For millions of passionate Grateful Dead fans, there is only one “Wolf”: Jerry Garcia’s beloved guitar. Customized by luthier Doug Irwin, Wolf was delivered to Jerry and first appeared in a 1973 New York City performance the Grateful Dead gave for the Hell’s Angels. Over the following two decades, Wolf became almost as well known as the performer himself as it appeared in countless concerts and on treasured recordings throughout Jerry’s fabled career.
Years after the musician’s passing, Wolf returned to Doug and was sold in a 2002 Guernsey’s auction conducted at NYC’s electric Studio 54, where it fetched close to $1 million, more than doubling the existing world record. Now, Wolf’s buyer, wishing to support the important efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center and its continuing fight against racism and hate groups, has returned Wolf to Guernsey’s for an unprecedented one lot auction of this most treasured guitar. The proceeds of the winning high bid on this extraordinary instrument will go to SPLC. This Guernsey’s event, additionally supported by the Relix Group, will be held on May 31st, live at the fabulous Brooklyn Bowl in New York City. Absentee bidders will also be accommodated.
From San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom to NYC’s Palladium to Egypt’s Great Pyramids, Jerry and Wolf travelled, appearing in front of massive, passionate audiences. It is no wonder that the devoted Deadhead who purchased the Wolf in 2002 has said, “I’ve been a fan of The Dead since I was a kid, and playing this iconic guitar over the past 15 years has been a privilege. But the time is right for Wolf to do some good. My wife and I have long supported the efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and if ever we needed the SPLC, we sure do need them now.”
Rarely, if ever, has there been an item as memorable and noteworthy as the Wolf being sold in support of such a worthy cause. Guernsey’s is thrilled that the return of Wolf will go a long way to combat racism and injustice across the country.
Plans are now afoot to make that May 31st, Brooklyn Bowl evening a spectacular one where celebrated musiicians will have a chance to play Wolf one last time before it finds a new owner. Those interested in bidding on Wolf, or attending the auction and preview events should visit www.guernseys.com or contact the auction house in New York at 212-794-2280.
Photos: Roberto Rabanne
Fans of the Grateful Dead will know the incomparable Wolf as one of Jerry Garcia’s earliest and most recognizable instruments. Crafted by former Alembic luthier Doug Irwin in the early seventies at Garcia’s specific request, Wolf was Garcia’s first custom-made guitar, an asymmetrical original neck-through-body design with a purpleheart and curly western maple body and, of course, the fierce but playful cartoon image of the Wolf, a sticker Garcia placed below the tailpiece that Irwin later inlaid in its place.
Wolf made its debut in 1973 at a private party for the Hell’s Angels, and was primarily played during the 1970s in the great early days of the Dead, though the instrument was brought out again for its last performance in 1993 at the Oakland Coliseum. Wolf was cherished by Garcia as well as his fans; he was famous for his beloved custom instruments, and his passion for unique and idiosyncratic guitars contributed not only to the legacy of the Grateful Dead, but also to the establishment and popularization of the custom guitar industry. Alembic and Doug Irwin’s private workshop were at the forefront of this emerging culture in the late sixties and seventies, in large part because of Irwin’s long and fruitful relationship with Garcia, who was so thrilled by the design for Wolf that it became his main instrument during the period and inspired him to return to Irwin again and again in the future for new custom guitars.
The iconic appearance of this unique instrument and its role, not only in the rich early stages of Jerry Garcia’s career, but also in the history of modern guitar craftsmanship, have made Wolf one of the most treasured guitars in the music world.
In May, 1972, I began the project that eventually became the Wolf (#007).
Remembering the balance problems that Alembic was having, I decided to make it asymmetrical to give it good balance. I drew an original design and cut a master plexiglass template to shape the body.
The body core is amaranth, commonly known as purpleheart. It grows in the Northeast of South America, in the Guyanas. Extensive research and testing of numerous species of wood on a worldwide basis by the U.S. Forestry Department demonstrated that for strength, as measured by stiffness, purpleheart exceeds all. It appears grey when first cut, but with exposure to light it turns purple in days to months depending on the shade of purple. Though this wood can turn to an awesome shade of purple, the color doesn't bleed into the finish, nor is it oily or waxy. Purpleheart glues most satisfactorily with wood glues (for me that means Franklin "Titebond"). The body is laminated on both sides with four 1/28in. thick sheets of maple and purpleheart.
The top and back of this guitar are bookmatched curly western maple. Both maple and walnut, as well as well as other hard woods, have distinct differences between the same species grown on the West Coast, with warm winters, and the East Coast, with very cold winters.
The neck of this guitar runs through the middle of the body. It is made from a lamination of fiddleback maple and purpleheart.
The peghead of the Wolf is overlaid on both sides with several 1/28in. thick sheets of maple and purpleheart with each piece turned 180 degrees, thus alternating the direction of grain. The peghead is attached to the neck on the back with a "tongue" of this overlay that runs past the first fret, a feature which is not only visually striking, but also adds tremendous strength at a traditionally weak area.
The fingerboard is made of gaboon ebony and has twenty-four frets. It is bound on each side with four laminations of maple, purpleheart, and ebony. Each fret slot is cut across the fingerboard just to—but not through—the outside of the binding. Each fret wire is then notched at each end so that only the top of the fret extends all the way to the edge of the fingerboard. Using this process, you don't see and, more importantly, don't feel the ends of the fret wire, making the neck feel very fast and smooth. The fret wire itself is a special nickel-silver wire made by Dunlap. It is wider than that used by Fender and narrower than that used by Gibson, and harder than either. On the left side of the neck (the view of the neck and fingerboard that Jerry saw while playing) there are marker dots made of sterling silver, and below that, there is a visible layer of marquetry below the binding made of many tiny pieces of 1/28in. thick holly, which is naturally white, colored with annelid dyes.
The string scale is 25in. The fingerboard is inlaid with African ivory except for the first fret, which is mother-of-pearl.
I configured the guitar with a plate system for mounting pickups. This allowed for a variety of pickup choices. It was originally set up with three Fender Stratocaster pickups. I also provided Jerry with a second pickup plate for Humbuckers (hum-canceling dual-coil pickups). The 70s were a time of evolution in guitar pickup design, so when Jerry got a new guitar, there was usually a period of experimentation. Then, from time to time, Jerry would try new pickups, but once he found what he liked, he usually stuck with it. Sometimes Jerry felt that an old set of pickups would get "tired," so I'd change them out for new ones.
The pickup selector is the five position Stratocaster type. Front, middle, or rear, or combinations of the middle and either front or rear. Wolf is equipped with a master volume control, and a tone control for each of the middle and front pickups. The two subminiature switches set side by side are the pickup coil switches. There are two 1/4in. phone jacks. One went directly to the amp, and the other to Jerry's effects loop, with the master volume located after the effects loop. There is also a subminiature switch to toggle the effects loop in or out. The electronics cavity accessible from the back plate is shielded from the electromagnetic field with silver print. The chrome-nickel tuning machines and bridge are made by Schaller (W. Germany). The switch plate, pickup plate, back plate, and guitar serial number plate (located on the back side of peghead) are all made of solid brass and are chrome-nickel plated.
For historical purposes, I should mention that the peghead of this guitar was originally faced with Brazilian rosewood and had a large inlay of a peacock made of abalone, mother-of-pearl, brass, and ivory. This was the first guitar to have the distinctive D. Irwin peghead shape, the traditional mark of the luthier that I still use today. I chose the peacock because the peghead needed something, and I hadn't yet decided on the eagle as the company logo at this time. It is the image of this guitar that appears in the self-portrait that graces the cover of ]erry's solo album "Compliments of Garcia."
A few years after I delivered Wolf to Jerry, the guitar took several tumbles during Grateful Dead's European tour. The first, a fall of about fifteen feet off the stage onto cement, had no effect on the guitar at all, but the second incident caused a crack to appear in the peghead. When Jerry finally brought me the Wolf for repair, the crack was actually very minor, but a stitch in time saves nine. Repairing the crack wasn't much of a problem, but having the guitar again made me reassess my early inlay work, and prompted me to reface the peghead with ebony and replace what I determined to be a poor excuse for a peacock with my signature eagle inlay cut from mother-of-pearl.
I also noticed the guitar needed some refinishing work so I took this opportunity to inlay the Wolf into the body and refinish the whole instrument, hence its moniker.
When I finished and first delivered the Wolf to Jerry in May, 1973, I was anxious to see his reaction. He was immediately quite pleased, but after playing it for about five minutes, Jerry asked me if I would build him another guitar. I asked him what he would Iike in the next guitar; he told me that I already knew what he liked in a guitar, that I should make it the way I thought best, not to worry about how much it cost, just "don't hold back.” Oh, yes! My kind of job!
There is really something quite special about delivering your work, and getting this kind of reaction... it ain't really work!
Let’s see ... "Don't hold back" ... This will require some thought.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the foremost advocacy groups in the United States, comprised of a team of lawyers and activists who fight on behalf of the victims of bigotry and advocate for civil rights. In the late 1960s, the countless injustices that continued to face African-Americans motivated Alabama lawyer Morris Dees to make a career out of empowering the disenfranchised. He joined forces with another Montgomery lawyer, Joe Levin, to pursue pro bono civil rights cases. With the help of generous support from people across the nation, the Southern Poverty Law Center was officially founded in 1971, providing Dees and Levin with a means of formalizing and expanding their efforts to achieve legal victories for vulnerable citizens—in particular, Black Americans living in the South. Since its founding, the SPLC has fought and won cases for the victims of persisting Jim Crow segregation and white supremacist activities, and has made additional progress in the pursuit of equality for women, children, the LGBT community, and the disabled. In addition to monitoring hate groups and advocating for the most vulnerable, the SPLC has developed the award-winning Teaching Tolerance program, which provides educators with resources for teaching and practicing respect and inclusivity in the classroom. The good work of the SPLC continues to be of utmost importance in our ever diversifying society, and Guernsey’s is proud to produce this event benefitting their efforts to fight hate, teach tolerance, and seek justice.
Brooklyn Bowl is a popular music venue, bowling alley, and restaurant in Williamsburg, known for its diverse musical acts and high-tech green construction. Formerly an ironworks-foundry building circa the 1880s, the new music hall and bowling alleys were built using recycled materials and energy-saving LED technology. In 2013, Rolling Stone named Brooklyn Bowl the 20th best music club in America. It has featured such notable acts as Guns N' Roses, Elvis Costello, The Roots, and RJD2, and has also cemented itself as a welcoming home for Deadheads, with current shows by Phil Lesh and, in 2015, a special live simulcast event for the “Fare Thee Well” Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Concerts at Levi’s Stadium and Soldier’s Field, the final performances by the band’s original members.
Guernsey's welcomes inquiries from the media regarding both past and upcoming events. PDF copies of the press release and links to media coverage of our Wolf Auction are available below: