I like many others, love that heavenly tone from Jerry's Strat, especially as captured exhaustively throughout the Spring and late Summer 1972. That Strat playing off what I believe was mostly Bobby's Gibson semi hollow bodies during this period was absolute Dead aural gold. We are very fortunate this period has been comprehensively captured in dynamic thick high quality sound, talk about right place right time for multi-track recording an entire tour.
I am not sure if Jer used the same Strat and rig setup throughout the entire April - August 1972 period, I feel he may have been changing Strats and/or amps and to be honest am too lazy to look it up. Anyhow, to these ears, his tone sounds a bit different once we hit August 1972. Nonetheless, I really am fond of the tone he conjures throughout the magical Berkley Community Theater and Veneta, Oregon shows in mid to late August 1972. Wow that to me is the height of impeccable clean Garcia Strat tone.
Don't get me wrong I love me fall-winter 1972 tour as well but I hear differences in tone after Veneta but perhaps that is due to the recordings not being as well captured in Fall of 1972. The Strat on the Sunshine Daydream release weaves, parries and blends so phenomenally well with Weir's inspired Gibson rhythm. Billy is just raging throughout this period and I think on the whole I prefer one drummer Dead. So when you add to how crisply they managed to capture the drums in this period, you have the recipe for what with great difficulty has to be my favorite sonic period for the Dead if I am forced to choose.
Then again 1974 mirrors this period in 1972 with many great quality recordings captured and tone, tone, tone. I am particularly fond of the sound from March 1974 - October 1974. I notice a sonic difference in February 1974. Obviously there is nothing at all wrong with February 1974. Musically, it is absolutely bullet proof and I have played these shows loud and proud for over 25 years continuing on a regular basis to do so. Aurally it is a different beast from what emerges after the Sound Test done at the Cow Palace in March 1974.
The batshit crazy music going forward into spring and summer and concluding at Winterland in October is without question among their finest efforts. A sublime period again for mixes coupled with tone and demonstrating a confident band at their height of their powers in terms of inventive playing and bolstered by the fat, in your face sound coming from the Wall of Sound. I have to point out that when the Wall was fully up and charged and running well, Phil never sounded so amazingly thick and rich. I think this has to be my favorite era for Phil tone with the peak coming in Winterland in October 1974. Thankfully 1974 left us with so many pristine recordings, ripe with creamy bottom end so that subsequent generations will be able to shake up housing units of their own and those of their neighbors with great and utter confidence.
1977 is another fine tone year but a departure from what came before. One of the most pleasurable and perhaps less appreciated sides of the Dead is the shape shifting they did in terms of tone. Again licorice, as some people do not like their guitarists switching up tones so radically. For me this is to the Dead's credit and has been one of their most endearing qualities and why my ear gravitates towards so many repeat listenings.
Anyhow 1977 from San Bernardino through to Winterland in June is pure magic - Travis Bean coupled with Ibanez it just defines the Terrapin era. What an amazing change in tone for a band in just 5 years when you compare the differences between May 72 to May 77!!! Things change up again after Englishtown in early September 1977. Fall 1977 is a delightful, yet different tone period thanks in large part to the return of the Wolf for Fall tour 1977. i have to say what makes 1977 so extra special is the dichotomy of overall sound between Spring Tour vs Fall & Winter Tour. Two very different yet enjoyable beasts in terms of tone with Spring being pristine and so pure whereas fall is rougher and growls and howls more with the re-emergence of Wolfie. This also carries well into 1978, as others have rightly pointed out this period as well is rich with great amped up shows where an energetic band clearly is driving that train delivering some of their most powerful explosives moments.
As far as the Tiger goes I have recently fallen large and hard for Jerry's Tiger tone in 1983. The TIger is in all its glory especially on that May - June Garcia Band tour which has to be amongst Jerry's best in terms of playing. It is straight up manic and the tone is incredible as well. Unfortunately recordings are not nearly as pristine in this period and board captures are not what they were in the golden 72 - 77 era.
Weir continues to sound good on the Ibanez in 1982 - 83 but once he moves on to the Casio (the black Strat-like guitar he plays on the NYE 1983 run videos), he loses me somewhat and his tone falls flat for me going forward. It works and all I guess in context but I do not enjoy it as the butter-cutting rhythm playing from the red and sunburst Gibsons and later various Ibanezes. Hell I cannot fault him for mixing it up and exploring more and varied palettes into the 80s. It is just overall Weir's tone appeals less to me during this era as the Moduluses are also hit and and miss for me. That said, I did particularly enjoy Weir's tone on the pink guitar used extensively on Spring tour 1989 a period seldom mentioned as it is overshadowed by the stellar shows delivered from June 1989 to Brent's untimely and tragic passing in summer 1990. The 2 Pittsburgh shows from SPring 89 are fine examples of cool Weir tone from this period. As well check out the Ann Arbor shows as well in particular the fine Let It Grow from set I 4-5-89 and Scarlet -> Fire and Playing -> Built To Last from set II 4-6-89 to hear what I mean.
Coming back to the Tiger, I would be remiss to point out that the bouncy organic tone of Jerry in 1987 is blissful Tiger as well. Examples of this almost acoustic feel coming from Tiger are heard throughout the year. Here are 4 shows that have garnered a lot of listening for this tone from this period by me - 03-31-87, 09-18-87, 09-19-87 and 12-31-87 - all four available in fantastic sound. Obviously health had to do with it as well, but I love the exuberance and renewed energy that clearly comes through in Garcia's Tiger tone in 1987. Sure while some of the playing may be pedestrian in terms of exploration and jams you cannot deny there is something positively jumping in the tone he coaxed out of the Tiger during this era.
Not at all a MIDI guy. While again I embraced the adventurism of it at the time, in the end I like my guitars to sound like guitars, my flutes to sound like flutes and my horns to sound like horns in general. So when looking for recordings to listen to I tend to reach much more for pre-MIDI Dead more often than not. That said, flat out I was not at all a fan of Jerry's tone post summer 1993. To me it sounds very weak, thin, lifeless and there is an overall processed timber that I cannot wrap my ears around. This goes beyond the obvious of how discomforting it can be when hearing those particularly painful miserable nights when his playing would unfortunately largely mimic his choice of tone at the end. Any time I have listened to post summer 1993 (believe me I have tried), I have always had qualms with Jerry's thin latter day tone, especially coming out of that Lightning Bolt guitar, I have not heard one show where that has me convinced tone wise.
Anyhow, there you have my long winded $0.02 on tone across the years.
Last edited by healthy_scratch on Tue May 10, 2016 1:46 am, edited 6 times in total.