Grateful Dead photograph © Michael Putland/Getty Images, Alligator photograph Becky Logan

Come see this instrument and all of the others that have been spotlighted on the Wall of News in the Dusty Strings Exhibit at Skull and Roses this year.

Jerry Garcia received his 1955 Fender Stratocaster, later named Alligator, from Graham Nash as a thank you gift for Garcia’s solo on Teach Your Children. Nash bought the guitar from a pawn shop in Phoenix Arizona in 1967. Some reports have the location as Phoenix Texas and some say Tucson Arizona. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Deja Vu album was recorded at Wally Heider’s Studio C in San Francisco in 1969 and was released in March of 1970. Garcia laid down the pedal steel solo in the first take and the solo has since become legendary. At this time, we’re not aware when the guitar was gifted to Garcia. We do know it first appeared on stage on 12/31/70 and became his regular guitar later that spring. Garcia and Merl Saunders started the first “JGB” project on Alligator in February of 1971 and it first appeared with the Grateful Dead at Winterland on 5/29/71.

The guitar was modded extensively, mostly by Frank Fuller and Rick Turner of Alembic, throughout Garcia’s usage of it. Aside from the concerts, it is notable as the first Garcia guitar to be active, with a built-in Alembic Strat-O-Blaster. Wolf, which followed Alligator in late 1973, also had a blaster. Some think the same blaster came from Alligator, and subsequent Garcia guitars also contained active buffers. Aside from adding to the gain structure, the active nature helped with long cable runs and larger pedal boards. Alligator also was the first Garcia guitar to have a brass block under the bridge, which also later occurred in Wolf.

Photograph © Brad Temkin


The pickup plate on Alligator famously blew out during a show. Steve Parish, Jerry’s legendary guitar tech, shared that he was taping the guts of the guitar back during the show while Jerry was playing. Parish said they got a section out of an old clipboard to fix the broken pick guard and that can be seen through all of Europe ’72. Eventually, Rick Turner added the hammered brass pickup plate that exists today.

Sam Cutler shared that he put the Harley Davidson sticker on Alligator. Parish shared that Sonny Heard, former GD roadie and member of the Hells Angels, put on the Alligator sticker. The tailpiece went through several iterations using brass and that work was done by Fuller and Turner.

Alligator was recorded on Jerry’s first solo album Garcia released in 1972. It was also recorded on Bob Weir’s first solo album Ace, which was also released in 1972.

Alligator was used extensively by Garcia between 1971 and 1973, most famously on the Europe ’72 tour and Watkins Glen Summer Jam in 1973. It was last played with the Grateful Dead on 8/1/73 at Roosevelt Stadium.

Alligator was auctioned in 2019 with a winning bid of $420,000 (420). It was lovingly brought back to playing shape by Rick Turner and made its triumphant return to the stage at the Warfield with Dark Star Orchestra in February of 2020. It was played with Phill Lesh & Friends in March of 2020. Given the 50th of Europe ’72 is 2022, Alligator will have a busy year on stage at Skull & Roses and beyond.

  • First show with GD 12/31/70
  • Feb/March ’71 with Merl (first JGB-style shows were on Alligator)
  • GD Run from 5/29/71 to 8/1/73 (with some exceptions)
Photograph © Rosie McGee


Notable GD History during Alligator’s run:

  • Pigpen (last show until 12/1/71) 8/26/71
  • Rehearsals with Keith (& Donna?) 9/29, 9/30, 10/1/71
  • Keith Godchaux’s first show as GD member 10/19/71
  • Donna Godchaux’s Stage debut Casey Jones 12/31/71
  • Donna’s first official show as GD member 3/25/72
  • Bo Diddley Set 3/25/72
  • Nudie Suits 12/12/72, 12/31/72
  • Pigpen’s last show 6/17/72
  • Dickey Betts 7/16/72
  • Grace Slick 10/9/72
  • David Crosby 12/31/72
  • Pigpen passes away 3/8/73
  • Waylon Jennings 5/27/73
  • Allman Brothers 6/9/73
  • Solar Eclipse 6/20/73 (not in path of totality)
  • The Band and Allman Brothers 7/28/73
  • The Band – Alligator’s last show 8/1/73

Famous GD shows on Alligator:

  • 8/24/71 Dick’s Picks Vol 35
  • 10/31/71 Set 2 – Dick’s Picks Vol 2
  • 11/17/71 Dave’s Picks Vol 26
  • 12/7/71 Dave’s Picks Vol 22
  • 12/10/71 Fox Theatre, St. Louis
  • 3/25 & 3/28/72 Dick’s Picks Vol 30
  • 3/26/72 Dave’s Picks Vol 14
  • Europe ’72
  • 9/17/72 Dick’s Picks Vol 23
  • 11/17/72 Dave’s Picks Vol 11
  • 2/26 & 2/28/73 Dick’s Picks Vol 28
  • “A Swell Dance Concert” Nassau 3/15/73
  • 3/24/73 Dave’s Picks Vol 32
  • 3/28/73 Dave’s Picks Vol 16
  • 4/2/73 Dave’s Picks Vol 21
  • 6/10/73 RFK
  • Watkins Glen Soundcheck and gig July 27/28/73
  • Listen to the River: St. Louis ’71, ’72, ’73

GD notable songs played for the first time live on Alligator:

  • Promised Land 5/29/71
  • Brown Eyed Women 8/23/71
  • Tennessee Jed 10/19/71
  • Jack Straw 10/19/71
  • Mexicali Blues 10/19/71 *Keith’s 1st show U of Minnesota
  • Comes a Time 10/19/71
  • One More Saturday Night 10/19/71
  • Ramble on Rose 10/19/71
  • Big River 12/31/71
  • Black-Throated Wind 3/5/72
  • Looks Like Rain 3/21/72
  • Two Souls in Communion 3/23/72
  • How Sweet it Is 3/25/72 (played once – only GD version!)
  • He’s Gone 4/17/72
  • Stella Blue 6/17/72
  • Mississippi Half-Step 7/16/72
  • Box Of Rain 10/9/72
  • Weather Report Suite 11/19/72
  • China Doll 2/9/73
  • Eyes Of The World 2/9/73
  • Here Comes Sunshine 2/9/73
  • Loose Lucy 2/9/73
  • They Love Each Other 2/9/73
  • Row Jimmy 2/9/73
  • Wave That Flag 2/9/73
  • Train To Cry 6/10/73
Photograph Becky Logan