After a broom and a dumpster-dived ukulele with just one string, Jimi Hendrix’ first guitar was a $5 acoustic he got second-hand.
Hendrix quickly switched to electric — his first band, The Velvetones, was drowning him out — and it was on electric that he ascended to rock guitar god-dom.
But in Sandspit of all places, there is now an acoustic guitar built from the baseboards, nails, paint, and wiring of the Seattle home where 15-year-old Hendrix first learned to play.
Handmade by Reuben Forsland, a Métis luthier in Comox, its soundboard is made from the fir baseboards of Hendrix’ bedroom.
Inside the silver fret markers are wires and nails from the home. For the rosette, the decorative trim around the soundhole, Forsland inlaid bits of paint from the Hendrix home floor, encased in 150 pieces of ebony.
“That’s what this guy does, all the time,” says Kevin Hennig, owner of SymphonTree Music, a specialized guitar shop based in Sandspit.
Hennig said he first heard of Forsland about 10 years ago, when the carpenter and furniture maker started making his first off-the-wall “story” guitars — including one made from shipworm-eaten salvage wood.
A few years ago, Forsland custom-made a guitar for Slash of Guns N’ Roses featuring Honduran mahogany from “The Tree” — a single tree with highly patterned wood long-prized by guitar makers, and tuner buttons made from petrified whale vertebrae.
His latest is made from a 3,300 year-old Sitka spruce that grew on Prince of Wales island, north of Haida Gwaii.
Besides the detailing, Hennig said the trick with the Hendrix home guitar was making a great-sounding sounding guitar with a fir top.
“Most people have only ever heard a spruce guitar, maybe a cedar now and then,” he said.
“To voice the hardwoods is really, really tough — you can’t just do what you normally do and hope it sounds good, because it ends up sounding like a pillow.”
Another luthier is now in Hennig’s shop, building a guitar that features wood from Haida Gwaii — something Hennig hopes to see more of in the future.
Speaking about Jimi Hendrix, remembered by Rolling Stone as the greatest rock guitarist of all time for the carefree way he drew new sounds from the electric guitar (and its feedback), Hennig said it’s amazing what Hendrix did in just seven years of recording.
Just before he died, Hendrix taped some rough demos for Black Gold, an album he imagined as a series of playful ‘pieces’ well outside rock ‘n roll. Mostly unreleased, tapes are some of the only recordings of Hendrix playing an acoustic, and fans are still hoping to hear them.
It’s true Hendrix had a short career, said Hennig, but “he accomplished a hell of a lot.”