Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Grateful Dead - Jerry Garcia's Guitars

This weekend marks the final shows for the Grateful Dead. What a long strange trip it has been. The appeal of the Grateful Dead has always been their live music, their prolonged improvisations and their audience, the so-called Dead Heads, that has remained loyal for years, and followed them from city to city as they have toured. Perhaps the best known guitarist in the band was Jerry Garcia.  His taste in sound, instruments and innovation helped this band become legendary. Beyond that, The Grateful Dead changed the ground rules for not just for rock concerts, but for sound support systems for all venues. This feature is mainly about Jerry's Guitars.

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
Garcia was in a San Francisco music store when he came across a very unusual guitar and inquired about it. He was told it was built by a guy named Doug Irwin. Garcia came back a few days later to buy that guitar.

Irwin tells the story that he was in the back of the store putting pickups on that particular guitar.

Wolf with modifications
Irwin says a couple of guys from the store came to the back room and told him that Jerry Garcia wants to buy your guitar. He thought they were joking. They came back a couple of times to get him and Irwin finally brought the guitar to the front of the store. Jerry told him that he liked the way the neck felt and he asked him to make another guitar. This Irwin built guitar came to be called The Wolf. Doug Irwin would go on to build four guitars for Garcia.

Garcia with Guild Starfire III
Like many of us, Jerry started learning guitar by playing a Danelectro through a small amplifier. During the early 1960’s he delved into Bluegrass and Folk music. Eventually he made his way to rock. And by 1965 he was playing a Guild Starfire III with a group called The Warlocks, which would eventually become The Grateful Dead.

He graduated to playing Gibson guitars, usually 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.

Garcia played this guitar until 1970 when he was given the Stratocaster he called 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.

The Stratocaster that came to be known as Alligator was made up of a 1957 Strat body that was paired with a 1963 Strat neck. It was Graham Nash who had purchased this guitar at a pawn shop for $250. He gave this guitar to Jerry for doing some guitar work on one of Nash’s recording sessions.

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

Some effects, such as reverb and modulation loose their natural sound when placed in front of an amplifiers power section. A solution for this was to utilize an effects loop, which is a device that would allow the signal to be interrupted between the two sections of the amplifier. So the dry signal would first then go to the preamp, then to the effects loop and then out to the power amp section. This made the effected signal cleaner and more pronounced.

2 output jacks
Jerry’s guitars generally had two output jacks. One carried the regular guitar signal to the pedal board effects and then to amplifier. This is the same arrangement most of us use. Although Jerry did have this modified with the addition of a line device called the Alembic Strat-O- Blaster.

Alembic Strat-O-Blaster circuit
The Strat-O-Blaster was a small, built-in pre-amp, which boosted the guitars signal. These were the days before wireless transmission of guitar and microphone signals. Jerry and the Dead used long guitar cables, which caused the signal to diminish by the time it got to the amplifier.

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
Think back to the early days of rock when the performer showed up with their instruments; guitar, bass, amp, and drums and depended upon the house or auditorium public address system.

They may have been great performers, but the sound heard by the audience was a crap shoot.

The Grateful Dead Sound System
It was the Dead demanded that the live sound heard in concert by their fans need to be the absolute best. They were one of the first bands to travel with their own state of the art public sound system.

The instrumentalists and sound engineers working for the band made demands on the industry. So companies like 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.

Another Grateful Dead first that is now common place in the industry are rack mounted systems, such as power amplifiers, equalization, compression and effects.

Getting back to Jerry Garcia' Stratocaster; he wanted the effects loop to be mounted internally on his guitar. So the vibrato/bridge was taken out of the Stratocaster and the routing was enlarged to make room for an internal effects loop. This was covered up with a wooden plate.

Because the guitar now needed a bridge/saddle Garcia got one from the Alembic guitar company. This bridge was a modified tune-o-matic type with sliding individual saddle units, for intonation. It was made completely of brass and was placed in front of the wooden plate. A brass plate with indentations on the distal end to lock the ball ends of the string was anchored just behind the wood plate.

Replica with Strat O Blaster Circuit
The pickguard was modified and another brass plate was crafted to house the controls. Jerry chose different knobs from the original Fender knobs. Jerry also wanted an Alembic blaster circuit to be tied in with the guitar’s jack.

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
From 1973 to 1993 Garcia played the guitar created by Doug Irwin and called Wolf.

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.

As the story goes, Doug Irwin was recently hired by the Alembic company and was building electric guitars for them and he also built some for himself. The first one that Jerry Garcia purchased was known as The Eagle.

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
Garcia asked Irwin to optimize Wolf with three single coil Stratocaster pickups. This guitar was made of purpleheart wood and curly maple. The fret board was ebony with 24 frets; longer than Fenders, which at the time only had 22 frets. The first version had a peacock inlay made of abalone, but in subsequent years Irwin changed this to an eagle.

A blood-thirsty cartoon sticker of a wolf adorned the body. This gave the guitar its name.

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 pickup selector is the five position strat type. The guitar features a master volume control and a tone control for the middle and front pickups. Two mini switches on the guitar are pickup coil switches, to choose between humbucking and single coil. There are two ¼” phone jacks. One goes to the amp and the other goes to Jerry’s effects loop. There is also a mini switch to toggle the effects loop on or off.

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.

While at a concert the guitar fell about 15 feet off of the stage and this caused a small crack in the head stock. Doug Irwin took this as an opportunity to replace the head stock with ebony veneer and a mother-of-pearl inlay of an eagle, which by now had become Doug Irwin’s signature. Jerry Garcia used the three single coil pickup plate up until 1978 when he had the single coil neck pickup and twin Dimarzio Dual Sound humbuckers for the middle and bridge positions.

Almost immediately after Garcia received The Wolf he commissioned Doug Irwin to design another guitar. This new guitar is the one that would come to be known as The Tiger. It was six years before Irwin delivered the guitar and it earned him $5800. The first time he used The Tiger was on August of 1979 in concert at Oakland Stadium.

Irwin made Tiger guitar
The Tigers body was a sandwich of heavy laminated woods; cocobolo, and maple. The laminated neck is made of maple and vermillion. These woods combined with the solid brass binding and hardware made this a very heavy guitar weighing 13 ½ pounds.

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.

In keeping with what Jerry liked, both the Wolf and the Tiger had brass tune-o-matic style bridges and saddles and brass plates to secure the strings. Like his other instruments, this guitar featured two input jacks mounted on the guitars top on a brass plate. One went directly to the amplifier and the other came from the built in effects loop to Garcia’s effects.

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
Rosebud was the next guitar that Doug Irwin built for Jerry Garcia. It was delivered to him in the latter part of 1989. This guitar was Irwin’s best effort yet. He put everything he knew into the making of Rosebud.

The Saint aka Rosebud
Irwin called the Dancing Skeleton that he inlaid on the guitars body, The Saint. This skeleton image was meant to be doing a dance to repel death. The design had a rose in its hand and a pendant with the Egyptian “ahnk”, which was a symbol for life. When Garcia received it, he named the skeleton Rosebud and that name stuck.

This guitar weighed 11 ½ pounds, just two pounds lighter than The Tiger. Jerry used this guitar as his main instrument with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band from 1990 to 1995. Rosebud had most of the amenities of The Tiger, except that the guitar’s flame maple core was hollowed out to reduce the weight. Also gone was the brass framing the guitars body.

The other features were similar to The Tiger, although Rosebud was not as fancy. It was topped with 3 DiMarzio pickups. The only modification ever done to it was swapping out the pickups. Jerry felt the magnetic field did not last long and the high end sound would become lost. This was done every one or two years.

Wolf Jr.
Irwin made one more guitar for Jerry Garcia, but he never used it in concert. This is a headless guitar, in the spirit of Steinberger guitars. It came to be known as Wolf Jr.

The fifth guitar that Jerry Garcia used was built by Stephen Cripe. Cripe had spent years designing and installing woodwork for yachts and decided to try building guitars. Garcia hardly knew Cripe. But Jerry really liked Cripes work.

Lightning Bolt
The Lightning Bolt was Cripe’s copy of The Tiger. It was made from recycled wood that was originally harvested in Brazil. This was used for the fret board. Particular attention was made to the guitars upper register. Recycled East Indian rosewood was used for the top and bottom of the body. Interestingly enough this wood was taken from a bed used by opium smokers.

The body has a core of light walnut. The 9 ply laminated neck runs through the length of the body. There is a rather large volute on the backside of the neck near the headstock break. The builder claims this added structural strength and balance to the guitar.

The lightening bolt design is made from mother-of-pearl. The headstock not only has an unusual shape, but an unusual design as well.

Cripe was not an electrician and handed that job to a San Francisco electronics expert named Gary Brawer. Brawer had the task of making this guitar midi compatible. Midi or musical instrument digital interface was coming into vogue on synthesizers. The Roland Company applied this technology to guitars, by using a special type of pickup and special wiring. To accomplish installation of the electrical work, Brewer had to remove the inlay and attach it to a cover plate. It was then put back on the guitar.

Note the large neck volute
Jerry played The Lightening Bolt from 1993, first used at a Seattle show for the Jerry Garcia Band in August of that year. The last show he played this guitar was with The Grateful Dead at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View California in June of 1995.

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 final guitar, also made by Stephen Cripe was Top Hat. He asked Cripe to make a back up copy of The Lightening Bolt. Cripe was somewhat hesitant about this because he had never photographed or measured The Lightening Bolt. A member of the Dead’s staff told him to just wing it. With these directions the Top Hat was built.

The body consisted of a walnut core with a laminate cocobolo back and top. The headstock also has laminated cocobolo wood veneer and Cripe’s signature headstock design.

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.

Top Hat
Cripe called the top and bottom cutaways on his guitars rose ears. Like the Lightening Bolt, the Top Hat has an extra large volute at the neck break. The scale is 25 ¾”.

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.

Top Hat Guitar

This guitar is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is on display in Cleveland along with some of Garcia’s other guitars.

After the death of Jerry Garcia, in 1995, his will directed that his Irwin-made guitars be returned to Doug Irwin. This prompted a legal battle because the remaining Grateful Dead members stated these guitars were owned by the band and not Jerry Garcia.

The parties eventually settled and agreed that Doug would receive Wolf and Tiger and the Grateful Dead would keep Rosebud and Wolf Jr. Irwin took possession of the instruments and sold them at auction. Wolf sold for $789,500 USD and Rosebud sold for $957,500, which up to that time was a record high price paid for a guitar.

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.


Blogger said...

Get all your favorite alcoholic drinks at Duty Free Depot!

All the highest quality brand name beverages for unbelievable discounted prices.

Blogger said...


Get professional trading signals sent to your cell phone daily.

Start following our signals right now & gain up to 270% daily.

Blogger said...

Hey there, If you love building sheds like me, here's a great site for you to download shed plans:


Blogger said...

Gain your access to 16,000 woodworking plans.

Teds Woodworking has more than 16,000 woodworking blueprints with STEP-BY-STEP instructions, pictures and drafts to make each project simple and easy...