Hardcore Dead-Heads may recognize this one:
This is Jerry Garcia’s famed “Alligator” Stratocaster, given to him by Graham Nash in 1972, and was heavily modified over it’s tenure with the Grateful Dead. Many Dead fans over the years have attempted to make their own version of this iconic guitar – it was only a matter of time before somebody came to us requesting an Alligator of their own.
Our friend Scott brought us a box of parts he had picked up for the express purpose of building his own Alligator replica. The body was from Warmoth, the neck is from Fender, and the custom brass parts were bought from some metal workers who are, needless to say, SERIOUS Dead fans. Our task: put the whole thing together, with as much authenticity as possible with the parts we were given.
Since none of us here at the shop are Dead-Heads (which may be considered blasphemous by many San Franciscans), we had to fire up the Google machine and do some research. We printed out a few pics of the original guitar for reference and got to work.
First off we cut the pickguard to match the contours of the original, where Jerry had replaced a section of the guard with a brass plate:
We discovered in our research that many people who had made their own recreations of this Strat didn’t offset the output jack. For some reason Jerry had moved the jack closer to the edge of the body, so we routed the body and shifted the jack to the proper position:
Jerry had installed an Alembic Blaster circuit (because apparently an ash body, maple neck guitar with brass hardware just isn’t bright enough); he had it installed under the output jack, so there’s no way to turn it on or off. So, we did the same:
We did make some concessions to modernty – cell phones and other electronic devices didn’t exist in the ’70s, but in today’s world they can wreak havoc by introducing interference to a guitars’s signal – so we shielded the entire electronic cavity with conductive paint and copper tape:
We recreated the original’s wooden base plate, first with a piece of mahogany as a throwaway template, and then with piece of Brazilian rosewood (we even found a piece that matched the original’s grain pattern!):
The Alligator had a brass nut, so we made one of those, too. Normally we polish our brass nuts to a mirror shine, but we aged this one in vinegar to match the old-school aesthetic:
After the final assembly, Fret Level, and full Setup, we added the iconic stickers. Scott brought us some recreations of the original stickers that Jerry had found at some road side truck stop, and we cut them to match the road worn contours of the original.
Although not an exact recreation due to some dimensional differences in the reproduction parts, not to mention the myriad different incarnations that Jerry’s Strat went through over the years, this gets damn close without going so far as to age the entire guitar with scratches and wear marks. We think it came out great, and Scott couldn’t be any more pleased – Jerry would be proud.
Here’s what Scott has to say about it: “Just a short note to say what a fantastic job you did on Alligator! I’ve been playing her every night (usually late at night, unplugged, while the kids sleep) and it is just a joy to pluck, strum and pick. So thank you thank you. I hope to do a blog post on the guitar on my dead blog soon, so I hope to send even more traffic and biz your way. And god knows what my next insane project will be, but you know we’ll be talkin’!”
Check out Scott’s Grateful Dead blog: darkstarpalace.com