We are proud to announce the debut of The DUSTY STRINGS exhibit at SKULL & ROSES 2022. Featuring 10 glorious artifacts from the legacy of the Grateful Dead. Storied and stage-played instruments, plus other gear and surprises.

Attendees will be able to experience these instruments up close (under glass!), and also hear them played by various musicians on stage throughout the weekend’s festivities. 

This has been made possible by the enthusiasm and generosity of the owners of these brilliant artifacts: Andy Logan, Jason Scheuner, Nate Bidner, David Meerman Scott and the Grateful Guitars Foundation.

WON editor Dennis McNally caught up with Andy and Jason to talk about how this exciting on-site exhibit came about and what we can expect to see.

Jason:  The idea is that it’s going to be an interactive experience where you’re able to come in and see these instruments in a context that allows you to get up close and see them in detail.  And it will be unprecedented because there will be a variety of treatments and time periods that they cover.  They’ve not all been in one place at one time except maybe in storage at a Grateful Dead facility.  

But the idea is that people will be able to come in and see these things, and  then they’ll be able to hear them from the stage because the bands and musicians will have the opportunity at different times to express interest in playing particular instruments and potentially take them up on stage and use them for their art.  The concert goer will be able to hear this historic instrument on stage and really hear what it sounds like.  Then the next day or later on, go and see it up close.  Take a picture with it.  Post it on Facebook or whatever—and then maybe later on that night or the next day hear it again and have a whole new appreciation for it.  

And at the same time Andy and I and Grateful Guitars want to make collecting instruments and making them available to musicians and hence the crowd, the community, a standard practice.  We want it to be, for lack of a better word, cool to do this sort of thing and maybe even uncool not to.  So that people aren’t taking these wonderful historic instruments and hiding them away forever.  In the classical world they understand the patronage of the best instruments being in the hands of the best musicians to carry forward that music and that tradition.  

So Grateful Guitars and Andy and I want to start to bring that into the picture first and foremost for our community; but, hopefully, for rock and roll as a whole.  And we’ve already started to see that feedback.  We’re going to have other guys that reached out to us and said we want to do this stuff that you guys are doing.  We have these instruments and we want to come and share them too.   

So there will be Andy’s instruments, Jerry’s iconic Alligator guitar and his ubiquitous 1943 Martin acoustic guitar.  There will be three of Phil’s basses covering the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.  Bobby’s, you know his well-known beautiful Alvarez guitar that a lot of us heard.  As well as Bobby’s No Fun guitar, and one of the Casio Blackknife guitars.   The cross section of instruments will show the development and technology, the way that they were searching for the sound, their expression of sound through these tools…this will be an unprecedented experience for the concert goer to experience these instruments on every level and for the musicians to experience them on every level by each playing them.

Mission Control 1974 | Photograph James Lee Katz

 

Andy:  The “Alligator” was first onstage on 12/31/70, but officially, Jerry played it from May of ’71 until August first of ’73.  Which means all of Europe ’72, for starters.  The Martin Jerry used famously for the Festival Express Tour, but we now know also in subsequent tours and the recording of American Beauty.  And then we also now know that Peter Rowan calls it the Old and in the Way guitar which was a big neat surprise from this fall which I didn’t know that history and we’ve even got some photos of Peter playing it in ’73. 

And Peter told a funny story about how Jerry took it away from him at the end of the tour, like made him give it back, which was surprising because so many stories are Jerry gave me this.  You never hear he wanted it back, but he did want that one  back but it was a whole ‘nother band a whole ‘nother history of this guitar that we didn’t know which is amazing.  

And you know you don’t know these things and another reason, Jason, to your point about sharing.  If I had that on my wall, I would never know that story.  I would never know anything about the Old and in the Way connection and then each crazily more there are these big scratches on the guitar, on the body of it, and we were always joking about like, oh, that must have been Festival Express, you know, they’re all partying on the train car and maybe somebody went a little too crazy, but during Peter Rowan’s first set our friend Rob Bleetstein got a text or a ping from Dawg (David Grisman) saying, you know, you want to know how those scratches got there and Dawg told him, I guess, a separate story about how those scratches got.  Apparently a sound engineer during the recording of the first Garcia Grisman album bumped into it and nicked it in some way.  But anyway the engineer felt terrible and when Jerry showed up he was extremely apologetic and apparently Garcia picked up the guitar and said you know how much I care about that, and gouged a couple of scratches into it. Those two Jerry guitars, and then I’m going to bring one of the Weir electrics from the last auction, probably the ’88 Blacknife, it just looks more quintessentially Bobby, and then the Alvarez that Jason was talking about, the acoustic that Bobby played on stage in ’94 and ’95.

Alligator 1973 | Photograph Rosie McGee

Jason:   I’m bringing three basses.  The first of which is the Osiris bass a/k/a Mission Control. Which was played from June 16, 1974 until July 1, 1979.  The second bass will be Phil’s G&L 2000 which was played from 12/26/81 until 11/26/82.  The third bass will be the first of Phil’s three Ken Smith basses. The first six string he played with big wide string spacing, not the first six string, but the first six string he played with proper string spacing.  It was played from 12/27/89 until 6/17/90. The spring ’90 tour. It’s a very significant instrument in the development of Phil’s playing style and instrument style.  All the instruments he has played since that instrument basically followed that layout and style.  

It made him hold the instrument differently and play with more correctness.  He said that he had gotten a little bit sloppy and it made him hold his hand in a more correct position, so there is a little bit of difference in his style from that point on and I’ve always loved that element of what’s going on; but it’s a cool instrument.  It sure is sexy. 

Ken Smith bass | Photograph Rich Saputo

Dennis:  Let’s talk about who you guys are and how you developed this passion to have and share these instruments.  

Jason:  Well, I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.  I got taken to my first Grateful Dead show December 27, 1990 by a very very close friend.  Changed my life almost immediately.  And I actually never sought out any of the Phil Lesh basses that I have.  The first one I stumbled upon when I was checking out another piece of gear that had come out of a storage default.  I immediately contacted Phil through his management at the time and they were offered the bass for very little money at the time and they turned it down.  It wound up getting sold to somebody else.  I bought it from them for a lot more money.  Because I had that bass, Andy was kind enough to refer to the gentleman who was working with Mission Control when they contacted him about buying it.  He said look I just bought Alligator now is not a good time.  Call Jason. 

My day job is in artist relations at Telefunken music…but I don’t play.  My dad was an antique European weapons collector and he was the best at what he did.  He taught me how to do what he did.  And Rudson Shurtliff was my best friend, and his father Ram Rod Ramrod asked Rudson from his deathbed to have Jason help you sell all the stuff that I’ve put aside over the years or enough of it to pay off the farm.  I want the farm paid off, that’s my final wish.  So Rudson and I with everybody’s blessing observed every protocol imaginable and put together the first Grateful Dead auction at Sotheby’s in 2007 with the whole idea of presenting our community and our artifacts as historically significant treasure, not as a bunch of hippy stuff.  It went over well enough that I was asked to do that sort of thing over the years and I did a ton of it and I had applied everything that my dad taught me to our community.

Andy:  I always loved the electric guitar and I paid a lot of attention to tone, so I was one of those Deadheads who’d say things like, “Wouldn’t it be sick if Jerry would bust out the Travis Bean guitar or something old like that.”  I wasn’t a gear head per se, but I was the kind of person who noticed Rosebud on New Year’s Eve and the Ken Smith (bass) on the New Year’s Eve run in ’89, and I also noticed when Lightning Bolt (a new Jerry guitar by Stephen Cripe) showed up.   

I’d been buying guitars that were the same model as the ones Jerry and Bobby had played, and then I got into the auction for “Alligator.”  I had a line (that is the maximum I could spend), and my line was 400 (thousand).  My line was 400 because I could have afforded more but it was just on some level right.  I mean like when Wolf sold for so much ($1.9 million to charity).  It’s like, jeez, I mean it is a guitar and that’s a lot of fucking money.  You know.  I thought I could make a good run at the Martin and it thankfully worked out that the Martin was offered before the Alligator.  

Anyway, I was on the phone and I bid 400 and the auction guy said that it was 420 to me (bids went up by 20 thousand), and I heard laughter in the room and said to myself and then out loud, “Well, I can’t pass at 420,” and then the room went silent.  And I realized I’d bought it and was about ready to cry.

No Fun Modulus | Photograph Susana Millman

Jason:  The funny part was that I was the second highest bidder on Alligator.  Andy outbid me on Alligator.  I was there if the room and he was on the phone and we didn’t know at the time we were bidding against each other and when I found out that he wasn’t in the room so he didn’t have a paddle to hold up for the bidding, I took my paddle which I kept and I had it framed with the catalog images of the guitar and sent it to Andy just for fun.  

We were both right on the same page.  We were talking about that guitar on the phone to each other the night before the auction from my hotel and I was giving Andy condition reports on everything over the phone that night.  So we’ve always been kind of in this conspiracy of fun together.  And then we applied the phrase to watching audiences connect with these instruments and having the best show they’ve had in months.  

Andy:  And that’s what the Grateful Guitars Foundation is about.  I met Garret (Deloian of Jerry’s Middle Finger) and he had an SG and the headstock had been broken in half, and I knew other players who were playing an off-brand version of a Fender or whatever and it was just a surprise to me that these players who were so incredible and worked you know since they were five or whatever the ages are, they so deserved something, a tool that was better.  Loaning them has been wonderful and inspirational, but Grateful Guitars is really about gifting these instruments so that they can have them and that this thing will just grow in perpetuity and I definitely feel like it’s already had an impact, watching all the bands out there that have played the gear that we have gifted over the years from me personally or through the foundation last year.  You see it on stage.  You see fans in comments on social media thanks Grateful Guitars for helping that player with that world class instrument because it met something to the player clearly but it also again had that feedback with the fan, and that’s super cool. 

Jason:  So now we’re wondering how do we proceed this even further, how do we hit more levels?  How do we economically reach more levels, how do we spread the gospel of keeping this style of music and also very much like the classical world —we want music of the Grateful Dead to be as represented as Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and Bach and be known hundreds of years from now and have these instruments be stewarded forward.  The love of the music by the community is key in that and these tools are key in that.  And now we can use the actual instruments as reference points.  We’ve created a whole new term, the term clones and reissues.  

We can make—we can make an example that’s so accurate that it can be referenced and people haven’t generally done this sort of thing since they were making incredible copies of Stradivarius violins with top-quality luthiers a few hundred years ago.  The idea of keeping our community and our tradition alive by way of the tools that are used feeds the spirit of the community and the beauty of the songs, and Andy is also right.  It just puts a shine on things.  People have a little pop in their step walking in the door.  The band is excited, the crew is excited.  The security guard is like, hey man, what’s going on?  Something’s up and that’s fun.

Alvarez | Photograph Susana Millman

These instruments sound the way they’re supposed to.  And in the hands of the guys that know how to use them it makes the hair on the back of my neck—  just playing around with these instruments—I can’t play, because I can only bump a few strings, but they sound so much like the tapes that I have listened to for so long and the band that I saw so many times.  And it’s like the smell of your grandmother’s recipes; that stuff never goes away.  And the sound just takes you back.   

About Grateful Guitars:
Grateful Guitars is a 501-c3 nonprofit that obtains world-class musical instruments for talented players who seek to carry on the tradition of jam band music into the 21st century and beyond. We identify musicians who thrive in live settings and we secure the gear they need to reach their fullest musical potential. Through the powerful connection between the skilled player and the highest quality instrument, our aim is to ensure that jam band music thrives for generations of live music fans. Learn more at their website www.gratefulguitars.org

Casio Blackknife | Photograph © Bob Minkin