Tools of the Trade: ‘Fix it Up Together’ Jerry Garcia’s 1957 Fender Stratocaster -‘Alligator’ The Nash Strat

by | Mar 21, 2015 | 0 comments


For today’s Tools of
the Trade
feature the rock room will focus on one of Jerry Garcia’s most
beloved guitars. Garcia, well known for his custom instruments and his penchant
for changing guitars until satisfied, was always involved in a constant search
for the sound. Garcia’s ‘Alligator’ was donned during what could be the
Grateful Dead’s most revolutionary and improvisational era. While at first
making only sporadic appearances, the guitar moved into full time rotation in
the Fall of 1971 and stayed on the stage through August of 1973 when it was
unseated by the newly custom made ‘Wolf’. What is famously known as the ‘Alligator’ or also the ‘Nash’ Strat, is Garcia’s 1957 Fender
Stratocaster,  a present from Graham Nash
reciprocating for all of the wonderful musical work Garcia had done for him as
well as musical cohort David Crosby. See Jerry’s soaring pedal steel work on
Nash’s ‘I Used to Be a King’ and his slick six stringing on Crosby’s ‘Cowboy Movie’
for two prime examples of Garcia’s melodic additions.

The instrument was purchased by Nash while on
tour in the States in 1970 at a second hand shop for around $250.00. Nash is on record as saying he was in Phoenix, AZ. The guitar
was already the recipient of some modifications, as the 1957 swamp-ash body was
fitted with a 1963 Fender maple neck. Garcia obviously loved the gift, because
by the Fall of 1971 it had become his guitar of choice. Garcia picked and
trilled through the sonic spectrum of the instrument for two massively expressive years, contributing all time
psychedelic guitar to some of the Dead’s most beloved performances. The guitar was adept at speaking in sharp biting Fender through a Twin tone, eliciting an aural
quicksilver. Alternately, the mountain air clean tone of the guitar could twang
like a back porch banjo and allow Garcia’s personal touch to pop spring tight
harmonics from the neck. The diversity of tone and dexterity of touch combo made the ‘Alligator’ an instrument to be feared. The guitar became and is the sound of Europe 1972’. For
many discerning listeners, it is the quintessential sound of Garcia; but, like flavors of melting ice
cream, everyone has their personal favorite.

 After Garcia took possession of the guitar it underwent a
series of changes, both cosmetic and internal. Grateful Dead colleagues and personal
sound masters at Alembic, the company responsible for many modifications to the
Dead’s gear (Phil Lesh’s Mission Control Bass) referred to ‘Alligator’ as a ‘Frankenstein
guitar’ due to its numerous mods, scars and graffiti.The clandestine upgrades undertaken on the guitar are many and not all
are officially documented. The major changes of note are new knobs, new brass
hardware, including a new bridge and brass shield where the white pick guard
had been cracked. It is also said in various places that the guitar was
outfitted with a specialized Alembic StratoBlaster onboard preamp. The three
guitar pickups are stock Fender with no major fiddling done to them. It is well
known to Garcia aficionados that he often switched out his pickups to keep them fresh and
incandescent. With the plethora of sounds available to Garcia
at this point in the Dead’s career, it’s no wonder the concerts of 1972 often
reached stratospheric levels. The sonic pallet finally had caught up with
Garcia’s monumental and peaking abilities.

 
The guitar received its moniker and is famously identified
by the hungry ‘Alligator’ sticker that appears between the middle and neck pickups.
Eating utensils in each respective green hand the sneering red eyed reptile is
ready to devour a musical feast. Other stickers would come and go, but to this
day still a torn and frayed ‘Harley Davidson’ and ‘Policeman Helper’ badge
remain.

The ‘Alligator’ guitar is still owned by the Garcia estate and still
comes out to stretch its strings and play once in a while. The special instrument is now identified with an era when anything was possible for the Grateful Dead. They were playing with a ferocity and experimental sense of purpose that would arguably never be witnessed again. The ‘Nash-Alligator Strat’ was
the fortunate instrument to propagate this formidable wave of inspiration.

Dark Star 7-18-1972

Grateful Dead 4-17-72 VIDEO 

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