2022 would have marked the 80th birthday of the late Jerry Garcia, and to honor the occasion the Fender Custom Shop has unveiled an ultra-limited replica of the Grateful Dead guitarist’s iconic Alligator Stratocaster.
Limited to only 100 units, the Masterbuilt recreation is a meticulously crafted ode to Garcia, and pays tribute to the “nature of collaboration and community that Garcia nurtured throughout his storied career”.
Austin MacNutt was the Fender Master Builder tasked with recreating the historic Alligator Strat, and worked to replicate every single scratch, modification and sticker that could be found on Garcia’s original axe with “staggering accuracy”.
The build was unveiled with the aid of longtime Garcia guitar tech Steve Parish, who had first-hand experience in the guitar’s extensive and illustrious modding history, including the small brass plate pickguard that houses the control layout.
“There’s a lot I can tell you about this guitar,” Parish said. “Jerry played a lot of guitars and a lot of Strats but he never had a favorite. He played Fender Twin Reverb because he loved it, and we collected every Fender we could buy. But this guitar quickly became his favorite.”
Fender’s replica aims to tell the story of Garcia’s Alligator Strat, which began in 1970 when Graham Nash gifted Garcia a 1955 swamp ash Stratocaster for his efforts while helping him record Songs for Beginners.
A love for the ‘55 soon blossomed, though a year later Garcia’s prized possession would undergo one of its first major mods: halfway through a gig at Boston Symphony Hall, the cold weather caused the Alligator’s pickguard to crack. A temporary fix was soon replaced with a Masonite and later a brass plate, with more modifications following suit.
By 1972, Garcia and Parish had introduced so many tweaks the Alligator had become an entirely different beast altogether, and was unrecognizable from the ‘55 that Nash had given him just two years earlier.
Further mods include a custom brass bridge with rosewood base plate, Schaller tuners, a retainer bar and the three iconic stickers, including the Alligator decal that gave the guitar its name.
All of these touches can be found on the new Alligator replica. Thanks to Garcia Guitars Foundation’s Andy Logan – who bought the original at auction in 2019 – MacNutt was able to consult the original Alligator up close.
Not only did he take meticulous measurements and reference photographs, MacNutt was also able to confirm the Alligator as a ‘55 Strat, despite popular speculation that it was a ‘57 / ‘58 model.
Build-wise, the Alligator boasts a swamp ash body and one-piece rift sawn maple neck that was fabricated from a digital scan of the original, and comes equipped with the hammered brass control plate, custom brass bridge and Schaller M6 tuners.
In the electronic department, it features Josefina custom wound ‘55-style single-coils, which promise cutting highs, bell-like tones and a singing mid-range. These are wired to a custom clean boost output jack, as well as a five-way selector switch, master volume knob and two tone parameters.
Other appointments include a 7.25” radius, 1.625” brass nut, 21 medium vintage frets and a birdseye maple back plate. The Alligator, Harley-Davidson and Police Helper stickers also feature on the body.
“This guitar is a piece of American history,” said MacNutt. “There is so much history behind each alteration and modification made to the guitar; to have the opportunity to have the original for a day, take it apart, look inside and replicate it has been an honor.”
“Having the opportunity to replicate an iconic guitar from such a legendary artist is a Masterbuilders dream,” added Mike Lewis, VP of Product Development, Fender Custom Shop. “Recounting how each scratch was made, the stories behind each sticker and every modification made on the guitar felt almost like we were there with Jerry Garcia rocking on stage in the '70s.
“We are so grateful to Steve, Andy Logan/Grateful Guitars Foundation, and the Jerry Garcia Family for their trust in us,” he continued. “Now 100 others will have the opportunity to carry on the Garcia Alligator Strat legacy.”
Of the build, Parish concluded, “When I see that, it’s a tribute to everything that we stood for and everything that we did and the achievement of Jerry’s playing. It also represents to me a slight shot at all the technical ways that we went so deeply into everything.”
The Alligator Stratocaster will be built to order, and carries a price tag of $20,000.
For more information, head over to the Fender Custom Shop (opens in new tab).