He doesn’t get the credit given to legends like The Paul and Eddie Van Halenbut the Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia has been key to the development of the custom guitar industry.
And he was using rack mounted amps and effects in the mid-1970s, 10 years before the heyday of rack rigs.
As Chris Gill revealed in Guitar enthusiastfrom the May/June 2014 issue, Garcia started out in the 1960s playing a variety of production models. In the 1970s, however, he found commercially electric guitars were unsuited to his need for a wider tonal palette.
And while most guitarists would just switch guitars during a set, Garcia preferred to play just one.
It was Rick Turner of Alembic who, in 1970, gave Garcia his first custom guitar, with a mahogany and walnut body of his own design, mated to the neck from a early 1960s Les Paul/SG Custom (opens in a new tab) and has three microphones and stereo cabling.
His curiosity honed, in 1971 Garcia asked Frank Fuller of Turner and Alembic to modify his “Alligator” Strat, a gift from Graham Nash built with a ’63 ash body and ’57 maple neck, and so named for a cartoon alligator sticker that Garcia placed on his pickguard.
Turner and Fuller gave it a brass bridge, tailpiece, and control panel, along with an Alembic Strat-o-Blaster preamp that boosted gain.
For Garcia, a new era of bespoke axles had begun.
The following year he began his long relationship with luthier Doug Irwin, who in 1973 delivered Wolf, a custom ax with a neck-thru design, the Strat-o-Blaster and three Strat pickups on a plate that could be exchange. for another loaded with humbuckers.
Irwin would go on to create other groundbreaking custom guitars for Garcia, including Tiger – a dazzling piece of tonewood with three pickups, coil taps, a five-way pickup selector and more – and Rosebud, which boasted a Roland GK-2 hexaphonic synth microphone. and internally mounted MIDI and synthesizer controls.
These are just two of the many epic instruments on Garcia’s long and strange journey – and the guitar.