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Garcia ‘Gator Guit Gets Going Over

Fender’s Custom Shop releases replica of Jerry’s heavily modded Strat.

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26 August 2022

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and the Fender Custom Shop have announced the launch of the Jerry Garcia Alligator Stratocaster guitar in celebration of Garcia’s 80th Birthday. This Masterbuilt bespoke guitar is a meticulously crafted replica of the infamous Strat that Garcia and team, including his then guitar tech and dear friend, Steve Parish extensively modified. Every inch of this well-worn instrument tells a story — from the hammered brass control plate to the iconic Alligator decal that earned the Strat its moniker. 

A guitar this curious could only come from the mind of Garcia and his crew of like-minded visionaries. The Alligator Strat guitar is not only an ode to the joys of instrument modification but to the nature of collaboration and community that Garcia nurtured throughout his storied career. “Having the opportunity to replicate an iconic guitar from such a legendary artist is a Masterbuilders’ dream,” said Mike Lewis, VP of Product Development, Fender Custom Shop. “Recounting how each scratch was made, the stories behind each sticker and every modification made on the guitar felt almost like we were there with Jerry Garcia rocking on stage in the 70s. We are so grateful to Steve, Andy Logan/Grateful Guitars Foundation, and the Jerry Garcia Family for their trust in us. Now 100 others will have the opportunity to carry on the Garcia Alligator Strat legacy.”

While Jerry Garcia is perhaps best known for his kaleidoscopic playing with the Grateful Dead, the story of the Alligator begins with a different, albeit equally historic musical act. By 1970, Garcia had earned himself quite the reputation. He was called into the studio by acts like Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as a session player. That same year, singer-songwriter and co-founder of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Graham Nash, began recording his solo album, Songs for Beginners. Among the roster of rock and roll greats he enlisted to play on the album was twenty-eight-year-old Jerry Garcia. Nash was so impressed by Garcia’s playing that he decided to gift him with a 1955 swamp ash Stratocaster guitar. Garcia was immediately infatuated with the lightweight guitar. The single coils allowed him to conjure the twang of his country and western heroes, while the guitar’s remarkable high-end response provided clarity even when played through heavy distortion.

But just as Garcia was entering the honeymoon phase with his new go-to axe, the ‘55 Strat guitar almost met its demise. In November 1971, Garcia had just hit the stage at Boston Symphony Hall when the frigid November weather hit him like a ton of bricks. He hit the first note of his set and just like that, the lower half of the pickguard cracked wide open. As the guitar’s electronics spilled out, Garcia frantically waved his tech, Steve Parish, onstage for a helping hand. Parish started shoving the guts of the instrument back in place while keeping everything together with nothing more than a roll of gaffer’s tape. Miraculously, Garcia and the Strat made it through the rest of the show. Some days later, the pair decided to replace the missing chunk of pickguard with a Masonite plate (replaced with a brass plate in the early 80’s).

From there, the modifications just kept coming. By 1972, the Alligator was hardly recognisable from the 1955 Stratocaster that Graham Nash gifted Garcia back in 1970. However, thanks to the countless personal touches added by Parish and Garcia, it has become one of history’s most iconic guitars. “There’s a lot I can tell you about this guitar,” said Steve Parish. “I’m very lucky because I got to work with Jerry to take care of his guitars… Jerry played a lot of guitars and a lot of Strats but he never had a favourite. Fender, Fender, Fender everything. He played Fender Twin Reverb because he loved it, and we collected every Fender we could buy. But this guitar quickly became his favourite.”

To honour Garcia’s lifelong devotion to pushing the limits of creativity and this legendary instrument, Fender Custom Shop has recreated the Alligator Strat with staggering accuracy. Starting with the headstock, the attention to detail is immediately noticeable. This Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster comes with Schaller M6 tuning heads and a disc string tree, some of the Alligator’s first modifications. The one-piece rift-sawn maple neck was fabricated from a digital scan of the original guitar’s neck. Per Garcia’s preference, the neck is a 7.25-inch radius and outfitted with medium vintage frets.

The body of this guitar is where Garcia’s influence shines through the most. All three iconic stickers, the ‘police helper’ and Harley-Davidson logo on the upper horn and the infamous grinning Alligator in between the neck and middle pickup, have been faithfully recreated. The infamous brass control plate can be found housing the volume pots and 5-way toggle switch. The bridge is also made from custom brass and is reinforced with a rosewood base plate. As far as pickups are concerned, the Alligator Strat comes equipped with custom wound ‘55 style single-coils, providing classic Stratocaster bell-like tones with singing mid-range and cutting highs. “This guitar is a piece of American history,” said Austin MacNutt, Fender Custom Shop Master Builder. “There is so much history behind each alteration and modification made to the guitar; to have the opportunity to have the original for a day, take it apart, look inside and replicate it has been an honour.”

CONTACT

Fender: fender.com

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