Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia with "Wolf."

BIO: Jerry Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) 

Jerry Garcia had something of a traumatic childhood. His father drowned while fishing on a family camping trip, and Jerry's brother accidentally cut off the ring finger of his right hand with an ax. As a young man, Jerry was obsessed with bluegrass banjo picking, fell in with early LSD experimentation, and despite an aversion to self promotion, became one of the most beloved guitar players of the twentieth century.

GEAR: Jerry played a lot of guitars during his career, but let's focus on a pair of instruments that were near and dear to him: the Doug Irwin creations Tiger and Rosebud. These were the last two guitars Garcia played onstage, when he made what would be his final performance at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Tiger (1979)

Tiger was delivered to Garcia in July 1979. Garcia had given Irwin total freedom with Tiger, and he was not disappointed. The guitar was beautiful, with contrasting layers of tone woods, including cocobolo, maple and vermillion. Detailed pearl inlays on the body’s back and fretboard heightened the guitar’s status as a work of art.

But Tiger was also a testament to Irwin’s technical innovation. The guitar’s coil-tap switches, five-position pickup selector, unity gain buffer, effect loop and other controls gave Garcia the freedom to craft a broad range of tones from the DiMarzio pickups, which included Dual Sound humbuckers in the middle and bridge positions and an SDS-1 in the neck (the Dual Sounds were replaced in 1982 with DiMarzio Super IIs).

“There are 12 discrete possible voices that are all pretty different,” Garcia said of Tiger’s electronics. That tonal power is the reason Tiger was his main guitar for the next 11 years, a continuous run longer than that of any other guitar Garcia played.

Rosebud (1990)

Rosebud was Tiger’s replacement, and Garcia considered it to be Irwin’s masterpiece. While it bore similarities to Tiger, it featured a very different complement of electronic components. These included three humbuckers and a Roland GK-2 hexaphonic guitar synth pickup. Irwin mounted the GK-2’s MIDI and synth controls on the guitar for ease of use. The guitar also had hollow body cavities that reduced its weight by two pounds.

Rosebud’s MIDI features were key to its versatility. Garcia had begun using guitar synths in the Eighties when he installed a Roland hexaphonic pickup on his Wolf guitar. In Rosebud, Garcia finally had one instrument with all the features he’d sought, allowing him to play a broad range of guitar tones as well as external sounds via MIDI.