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Five guitars that made rock history at Woodstock


In the summer of 1969 over 400,000 people congregated on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in rural New York State for ‘an Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’. Over the weekend a wide range of 32 acts performed, including Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, the Grateful Dead and Sly and the Family Stone. 

Around 186,000 tickets were sold for $18 in advance, and festival organisers estimated for 200,000 attendees – a vast underestimation. The thousands of extra festival-goers caused mayhem and Woodstock infamously became a ‘free concert’. Despite rainy weather and logistical issues (such as the organisers having to decide at the last minute whether to build a fence around the property to ensure ticket sales or finish the stage) Woodstock succeeded in being a peaceful event followed by a live album and an Oscar-winning documentary in 1970. Seen by many as the apex of the counterculture ‘hippy’ movement, Woodstock was also a pivotal moment in music history.

1. Guild Starfire Bass

Jefferson Airplanes bass guitarist Jack Casady’s distinctive style and sound was developed from a Guild Starfire bass delivered through a Versatone amplifier. This gave his instrument a distinctive growling sound when played in the higher register. Casady played the instrument between 1967 and 1972. Casady said, “as soon as I started playing bass my work quota expanded tremendously, and I started falling in love with the instrument. There was just a certain sound… the higher register of the bass which is kind of going into the cello range that I was really attracted to.”

2. Fender Stratocaster

Jimi Hendrix bought his first Fender Stratocaster from Manny’s Music Store in New York in the summer of 1966. Hendrix went on to fine tune his preference for Stratocasters with maple fretboards and black or white bodies, such as the one he played at Woodstock with his new band Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows. They performed an extraordinary two-hour set at the festival and his wild and raucous playing seemed to distill the zeitgeist of the 1960s. Fender’s revolutionary Stratocaster had debuted in 1954, and it quickly took the guitar world by storm. Unlike Fender’s Telecaster, the Stratocaster had a vibrato mechanism controlled by a pivoting bridge section. It also had three pickups, a double cutaway and a contoured body design. The guitar’s ergonomic feel was particularly popular with players. Unusually, the left-handed Hendrix played a right handed guitar backwards. This was one of the secrets of his distinctive tone.

3. Gibson SG

Pete Townshend, The Who’s lead guitarist, borrowed his first Gibson, an ES-175 in 1966 and continued to play mainly Gibson guitars for a further ten years. From 1968, the single-necked Gibson SG became his guitar of choice for both live playing and recording. This period included the iconic concerts at Woodstock, The Isle of Wight and Live at Leeds and the recording of rock opera Tommy.

4. Fender Jazz Bass

Rick Danko of The Band moved from playing the banjo as a child and teen to the electric bass. He also infamously persuaded Bob Dylan to “go electric.” Danko played many different guitars in the course of his career, as he changed styles and played with many different artists (including Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, Boz Scaggs, The Byrds, Garth Hudson, Sinead O’Connor and Ringo Starr). He started out as a Fender Jazz Bass devotee (the model was first introduced in 1960) and also played a Fender Precision Bass. Later, he played an Ampeg Fretless Bass and moved on once more, this time to a Gibson Ripper Bass.

5. Yamaha SG 500B

Carlos Santana learned to play the violin at the age of five. At the age of eight, he was taught to play the guitar by his father, a mariachi musician. Young Carlos was heavily influenced by popular artists of the time such as B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker. His band, comprised of street musicians developed a highly original blend of Latin-infused blues-rock, jazz, salsa and African rhythms. The group won an immediate following on the San Francisco club circuit after their big break in 1966 and in 1969 the band’s performance at Woodstock introduced them to an international audience and garnered critical acclaim.


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