Jerry Garcia played some very unique guitars over his long career with the Grateful Dead and with The Jerry Garcia Band. How he came to acquire each of them is equally unique.
|Doug Irwin's Wolf guitar|
Irwin tells the story that he was in the back of the store putting pickups on that particular guitar.
|Wolf with modifications|
|Garcia with Guild Starfire III|
a Les Paul with P-90 pickups through 3 Fender Twin Reverb amplifiers that were driving two cabinets, each of which was equipped with 4 twelve inch JBL D120 speakers. By 1968 Garcia was playing a 1967 Gibson SG standard that was equipped with humbucking pickups and an American flag sticker.
Alligator. While play concerts with Delaney and Bonnie, Garcia played the rosewood Telecaster that George Harrison had given to Delaney Bramlett. After that Garcia was hooked on the feel of Fenders.
Garcia proceeded to make numerous modifications on the guitar. The finish was sanded off the guitar to reveal the original swamp ash wooden body. Garcia did not use the guitars vibrato bar and wanted it gone. In its place he wanted a built in effects loop. An effects loop is a device placed between the preamp EQ section and the power amp of an amplifier.
A lot of guys were using effects loops back when the amps did not have Gain controls; i.e. old Fender amps, though Jerry is the first I have heard of to have this mounted inside his guitar.
|How an effects loop works|
|2 output jacks|
|Alembic Strat-O-Blaster circuit|
The other output jack went to the amplifier between the preamp section, and the power amp section.
|Note the Reverb In and Reverb Out|
Amp builders eventually put this feature on amplifiers. However when you think of old Marshall and Fender amps, this feature did not exist. The tremolo was built into the circuit. The reverb on old Fenders did have an IN and Out jack on the back side that was hooked for the jacks coming from the Hammond reverb unit. This essentially was an effects loop.
This may be a good time to point out the changes that The Grateful Dead brought about to the live music industry.
|The Beatles - House Sound System|
They may have been great performers, but the sound heard by the audience was a crap shoot.
|The Grateful Dead Sound System|
Furman Sound, Meyer Sound and Alembic guitars and basses are in business to this day making musicians sound better than ever because of the Grateful Dead.
|Replica with Strat O Blaster Circuit|
To make this modification, the original route were most Strat output jacks are placed was elongated. To cover up the defect, another brass plated was used. A brass nut was also installed to give Jerry’s guitar a brighter sound. Jerry found some stickers at a truck stop including the one with an alligator holding a knife and fork that he placed on the guitars pickguard. Thus, the Alligator was born.
Jerry played this guitar between 1971 and 1973. It is estimated that Garcia owned around 25 guitars that he used while playing with The Grateful Dead.
|Doug Irwin made Wolf guitar|
Irwin had just started building guitars at Alembic. This was a company run by Ron Wickersham, an electronics and sound expert that previously worked for Ampex, Rick Turner, a luthier and guitarist, and Bob Matthews, a recording engineer.
The company started in a rehearsal room for the Grateful Dead, so there was an immediate connection between Alembic and the band.
This was the guitar that Jerry found when he came from the music store that where Irwin was employed. This guitar had humbucking pickups. At the time Garcia preferred the sound of his Stratocaster with single coil pickups.
Garcia asked him to build him another guitar. Irwin took a cue from this and created The Wolf, which he sold to Jerry Garcia in 1972 for $850. Garcia played this guitar for more than 20 years.
|Wolf with 3 single coils|
In later years the middle and bridge single coil pickups were swapped out for humbuckers. This was an easy change because Irwin configured the pickups on a metal plate. In fact it was Irwin who created both plates for the guitar.
The electronics are accessible from a plate on the guitars back side and they are shielded.
The tuning machines are Schaller’s and made of chromed nickel as is the bridge. This was the first guitar Irwin built that had the D shaped headstock that he used on other guitars he made as his trademark. On the headstock was the inlay of a peacock done in mother-of-pearl.
|Irwin made Tiger guitar|
Once again, the pickups were a single coil in the neck position; the bridge and middle pickups were DiMarzio Dual Sound humbuckers. Jerry could get 12 distinctly different tones from that guitar and he loved that. Jerry loved the fact that he could control his guitars sounds with the flick of a switch on the guitar.
Irwin did many modifications to this guitar throughout the years, including changing the original Fender style single coil to a P-90 style single coil. The guitar included a five-way pickup selector switch and a master volume control, two separate tone-orbit controls and three mini toggle switches; one was to turn off the built in effects loop and the other two were coil taps.
The Tiger featured a mother-of-pearl inlay of a white tiger on the guitars face that was framed in brass. The head stock feature an ebony veneer surface with the signature Irwin mother-of-pearl eagle
|Doug Irwin made Rosebud|
|The Saint aka Rosebud|
The lightening bolt design is made from mother-of-pearl. The headstock not only has an unusual shape, but an unusual design as well.
|Note the large neck volute|
When he first laid hands on it Jerry remarked, “This is the guitar that I’ve always been waiting for.”
|Steve Cripe made "Top Hat"|
The 9 ply neck was made of laminated maple and rosewood and topped with a bound ebony fret board with mostly ivory double block inlays. The inlay at the 9th fret is a single block. The ivory came from recycled ivory. The top hat inlay that adorns the front of the body is made of warthog tusk. This is actually a cover to conceal the batteries. The Schaller hardware on this guitar has a black finish.
Cripe sent the finished guitar to Jerry’s staff with a note asking them to pay him what they thought it was worth. He received a check for $6500. Like the Lightening Bolt and most of the Irwin guitars, this guitar featured DiMarzio pickups; three humbuckers in this case. The Top Hat weighs 10.4 pounds.
The Eagle guitar that was the first Doug Irwin guitar built for Jerry, but was never played was auctioned off at Bonham’s in 2007 for $186,000.