. This shortcoming might be a combination of the bridge and tuning pegs, which feel like they could have been a little more robust.
This is a very good Stratocaster for chasing the Hendrix sound. The American pickups sound authentically vintage, and if you factor their value alone into the $899 price, the Hendrix Stratocaster starts to look like a real bargain. As a player who has customized my own Mexico-made Stratocaster to match late-’60s specs, I can say that the Hendrix Strat is a less expensive way to get the job done. And if the aesthetic deviations from the classic Stratocaster don’t bother you, it’s a very cool way to inch a bit closer, in sonic terms, to the perfect Jimi platform.
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