This is the 6th edition of this series. In Part 1, Part2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. We covered Brian May’s Red Special, Willie Nelson’s Trigger, George Harrison’s Rocky, Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat, Bruce Springsteen’s guitar, Neil Young’s Old Black guitar, John Lennon’s Casino + a Bonus, Keith Richards Telecaster, Paul McCartney’s Bass, and Eric Clapton’s Blackie.
Today it’s Jimmy Page’s Gipson EDS -1275 Guitar and Jerry Garcia’s Alligator
Jimmy Page’s Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck Guitar
This guitar was born out of necessity for Page. They had just recorded Stairway to Heaven and Jimmy played a 12-string in the song after the intro. To play the song live without a 12-string would not work. He was the only guitar player in the band so to replicate that part they either needed another guitar player or a way for Jimmy to switch to the 12 string while playing the song.
The solution came in the shape of a Gibson double-neck. A 6-string and a 12-string on the same guitar. Jimmy had seen pictures of American guitarists with a double neck guitar… Grady Martin with a Bigsby double-neck, Joe Maphis with a Mosrite. He also saw a strange band named Family with a guitar player named Charlie Whitney with a double neck guitar.
Gibson first introduced the doubleneck guitar in 1958 with the EDS-1275’s forerunner the “Double 12”. The body and hardware specifications for the EDS-1275 include a solid mahogany SG-style body, a dark cherry finish with walnut filler, chrome hardware, a chrome ABR Bridge with chrome tumblewheels, Schaller strap locks, a five-play pickguard, two volume and tone control knobs, a three-way pickup-selector switch and a three-way neck selector switch.
Jimmy played Les Pauls and wanted to get another Gipson. By the time Page wanted an EDS-1275, they were no longer in production so he ordered a custom-made cherry guitar.
Page’s EDS-1275 has a slightly different body shape from that of the then current model. Page’s also has one-piece mahogany necks rather than the current three-piece maple, and has tailpieces positioned near the bottom of the body, reportedly increasing sustain, and Patent No. or T-Top humbucking pickups.
Jimmy’s EDS-1275 made its live debut in March 1971, allowing him to play 12-string and six-string parts without swapping guitars and it certainly did become iconic.
Page recently donated a later model EDS-1275 for charity, but it was not the famous one he used with Led Zeppelin. That guitar remains firmly in his possession.
Jimmy Page: “I asked to get one from Gibson, because I knew it was the only way,” “I knew I couldn’t do Stairway…, but it was essential to do it. So it became iconic, didn’t it? If a little tough on the left shoulder…Yeah, though I’ve got heavier guitars! But nevertheless, it was pretty weighty.”
Jerry Garcia’s Alligator
Graham Nash gave this 1957 Strat to Jerry Garcia as a gift in 1970. Nash purchased the guitar in 1970 from a pawnshop in Phoenix. Graham wanted to show his appreciation for Jerry’s guitar work on his solo album “Songs for Beginners.”
Roadie Steve Parish recalled a night in Buffalo on Garcia’s first tour outside the band, where “it was so cold that when Jerry stepped out on stage and strummed his ‘Alligator’ … the face plate on the guitar broke and the guts popped out. That’s how the show began.” Alligator got patched up with gaffer’s tape, and a new brass plate affixed at the tour’s end.
The Dead helped start an instrument and gear-building auxiliary company called Alembic. Alembic was found by the Dead’s sound man and chemist Owsley Stanley. Garcia’s Strat found itself on the Alembic workbench numerous times.
In 1972, Garcia would add a number of stickers to the body, including a grinning cartoon alligator on the pickguard that gave the guitar its name. But by then nearly every other bit of the instrument had been overhauled in a series of refinements by Alembic technician Frank Fuller.
The guitar got new Schaller tuning pegs and gears, a series of bridges (Gibson ABR-1 Tune-o-Matic and an Alembic custom), a new control plate (hammered brass), taller frets, and an in-board post-volume “blaster”. “Each pickup cover had its own individually grounded wire.”
Technicians Frank Fuller and Rick Turner of Alembic Guitars modified the guitar regularly, so much so that they referred to it as a “Frankenstein” guitar. Jerry played this guitar on the Dead’s famous first full European tour in 1972 and their two great albums Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty. Alligator played its last show on Garcia’s 30th birthday…August 1st, 1973 in Jersey City, NJ.
The show was recorded by Deadheads, Alligator was sent off properly with a long version of “Dark Star.”
Jerry would play more custom built guitars through his career. Wolf (73-93), Tiger (79-95), Lighting Bolt (93-95), Rosebud (90-95), and Top Hat (95). My favorite remains Alligator.
Graham originally bought the guitar for $250 dollars…the guitar was sold at an auction in 2019 for $420,000 dollars.