Thanks Playingdead... Sorry, I don't know how I missed that - it was sitting right there. I guess I thought he meant something posted much earlier... anyway, I can agree about the sound of those studio recording outtakes. It's pretty weak and lifeless. Though, to me, they were usually pretty lifeless in the studio with the acception of "In The Dark" - it was the curse of the Dead - in house anyway. Most years, I just don't know how he could have 'that' sound in the earphones and think to himself... "yeah, that's a keeper"
Anyway, I spent the day conducting an electronic experiment and listening to as many archive clips (from various '94 shows) as I could find. Fun homework assignment. I did hear a number of tunes that have that strong, distinct (I'll call it "tinkly") acoustic tone. So, I've come to a number of different conclusions about this whole topic:
1) There was definitely some kind of sonic blending and tone shaping happening - either on Jerry's guitar or at his rack or at the board. It's such a dramatic change (concert to concert/song to song). These shows don't all sound the same. Some do, but most don't - some have a strong tinkly acoustic-simulation vibe and others just sound like a thin electric direct sound while some are closer to that old '70's-'80's tone. My best guess at this point is that there was either a splitter in the rack (like the Rane SM 26 or maybe one of those mysterious shiny custom paneled rack units!?!?) which allowed a buffered signal from all/any of his pickups to be independantly processed and/or blended and sent direct to a board. The funny thing is it doesn't sound like any mic preamp or direct box I've ever heard. I took enough college credits to have been a music major - including studio recording/engineering and entertainment law.
I happen to own a GrooveTube 'Brick' (all tube preamp/direct box) that definitely fattens up the tone of any guitar (usually used for bass). It sounds nothing like Garcia's tone. I also have a high quality stereo mic preamp/eq/compressor rack unit that sounds like most of the great studio recording consoles of the 60's and 70's. It's got a different sound entirely. Warm and clean. It's the sound you expect from a vintage board. I've also got a Mackie mixer. Crisp 'straight wire' gain. We all know the sound of this preamp. It's on half the pop/rock recordings of the 80's (mixed on Mackie boards direct to ADAT). That's definitely not it.
2) The tinkly acoustic sound is also definitely not from a direct out of a GT Trio either. I own two of them and I tried them both "direct" to all three preamp types. It sounds nothing like that tone. Each of these Trios is from a different era of manufacturing (at least ten years apart) and while they have subtle differences in tone (sent through an amp), the direct out (from both the "effects send" and the "line out") is strong and clean. If you crank up the gain a bit you get a hot overdriven signal just like you'd expect.
I tested this with a guitar with DiMarzio Super II's. The closest I got to Jerry's sound was using a BOSS GE-7 Eq pedal pumped straight into my acoustic amp (Fender Acoustasonic SFX II). It was like artificially creating a weak timbre though since I had to boost highs and pull out lows and mids on the Eq and mess with the "feedback notch" control on the amp. It was close, but not really the same thing - probably helps to have 10,000 watts of Crest amps breathing through a Meyersound PA.
3) Also, I've noticed that when the band was hot and Jerry was "on" (both vocally and musically) some of these shows sound very different from the nights surrounding them. These hot nights are some of my all time favorite shows and that acoustic sound is definitely part of it. I admit it's partly because it takes me back to being there. I also like the effect it has on the rest of the band - it turned them into a psychadelic jug band with the best PA sound system on the planet (those custom Meyersound drivers)!
It all depended on strong vocals to bring the band alive and Jerry cranking up the volume a little to stand out while hitting all the right notes. The best quality audio example I found last night on archive.org was the soundboard recording from Nassau Coliseum on 3-27-94. It just had that energy and the recording is much better than most. There are quite a few tunes that shine here - mostly from strong vocals and tight guitar lines. However, none of the tunes from my "Spring Break '94" CD are actually from this night.
I did find some of the songs from my CD on archive.org but the recording quality was really poor. My CD was a soundboard/audience mix at the board - it's fantastic - lots of bass with loud, clear vocals. It got me thinking (and reading the comment sections) that this tone sounded a lot better in a soundboard mix than from the audience's perspective. In other words, better on tape than if you were even at the venue! If you listen to some of these clips I can see what you mean that it just seems too thin from the audience. But, on my soundboard/aud mix Jerry's tone was loud clear and warm AND 'tinkly acoustic'.
Here's the dates I found from my CD. Whoever put my CD together had access to the soundboard/audience mix that the FOH engineer was making, in other words, not just a soundboard but a bootlegged mix from the tour:
Mama Tried - Richfield Coliseum OH 3/20/94 (good soundboard on archive.org)
Big River - Richfield Coliseum OH 3/20/94 (good soundboard)
Peggy-O - Richfield Coliseum OH 3/21/94 (great solos -terrible sound)
Me & My Uncle - Nassau Coliseum NY 3/24/94 (great energy -terrible sound)
Maggie's Farm - Nassau Colisum NY 3/24/94 (all time fav fun -terrible sound)
Black Throated Wind - The Omni GA 4/1/94 (good soundboard - nice building solo)