Hello all. I found this link by accident tonight and by shear gravitational force I was compelled to join up and comment based on my endless search to nail down the Garcia tone dragon! I made lots of phone calls and emails over the years and even went down to visit some of the folks who made it all possible back in the day. One thing that's clear... The Grateful Dead were the most experimental band in music history (and not just with the drugs!). LOL ...that included just about every piece of electronic equipment known to man (and some that will never be). It was a forty year moving laboratory for the entire manufacturing community!
Anyway, I mean absolutely NO disrespect to anyone who commented previously, but I feel the need to correct some widely held beliefs about the Grateful Dead equipment usage that I learned from the proverbial "horses mouths" over the years.
1) As far as I know Jerry never played live in the 90's without a speaker being miced - even when you couldn't see it. Most people don't know that for all those years - back behind his racks - sat a small 1x12 cabinet with a mic attached. They wanted a backup in case anything happened to his main rig in the middle of a song. This way if a tube or a speaker blew the stage mix engineer could just pull down a fader and the offending sound was removed from the audience's ears.
This was blended with many different signals (some miced in front of his larger JBL cabinets and some direct to the board or as sends from an effects loop). When they played around with in-ear monitors they fed that miced-up signal into the monitor mix. But, I don't belive he ever went direct alone because back in the 90's most direct sends just sounded kind of "processed". Remember, this is pre-digital amp modeling which brings me to...
2) The "acoustic tone" that SOOOO many people keep refering to as "weak" or somehow different from Jerry's previous sound was from a Mike Christian Tune-O-Matic Piezo saddle. It was an innovative (and invisible) bridge saddle system that ran six little wires from each saddle to a preamp which was blended with Jerry's electric buffered preamp system. This blend is also why from night to night the tone would sometimes change radically from VERY acoustic - almost jug band acoustic tones and back to the very usual electric tone we were used to hearing. I say it was invisible because the wiring was hidden under the saddles (which were direct replacements) and routed internally so there was nothing visible to notice. I tried some right around the time of Jerry's death and low and behold it sounded just like the big guy.
Also, so many people here seem to refer to certain equipment as having been used during one set time frame or another... one thing for sure that I learned from all my conversations with various engineers and designers from Meyersound, GrooveTubes, Mesa Boogie, Hard Truckers, TC Electronic, Tube Works, etc, etc... the band and it's road crew changed around things night after night, show after show, month in month out and year by year. They would modify, rewire, retube, refine just about every piece of gear the band used on stage and off in a constant flux, so it's damn near IMPOSSIBLE to say ANY piece of gear had a time frame or era. They brought stuff from the 70's back in the 90's and mixed things up constantly. The only true constants I know of from about the 70's on were Jerry's pickups (DiMarzio's) and his JBL speakers loaded into custom made - recently available - Hard Trucker's 13 ply european birch cabinets.
I'm trying not to rant - it's just always been funny how many assumptions have become "facts" over the years on chat rooms. I truly don't mean to ruffle anyone's feathers. It's just amusing how many rumors became truth so quickly after Jerry's death.
So, as far as chasing the fatman's tone? Here's my two cents after twenty years of this obsession:
1) Get the pickups... find yourself some vintage DiMarzio's just like Jer's. Strap them to a log of a guitar - something really solid and heavy with either an ebony fingerboard or even graphite if you have to. This got me more than half way and was definitely the single biggest obstacle to nailing down the fatman's elusive tone.
2) Get the GT Trio... there's few options out there that really nail the sound of those old silverface preamps. I bet Jer was psyched the day he first plugged into that realiable new circuit that sounded cleaner, warmer and hiss free! I sure was.
3) Get the JBL's... you can use any speaker under the sun (there are more speaker choices than guitar players these days) and many of them are outstanding. However, if you're looking for one of those last 'pieces of the puzzle' to get Jer's presence and body, you need the JBL's and a sufficient amp (tube or solid state) to drive them. At this point, I'd recommend either a GT D75 (which Jerry never actually used but is THE best sounding and by far the most versitile tube amp I've heard) or a CROWN K1 (not the K2) which does a nice job at mimmicking the old McIntosh MC2300 and it's less than 40lbs and hermetically sealed with NO FAN!!! Great product live and/or in the studio but also out of production from what I hear. They do pop up on Ebay from time to time though.
I will try to find some of the more interesting email correspondances I've had over the years and post clips and photos I was given from the "horses mouths" so to speak. Anyway, good luck to all on your personal "tone voyaaaage".