Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead might not have been the most influential guitarist of his time, but he certainly had a unique and inspired tone.
But how did he achieve his sound? Let us explore the gear he used and see if we can recreate his unique tone.
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Unfortunately, getting the same guitar used by Jerry Garcia is quite literally impossible. Jerry played custom-built guitars are truly one of a kind.
His main guitar was one built by Doug Irwin. It used custom wound single coil pickups as well.
The easiest way to get close to his tone is with a single coil Strat-style guitar. That means that a Fender Strat like the American Professional II or the Player Stratocaster is the two obvious options. The Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s is also a great budget option.
Just like his guitars, Jerry’s amps are also not easy to come by. His main amp for much of his career was a Fender Silverface Twin Reverb.
These amps are quite rare. You will likely only be able to find one second-hand on Reverb, and even then, it is going to set you back thousands of dollars.
But luckily, there are great alternatives that are more affordable. They will also still be able to get you quite close to Jerry’s sound.
The best option will be a similar Fender amp. The ‘65 Twin Reverb is a modern amp that is fairly similar to the Solverface.
Jerry’s pedalboard is a bit more straightforward than his guitars and amps. The pedals he used can still easily be found.
His delay pedal was the MXR MX118. He used this for most of his career, replacing it immediately when one broke without testing other delay pedals.
The MX118 is hard to come by these days, but the MXR Carbon Copy is a good alternative. Its tone isn’t quite as weighty as the MX118’s, but it is still a fantastic analog delay.
There isn’t much information regarding the reverb he used. It is known that he used a Real Tube Reverb.
Alternatively, you can just use a good analog reverb pedal like the TC Electronics Drip Spring Reverb.
For distortion, Jerry used a Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal distortion pedal, whose modern version is the HM-2W.
Interestingly, he would often use it alongside his OS-2 overdrive pedal. As you can imagine, using an overdrive and distortion at the same time can cause some noise issues.
To compensate for this, he used a Boss GE-7 Equalizer pedal. This helps to shape the sound of the overdrive and distortion.
The final piece of Jerry’s pedalboard was his envelope filter. He specifically used a Mu-Tron III.
This pedal creates a variety of synth sounds through your guitar. The more percussive your playing and the sharper you play your strings, the crazier the sounds you get.
The Mu-Tron III is another piece of vintage gear that is hard to come by. Alternatively, you can use an envelope filter like the Electro-Harmonix Micro Q-Tron.
Jerry’s Amp Settings
With the right gear picked out, we can finally start looking at the settings that Jerry Garcia used.
Jerry’s tone was fairly bright and had quite a bit of twang to it. But he was also known for boosting his mids to make his tone a bit fuller and punchier.
There was very little bass in his tone, and not too much gain. It was also quite spacey, thanks to his use of reverb and the envelope filter.
Let us take a look at a basic signal chain to get a Jerry Garcia sound. For this chain, we will use the envelope filter and the Tube Screamer. These will go into the amp, followed by the reverb.
So, starting with the envelope filter, your settings should look something like this:
- Q – 5
- Thresh – 5
- Level – 6
- Gain – 6/7
- Tone – 5
- Level – 6
- Gain – 6
- Volume – 6
- Bass – 2
- Mids – 8
- Treble – 9
- Dwell – 4
- Tone – 5/6
- Level – 4
With these settings, you should be able to get fairly close to Jerry’s sound. Don’t forget to experiment and adjust the settings until they sound right to you. Every amp and pedal is different, and these settings won’t necessarily be universal.
And that should do it for Jerry Garcia’s tone. This should be all the gear and settings you need to get you playing your favorite Grateful Dead songs.