In May, 1972, I began the project that eventually became the Wolf” (#007). Remembering the balance problems that Alembic was having, I decided to make it asymmetrical to give it good balance. I drew an original design and cut a master plexiglass template to shape the body.
The body core is amaranth, commonly known as purpleheart It grows in the Northeast of South America, in the Guyana’s. Extensive research and testing of numerous species of wood on a world-wide basis by the U.S. Forestry Department demonstrated that for strength, as measured by stiffness, purpleheart exceeds all. It appears grey when first cut, but with exposure to light it turns purple in days to months depending on the shade of purple. Though this wood can turn to an awesome shade of purple, the color doesn’t bleed into the finish, nor is it oily or waxy.
Purpleheart glues most satisfactorily with wood glues (for me that means Franklin “Titebond”]. The body is laminated on both sides with four
1 /28′ thick sheets of maple and purpleheart.
The top and back of this guitar are bookmatched curly western maple. Both maple and walnut, as well as well as other hardwoods have distinct differences between the same species grown the West Coast, with warm winters, and the East Coast, with very cold winter.
The neck of this guitar runs through the middle of the body. It is made from a lamination of fiddleback maple and purpleheart
The peghead of the Wolf is overlaid on both sides with several 1 /’28 thick sheets of maple and purpieheart with each piece turned 180 degrees, thus alternating the direction of grain. The peghead is attached to the neck on the back with a “tongue” of this overlay that runs past the first fret; a feature which is not only visually striking, but also adds tremendous strength at a traditionally weak area.
The fingerboard is made of gaboon ebony and has twenty-four frets. It is bound on each side with four lamination’s of maple, purpleheart and ebony. Each fret slot is cut across the fingerboard just to, but not through, the outside of the binding. Each fret wire is then notched at each end so that only the top of the fret extends all the way to the edge of the fingerboard. Using this process, you don’t see, and more importantly, you don’t feel the ends of the fret wire, making the neck feel very fast and smooth. The fret wire itself is a special nickel-silver wire made by Dunlap. It is wider than that used by Fender and narrower than that used by Gibson and harder than either. On the left side of the neck (the view of the neck and fingerboard that Jerry saw while playing) there are marker dots made c’ sterling silver, and below that, there is a visible layer of marquetry below the binding made of many tiny pieces of 1/28″ thick holly, which is naturally white, colored with annelid dyes.
The string scale is 25″. The fingerboard is inlaid with African ivory except for the first fret, which is mother-of-pearl.
I configured the guitar with a plate system for mounting pickups. This allowed for a variety of pickup choices. It was originally set up with three Fender Stratocaster pickups. I also provided Jerry with a second pickup plate for Humbuckers (hum-canceling dual-coil pickups). The 70’s were a time of evolution in guitar pickup design, so when Jerry got a new guitar, there was usually a period of experimentation. Then, from time to time Jerry would try new pickups, but once he found what he liked, he usually stuck with it. Sometimes Jerry felt that an old set of pickups. would get “tired”, so I’d change them out for new ones.
The pickup selector is the five position Stratocaster type. Front, middle, or rear, or combinations of the middle and either front or rear. Wolf is equipped with a master volume control, and a tone control for each of the middle and front pickups. The two subminiature switches set side by side are the pickup coil switches. There are two 1/4″ phone jacks. One went directly to the amp, and the other to Jerry’s effects loop, with the master volume located after the effects loop. There is also a subminiature switch to toggle the effects loop in or out. The electronics cavity accessible from the back plate is shielded from the electromagnetic field with silver print. The chrome-nickel tuning machines and bridge are made by Schaller (W. Germany). The switch plate, pickup plate, back plate, guitar serial number plate (located on the back side of peghead) are all made of solid brass and are chrome-nickel plated.
For historical purposes, I should mention that the peghead of this guitar was originally faced with Brazilian rosewood and had a large inlay of a peacock made of abalone, mother-of-pearl, brass and ivory. This was the first guitar to have the distinctive D. Irwin peghead shape, the traditional mark of the luthier, that I still use today. I chose the peacock because the peghead needed something, and I hadn’t yet decided on the eagle as the company logo at this time. It is the image of this guitar that appears in the self-portrait that graces the cover of Jerry’s solo album “Compliments of Garcia”.
A few years after I delivered Wolf to Jerry, the guitar took several tumbles during Grateful Dead’s European tour. The first, a fall of about fifteen feet off the stage onto cement, had no effect on the guitar at all, but the second incident caused a crack to appear in the peghead. When Jerry finally brought me the Wolf for repair, the crack was actually very minor, but a stitch in time, saves nine. Repairing the crack wasn’t much of a problem, but having the guitar again made me reassess my early inlay work, and prompted me to reface the peghead with ebony and replace what I determined to be a poor excuse for a peacock with my signature eagle inlay cut from mother-of-pearl.
I also noticed the guitar needed some refinishing work so I took this opportunity to inlay the Wolf into the body and refinish the whole instrument, hence its moniker.
When I finished and first delivered the Wolf to Jerry in May, 1973, I was anxious to see his reaction. He was immediately quite pleased, but after playing it for about five minutes, Jerry asked me if I would build him another guitar. I asked him what he would like in the next guitar? He told me that I already knew what he liked in a guitar, that I should make it the way I thought best, not to worry about how much it cost, just “don’t hold back”. Oh, yes! My kind of job!
There is really something quite special about delivering your work, and getting this kind of reaction… it ain’t really work!
Lets see… “Don’t hold back”… This will require some thought
09/28/77. return of “Wolf”, w/added buffer/fx loop, still with 3 single-coil p/u’s…
mid ’78 “Wolf” gets new Dimarzio pickups:(b,m)Dual Sound;(n)SDS-1
Wolf briefly came out of retirement in 1988 as a guinea pig for MIDI synthesizer experiments.
- Serial number: #025
- Luthier: Doug Irwin
- Client: Jerome John “Jerry” Garcia
- Medium: Amaranth/Purpleheart, curly western maple, flddleback maple, gaboon ebony, ivory, brass, mother-of-pearl
Photographs courtesy: Herb Greene
Photos of Jerry Garcia Playing Wolf (various photographers)
Jerry Garcia and Wolf