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Today, we dive into the tale of Jimi Hendrix and his lesser-known companion, the Danelectro Shorthorn, lovingly named “Betty Jean” in homage to his then girlfriend, Betty Jean Morgan.

In the early days of Jimi Hendrix’s iconic career, he didn’t limit himself to the well-known Fender Stratocasters and Flying Vs. Instead, he explored hundreads of guitar models, including the Fender Duo-Sonic during his collaborations with the Isley Brothers and a Jazzmaster while performing alongside Little Richard. Yet, amidst this galaxy of instruments, one shines with a unique and legendary glow—the single-lipstick-pickup Danelectro Shorthorn.


Often referred to as a U-1 or a 1958 Danelectro Shorthorn 3012, “Betty Jean” played a pivotal role in Hendrix’s journey. This guitar was his steadfast companion during his time in the U.S. Army, witnessed his earliest jam sessions with Billy Cox, and marked his initial post-service performances.

However, the story of “Betty Jean” takes a surprising twist when Jimi Hendrix traded it for an Ibanez Rhythm Maker at Collins Music store in Clarksville, Tennessee. Following this transaction, the Danelectro “Betty Jean” seemed to disappear into obscurity, evading sale or auction, and fading into the shadows of music history.

But here’s where the plot thickens! In a recent interview on NAMM’s Remembering Jimi Hendrix podcast, Jimi Hendrix’s former bandmate, Billy Cox, shed light on the guitar’s ultimate fate:

He had a Danelectro that had ‘Betty Jean’ on it, And I was told, ‘If you ever found that guitar in Nashville, it’d be worth five million dollars.’ I did indeed find it in its final resting place. Jimi had pawned it to the owner of the Del Morocco, a Nashville club he frequented in the early ’60s, for a meager sum, around $150 or so. The owner held onto it as Jimi never settled the debt. It remained in his possession until tragedy struck—the house where it was stored burned down.

 

The Importance of Betty Jean Morgan on Jimi Hendrix’s Legacy

 

In the chronicles of Jimi Hendrix’s life, May 28, 1961, marks a moment of tender commitment, as he presented an engagement ring to his girlfriend, Betty Jean Morgan, during a street dance. This gesture was more than a prelude to a fleeting romance; The emotional depths of “Red House” are often attributed to this relationship, with both Noel Redding and Jimi’s brother Leon recognizing the song as a soulful ode to Jimi Hendrix’s high school sweetheart, Betty Jean.

During his senior year in high school, Jimi Hendrix’s romance with Betty Jean Morgan coincided with his burgeoning passion for the guitar—an intertwining of two great loves that would shape his future. He not only carried Betty Jean in his heart but also on his guitar, as he lovingly inscribed her name on his first electric guitar—a testament to their profound bond.

Betty Jean’s imprint on Jimi Hendrix music; she was the muse behind his sartorial flair. In “Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix,” by Philip Norman, Leon Hendrix recollects Jimi’s evolving style—how a pigeon feather on his guitar, a touch of red paint, and the name ‘Betty Jean’ etched on it, exemplified his creative spirit. Leon recalls,

Then he painted it red, wrote ‘Betty Jean’ on the front and hung it with the little tassels you used to get on Seagram’s Seven whisky bottles.

Leon also reminisces about Jimi’s bold fashion choices,

Or he’d come onstage wearing a blouse. People used to ask me: ‘Where does Jimmy get his clothes from?’ and I’d say, ‘His girlfriend.’

 

Jimi Hendrix, Betty Jean, and the Danelectro During Jimi’s US Army Service

 

In the early 1960s, Jimi Hendrix, then James Marshall Hendrix, faced a critical juncture after being caught riding in stolen cars. Opting for military service over incarceration, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army. Hendrix’s time in the Army was marked by a profound disconnection between his burgeoning musical aspirations and the regimented life of a soldier.

Stationed at Fort Campbell, his yearning for music manifested in a request to his father to send his beloved guitar, inscribed with “Betty Jean” in honor of his girlfriend, Betty Jean Morgan. The arrival of the guitar became a source of conflict; his obsession and frequent neglect of duties led to antagonism from fellow soldiers and concern from his superiors.

Despite completing paratrooper training, Jimi Hendrix’s indifference toward military discipline became increasingly apparent. His passion for music, underscored by forming a band with fellow serviceman Billy Cox, rendered him unfit for army standards. In 1962, Jimi Hendrix received an honorable discharge due to his unsuitability for service, thus closing his brief military chapter and ushering in the full pursuit of his true calling—music.

 

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