This is a Strat I’ve been looking forward to covering for a long time. It’s the Fender MIJ (Made in Japan) ‘Hendrix’ Stratocaster, which was, perhaps surprisingly, not listed in the Vintage section of the Fender Japan catalogues. Instead, it would be placed in a small and rather exclusive category - initially, as a ‘Players’ guitar. It’s a very interesting instrument, which epitomises the confusion surrounding Fender and (Japanese manufacturer) FujiGen Gakki’s exact aims, but which was actually a higher-spec product than a lot of people realised back in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
This incarnation of the Fender MIJ '67/'68 'Hendrix' Strat has two string trees (which is vintage incorrect), and narrowly-spaced fingerboard dots at the twelfth fret (which is vintage correct). Some examples had a single string tree (correct), and some had wide-spaced marker dots (incorrect). In addition to this Two-Tone Sunburst finish, there was one other option - Vintage White.
First appearing around 1986, this was essentially a reissue of the type of Stratocaster immortalised by Jimi Hendrix – a post-CBS late ‘sixties model with a large headstock, staggered-pole pickups, and most crucially, a maple neck with a separate maple fingerboard.
The separate maple fingerboard was commercially introduced by Fender in mid 1967 as a makeshift way of bringing back the maple neck, which had been completely dropped in 1959, along with the facilities to manufacture it. All regular Strats had rosewood fingerboards through the early to mid ‘60s, but by the latter half of the decade it was clear that some musicians were very keen to use maple-necked Fenders, and pressure fell upon the company to re-introduce them – which they did. It probably seemed a bit daft fitting maple fingerboards to maple necks, but that’s the only way truss rods could be installed into mass produced Fender necks at the time.
The separate maple board continued as an option (at extra cost) until 1969, when Fender re-established manufacture of the one-piece maple neck. So the maple board was a pretty short-lived phenomenon, coinciding almost exactly with the Hendrix era. And indeed, Jimi Hendrix became well-known for his use of the late ‘60s maple board Strat – particularly in relation to his white ‘Woodstock’ guitar.
The MIJ ‘Hendrix’ Strat reproduced this synonymous feature, but on close inspection there were numerous anomalies, which dropped the guitar short of perfect vintage replica status…
The first inaccuracy was in the scratchplate attachment screw positioning. The MIJ ‘Hendrix’ had the pre-1963 positioning with a screw midway between the neck and middle pickups along the upper edge of the plate. A real Hendrix era Strat would have the post-’63 positioning, with the same screw pushed right up next to the middle pickup.
Next, many, but not all of these MIJ ‘Hendrix’ Strats had two string trees on the headstock. The reason behind this is a mystery to me. Original late ‘60s Strats had a single string tree, so why Fender would go to the trouble of adding a second is hard to fathom. Interestingly, upon introduction, the model was shown in the 1986 Fender Japan catalogue with two string trees, but in subsequent editions it featured just a single tree. Most of the examples I saw back in the day, however, had the two trees.
There were also some ‘Hendrix’ MIJs made with pre-1963 fingerboard dot spacing (wide) at the twelfth fret. This was inaccurate, and the anomaly applied to all the examples featured in the 1980s Fender catalogues. However, it seems the majority of examples out in the ‘real world’ have the correct narrow spacing of fingerboard dots.
Ideally, the MIJ ‘Hendrix’ Strat would have carried Fender ‘F’ tuners (see my Late ‘60s Strat article for a photo), but it instead came with older Kluson replica machineheads. Since the Kluson machines were discontinued around or just before the time the separate maple fingerboard was introduced, you’d really expect a maple board reissue to be fitted with the subsequent ‘F’ tuners. It was feasible for early maple board Strats to have remnant Kluson heads, but it’s certainly not something with which these particular guitars are generally associated.
This UK dealer price list from early 1988 shows the MIJ 'Hendrix' model labelled as a '68 Reissue. But look how much more expensive the guitar is than the MIJ '57 and '62 Reissues. At £379, the 'Hendrix' is in fact the most expensive Japanese guitar on the list, and is priced £30 higher than the American Standard Strat. But it wasn't just product association which lay behind the heftier price tag - the 'Hendrix' was a higher spec guitar, with American vintage pickups - better than the pickups in the USA Standard of the day.
Like a whole raft of these MIJ guitars, there have been disputes over the exact year this instrument is meant to represent. Fender Japan originally listed it as the ST’67-85: ‘ST’ for Strat, ‘67’ for 1967, and ‘85’ indicating the original price in thousands of Yen. But in the UK, I don’t remember the model ever being referred to by dealers as a ’67 reissue – it was always billed as a ‘68. Why? Well, for a start, Fender’s own designations were notoriously unreliable when it came to ‘timestamping’ a guitar’s features. The “66” Jaguar was more like ’62, the “52” Telecaster of 1990 was obviously a ’54, and the “70” Tele Thinline could not be a replica of anything later than early 1969, for example. Therefore, the market would usually form its own opinion on the replicated year when it came to these Fender MIJs.
But in terms of the actual features on the ‘Hendrix’ Strat, much of it was either/or. In the majority of respects the guitar most closely epitomised a Strat made between mid 1967 (when the maple board was introduced), and mid 1968 (when the headstock logo was changed from ‘transition’ to bold black). But the use of Kluson type tuners would not be compatible with 1968, so in this instance, Fender’s ’67 designation did make sense. However, 1967 definitely didn’t make sense in commercial terms, as most dealers would be keen to equate the Vintage White version of this guitar with Hendrix’s mega-famous maple-board ‘Woodstock’ Strat. That’s well known to be a 1968 model, which is presumably why on the UK market and elsewhere, the Fender ST’67-85 was routinely sold as the ’68 ‘Hendrix’ model.
QUALITY AND SPEC
Those who are used to equating the model codes of these guitars with prices in Yen will already have clocked that this instrument cost Y85,000 in 1986. That meant a high grade of instrument, and indeed, this was one of the rare Fender Japan export Strats which retained American-made vintage replica pickups long after the death of the old JV Series. With a good alder body, well-made maple neck, accurate vibrato bridge and superb pickups, this was a very fine piece of work, straight off the rack.
It came in just two colours: Vintage White, and 3-Tone Sunburst, although the catalogues only showed the white version, to my knowledge. Left-handers were also available, and sold pretty well, to right-handed players who wanted to play the guitar the wrong way up, like Hendrix.
The build quality of these guitars roughly followed the standards of the regular MIJ Vintage Reissues through the '80s and early '90s, although, given the higher pricing tier, the 'Hendrix' model would be expected to be less prone to minor beefs, and that did seem to be the case. In summary, the quality was very high, and like many of these lovely Japanese Fenders, a lot of MIJ 'Hendrix' Strats were probably even better than some of the originals upon which they were modelled. I'd certainly expect better performance from a 1980s Fender USA vintage Strat pickup (as used in the MIJ 'Hendrix') than a late '60s Fender CBS job with a thin coil and no wax potting!
Whilst these Strats did have higher status than the regular export Vintage Reissues of the '80s and early '90s, in use there's probably going to be very little to set them apart. The pickups would be the main operational difference, and whilst the regular Japanese 'vintage' pickups were undeniably cheaper, they still sounded damn good, so I wouldn't like to predict which you, personally, would prefer. The 'Hendrix' is not a perfectly accurate reissue, and even the Vintage White one is noticeably different from the real 'Woodstock' Strat (which had the bold black logo, rather than the 'transition' logo adorning the MIJ). But it is now a desirable instrument in its own right. Today, it doesn't really matter how faithfully it follows the detail of any given Stratocaster Jimi Hendrix used. The Fender MIJ ST'67-85 (along with its subsequent model code updates) was a high quality guitar, which, most importantly, had 'the vibe' that all FujiGen's Fenders seemed to exude. Somehow, I sense that 'Hendrix' himself would have preferred one of these to any Custom Shop signature marvel. Vibe, afterall, is what it's really all about.
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