Garcia played many guitars during his career, which ranged from Fender Stratocasters and Gibson SGs to custom-made instruments. During his thirty-odd years of being a musician, Garcia used about 25 guitars.
In 1965, when Garcia was playing with the Warlocks, he used a Guild Starfire, which he also used on the début album of the Grateful Dead. Beginning in late 1967 and ending in 1968, Garcia played various colored Gibson Les Paul guitars. In 1969, he picked up the Gibson SG and used it for most of that year and 1970, except for a small period in between where he used a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster.
During Garcia's "pedal steel flirtation period" (as Bob Weir referred to it in Anthem to Beauty), from approximately 1969 to 1974, he played a ZB Custom D-10 steel guitar, especially in his earlier public performances. Although this was a double neck guitar, Garcia often would choose not to attach the last 5 pedal rods for the rear or Western Swing neck. Additionally, he was playing an Emmons D-10 at the time of the Grateful Dead's and New Riders of the Purple Sage's final appearances at the Filmore East in late April 1971. Also, he had been given a Fender Pedal Steel (probably a 1000 model) prior to owning the ZB Custom, but did not play it much.
In 1969, Garcia played pedal steel on two notable outside recordings: the track "The Farm" on the Jefferson Airplane album Volunteers; and the hit single "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their album Déjà Vu, released in 1970. Garcia played on the latter album in exchange for harmony lessons for the Grateful Dead, who were at the time recording Workingman's Dead.
In 1972, Garcia used a Fender Stratocaster nicknamed Alligator for its alligator sticker on the pickguard. The guitar was given to him by Graham Nash. This was due in part to damage to his first custom-made guitar, made by Alembic. This guitar, nicknamed Wolf for a memorable sticker Garcia added below the tailpiece, cost $1500 – extremely high for the time.
In the late eighties Garcia, Weir and CSN (along with many others) endorsed Alvarez Yairi acoustic guitars. There are many photographs circulating (mostly promotional) of Jerry playing a DY99 Virtuoso Custom with a Modulus Graphite neck. He opted to play with the less decorated model but the promotional photo from the Alvarez Yairi catalog has him holding the "tree of life" model. This hand-built guitar was notable for the collaboration between Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi and Modulus Graphite of San Rafael. As with most things Garcia, with his passing, the DY99 model is rendered legend and valuable among collectors.
Wolf was made with an ebony fingerboard and featured numerous embellishments like alternating grain designs in the headstock, ivory inlays, and fret marker dots made of sterling silver. The body was composed of western maple wood which had a core of purpleheart. Garcia later had former Alembic employee Doug Irwin replace the electronics inside the guitar, at which point he added his own logo to the headstock alongside the Alembic logo. The system included two interchangeable plates for configuring pickups: one was made for strictly single coils, while the other accommodated humbuckers. Shortly after receiving the modified instrument, Garcia requested another custom guitar from Irwin with the advice "don't hold back."
During the Grateful Dead's European Tour, Wolf was dropped on several occasions, one of which caused a minor crack in the headstock. Garcia returned it to Irwin to fix; during its two-year absence Garcia played predominantly Travis Bean guitars. On September 28, 1977, Irwin delivered the renovated Wolf back to Garcia. The wolf sticker which gave the guitar its name had now been inlaid into the instrument; it also featured an effects loop between the pick-ups and controls (so inline effects would "see" the same signal at all times) which was bypassable. Irwin also put a new face on the headstock with only his logo (he later claimed to have built the guitar himself, though pictures through time clearly show the progression of logos, from Alembic, to Alembic & Irwin, to only Irwin). In the "Grateful Dead Movie" Jerry is playing Wolf and this film provides excellent views of Wolf.
Nearly seven years after he first requested it, Garcia received his third custom guitar from Irwin in 1979 (the first Irwin was "Eagle", the second was "Wolf"). The first concert that Jerry played Tiger was August 4, 1979 at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. It was named Tiger from the inlay on the preamp cover. The body of Tiger was of rich quality: the top layer was cocobolo, with the preceding layers being maple stripe, vermilion, and flame maple, in that order. The neck was made of western maple with an ebony fingerboard. The pickups consisted of a single coil DiMarzio SDS-1 and two humbucker DiMarzio Super IIs which were easily removable due to Garcia's preference for replacing his pickups every year or two. The electronics were composed of an effects bypass loop, which allowed Garcia to control the sound of his effects through the tone and volume controls on the guitar, and a preamplifier/buffer which rested behind a plate in the back of the guitar. In terms of weight, everything included made Tiger tip the scales at 13½ pounds. This was Garcia's principal guitar for the next eleven years, and most played.
In 1990, Irwin completed Rosebud, Garcia's fourth custom guitar. It was similar to his previous guitar Tiger in many respects, but featured different inlays and electronics, tone and volume controls, and weight. Rosebud, unlike Tiger, was configured with three humbuckers; the neck and bridge pickups shared a tone control, while the middle had its own. Atop the guitar was a Roland GK-2 pickup which fed the controller set inside the guitar. The GK2 was used in junction with the Roland GR-50 rack mount synthesizer. The GR-50 synthesizer in turn drove a Korg M1R synthesizer producing the MIDI effects heard during live performances of this period as heard on the Grateful Dead recording 'Without a Net'. Sections of the guitar were hollowed out to bring the weight down to 11½ pounds. The inlay, a dancing skeleton holding a rose, covers a plate just below the bridge. The final cost of the instrument was $11,000.
In 1993, carpenter-turned-luthier Stephen Cripe tried his hand at making an instrument for Garcia. After researching Tiger through pictures and films, Cripe set out on what would soon become known as Lightning Bolt, again named for its inlay. The guitar used Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard and East Indian rosewood for the body, which, with admitted irony from Cripe, was taken from a 19th century bed used by opium smokers. Built purely from guesswork, Lightning Bolt was a hit with Garcia, who began using the guitar exclusively. Soon after, Garcia requested that Cripe build a backup of the guitar. Cripe, who had not measured or photographed the original, was told simply to "wing it."
Cripe later delivered the backup, which was known by the name Top Hat. Garcia bought it from him for the price of $6,500, making it the first guitar that Cripe had ever sold. However, infatuated with Lightning Bolt, Garcia rarely used the backup.
After Garcia's death, the ownership of his Wolf and Tiger came into question. According to Garcia's will, his guitars were to go to Doug Irwin, who had constructed them. The remaining Grateful Dead members disagreed—they considered his guitars to be property of the band, leading to a lawsuit between the two parties. In 2001, Irwin won the case. Irwin, being a victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1998, was left nearly penniless. He placed Garcia's guitars up for auction in hopes of being able to start another guitar workshop.
On May 8, 2002, Wolf and Tiger, among other memorabilia, were placed for auction at Studio 54 in New York City. Tiger was purchased for $957,500, while Wolf was bought for $789,500. Together, the instruments were bought for 1.74 million dollars, setting a new world record. Wolf is in a private collection kept in a secure climate controlled room in a private residence at Utica, N.Y., and Tiger is in the private collection of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
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