Garcia’s Cripes

Lightning Bolt

Garcia received Lightning Bolt from Cripe as a gift. It was his primary instrument for the last two years of his life. “Bolt was the seventh guitar Cripe ever finished—lucky seven”
Jeffrey Brainard, St. Petersburg Times.
Photo by Allen Sklar
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Top Hat

Satisfied with Lightning Bolt, Garcia commissioned a back up guitar from Cripe—Top Hat. While he never played it on stage, Garcia reportedly was pleased with it and played it at home.

“Top Hat is fashioned of wart hog tusk and serves as a cover plate for the Roland GK-2 synth power supply.”
— Steve Cripe
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Garcia Intended Guitars

Cripe was fond of ornate inlays as exemplified by the “Eagle” and “Tribute” aka “Saturn”, two guitars that were built with Garcia in mind.
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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Four of Garcia’s guitars are exhibited here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum including Cripe’s Lightning Bolt and Top Hat. “Roughly a half million people walk by this exhibit each year.”
— Howard Kramer, Curatorial Director
Photograph Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, OH
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Lighting Bolt

Jerry Garcia Cripe Lightning Bolt Guitar

“Jerry Garcia’s “Lightning Bolt”. Black walnut core, East Indian rosewood top and back, laminated East Indian rosewood and maple neck, laminated headstock, 24-fret Brazilian rosewood fretboard, black Schaller hardware. Phenomenal sound thanks to the genius who played it. Lightning Bolt design is mother of pearl.”
— Original description by Steve Cripe and transcribed by Hal Hammer, Jr.

Cripe was clearly influenced by Irwin’s “dog ears” body style and sandwiching of body layers on Rosebud and Tiger (below left and middle):
Guitar photos © Steve Armato

Irwin’s Rosebud
Seven layered body from the top: Cocobolo, maple, cocobolo, maple, cocobolo, maple, cocobolo.

Garcia with Irwin’s Tiger.
Photo by © Bob Minkin Photography

Cripe’s Lightning Bolt
Five layered body from the top: East Indian rosewood, maple, black walnut, maple, East Indian rosewood.

Cripe’s creativity was in complementing Irwin’s design with a nine-ply laminated neck through the body construction.

Lightning Bolt’s Volute
He also added a volute, the bulbous mass of wood at the base of the headstock. It has alternating rosewood and maple laminates. The volute added balance, structural integrity and sustain to the guitar.

Lightning Bolt’s Headstock

“Cripe hadn’t known that the oval-shaped body inlays on Doug Irwin’s Tiger and Rosebud concealed their batteries, so (Gary) Brawer had to remove the Lightning Bolt inlay and put it on a cover-plate.”
— Baker Rorick, Guitar Shop

Lightning Bolt weighs 10.6 pounds and has a 25 1/2” scale from nut to bridge. It measures 40 1/8 “ from top to bottom. The top, back and headstock veneer are East Indian rosewood from an Asian opium bed.

The remains of Cripe’s opium bed at Resurrection Guitars workshop. The shorter pieces to the left are purpleheart, which Cripe used on some of his other guitars.

Cripe wore out his VHS copy of the Grateful Dead video “Dead Ahead” using the freeze frame feature to fashion a guitar after Irwin’s Tiger. Here is a sample of Garcia playing his Tiger guitar from the video “So Far”.
So Far, Courtesy of Grateful Dead Productions

Top Hat

Jerry Garcia Cripe Top Hat Guitar

Jerry Garcia’s “Top Hat”. Walnut core with cocobolo top and back, laminated cocobolo, maple and rosewood neck, laminated headstock, 24 fret cocobolo fretboard with recycled ivory inlays, black Schaller hardware. Top hat design made of warthog tusk and served as coverplate for battery compartment (for MIDI).”
— Original description by Steve Cripe and transcribed by Hal Hammer, Jr.
Guitar photos © Steve Armato

Sandwiching of body layers.
Five layered body from the top: Cocobolo, maple, walnut, maple, Cocobolo.

Garcia with Irwin’s Rosebud.
Cripe duplicated Irwin’s “rose ears” body style with Top Hat as well. He had to “wing it” and build Top Hat from scratch since he failed to photograph or document Lightning Bolt before sending it to Garcia.
Photograph by Bob Minkin Photography

Top Hat also has a nine-ply neck through the body construction with alternating cocobolo, maple, and rosewood and laminates.

Top Hat’s Headstock and Fretboard.
The fret markers are double trapezoid inlays made of recycled ivory. At the 9th fret, one of the inlays is now missing. Top Hat has a larger firecracker inlay than Lightning Bolt.

Top Hat’s Volute.

Top Hat weighs 10.4 pounds and has a 25 3/4” scale. It measures 40 1/4 “ from top to bottom.

Garcia Intended Guitars

Jerry Garcia Cripe Eagle Guitar


“Purpleheart core with cocobolo top and back, laminated cocobolo, maple and purpleheart neck, laminated headstock, 24 fret Brazilian rosewood fretboard, warthog tusk ivory eagles head inlay, semi-hollow body. No electronics. This guitar was most likely to be Jerry’s next guitar. This guitar was built at the same time as Jerry’s “Top Hat.”
— Original description by Steve Cripe and transcribed by Hal Hammer, Jr.
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Jerry Garcia Cripe Tribute Guitar


“Steve Cripe was building a guitar for Jerry in the summer of 1995. After Jerry passed, Steve decided to finish the guitar as a tribute to Garcia. The guitar he built has 64 pieces of mother of pearl inlay, 9-ply neck, 8-ply body with a 1/2″ cocobolo top, piezo bridge pickups, three humbuckers, FX loop and the cover plate features the planet Saturn with sterling silver rings.”
— Adam Palow
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Jerry Garcia Cripe Top Hat Guitar

Was most likely to be Jerry’s next guitar”
— Steve Cripe

“Eagle” is simple elegance. Asymmetric body contours, supple curvature, smooth elongated horns—they all soothe the eye and invite the touch. It is semi-hollow and weighs nine pounds, eight ounces with a 25 ½” scale.
Guitar photos © Steve Armato

Nine-ply laminated neck is made of rosewood, maple, purpleheart, maple, rosewood, maple, purpleheart, maple, and rosewood.

The body consists of five layers of wood. From the top: cocobolo, maple, purpleheart, maple, and cocobolo.

This is the only Cripe guitar with an inlay in the body as opposed to on the cavity cover. A battery lies beneath it but the cover is on the back.

Three Harmonic Design Z90 pickups are encased in a brass mounting plate.

This is the only semi-hollow body guitar Cripe made that has been identified.

Pat O’Donnell of Resurrection Guitars holds Eagle after retrieving it from Cripe’s workshop.

Tribute aka Saturn

Jerry Garcia Cripe Tribute Guitar

“Tribute” aka “Saturn” is a stunning composite of cocobolo, maple, ebony, mother of pearl, sterling silver, and brass and weighs eleven pounds, six ounces with a standard 25 ½” scale.

Guitar photos © Steve Armato

The battery cover plate of “Tribute” is 3/8” deep to accommodate a surreal 3D inlay that changes hue when exposed to different lighting.

3D mother of pearl designs in the headstock: Eight pieces of inlay form the trunk and lie beneath the base and fans of the palm tree. The cocobolo truss rod cover has a dolphin mother of pearl inlay. The peg-head binding is maple. It has a 1 5/8” brass nut.

The body consists of eight layers of wood. From the top: cocobolo, another layer of cocobolo, maple, cocobolo, maple, cocobolo, maple, cocobolo.

The binding surrounding the 24-fret ebony board is maple. The fretwire measures .011” x .057”.

Encased in acrylic, the 3D sterling silver rings literally surround the planet.

The ebony fretboard has forty-seven separate pieces of mother of pearl inlay.

Three Schaller humbucking pickups (two neck and one bridge) encased in a cocobolo mounting plate with a brass bottom.

  • Schaller bridge with piezo saddles
  • Five way blade pickup selector switch
  • Master volume
  • Master tone
  • Piezo tone control
  • Piezo-magnetic blend control
  • Coil tap switch for neck pickup
  • Coil tap switch for middle pickup
  • On/off effects loop switch
  • Effect loop ¼” jack
  • Output jack ¼’”

Tribute pictured during construction—from Cripe’s files.

Lightning Bolt, Tribute, and Top Hat—outtake from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Photo Shoot.

Rock and Roll Hall of fame

Interview with Howard Kramer, Curatorial Director of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum by Steve Armato

Armato: How did the Rock Hall of Fame acquire the exhibit for Jerry Garcia’s guitars?
Kramer: I got a call from Grateful Dead Productions in February 2001. They had a number of Jerry’s guitars – a total of six of them. They were willing to loan us five of them, indefinitely. At the time they were just sitting in a warehouse, and they felt that was wrong. They thought the guitars should be in a place where their fans could appreciate them.

Photographs Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, OH

Armato: How long did it the process take to complete?
Kramer: The process didn’t take very long. We sent them our loan agreement and negotiated the terms, which was easy. Our loan agreements are pretty basic and they were fine with them.

They did have one condition. The guitars had to be in a place where people could see them without having to pay. The museum is a not-for-profit organization, so we live off admissions. We had to come up with a method of exhibiting the guitars in a location where it didn’t cost people an admission fee to see them. That was a challenge.

Our exhibits department came up with the idea of creating cases that wrap around the support columns in the lobby on our lower level, just outside the main exhibit hall. That was the genesis of making it happen. We created these cases in a common area. Now, anyone can come in, take a look at them, and turn around and leave, if they want. They don’t have to pay admission to see them. That is how we satisfied that condition and Grateful Dead Productions was happy with that arrangement. The exhibit was completed in the spring of 2001.

The concept has expanded to other artists’ instruments, as well.

Armato: It sounds like it’s a good way to entice people to come in and see the rest of the exhibits.
Kramer: I think it’s a great start. People who understand guitars, look at the instruments and know, ‘this is heavyweight, SERIOUS stuff.’ If you are a fan of the artist, you are going to recognize a number of these pieces as the real deal. It’s a teaser to set the tempo of what people are going to see in the rest of the museum.

Armato: How many people visit the Rock Hall of Fame each year?
Kramer: We have roughly half a million visitors go through each year and virtually everybody has to pass by where the Jerry Garcia guitars are exhibited.

Armato: What is the overall reaction to that exhibit?
Kramer: I can’t gauge every exhibit, but I know, from watching people come in the museum, that they immediately stop and take a look. For the casual fan, it’s striking to see the instruments, because they are all beautiful. The four guitars that we have are stunning. For the Grateful Dead fan, it’s revelatory. There are many Dead fans that make a point of stopping here just to see the guitars. Another thing about the way they are exhibited is, you can get very close to them. They are behind the Plexiglas, but you are literally inches away from them. You get a great feeling off these things, the beauty of them.

Howard Kramer and Steve Armato watching the exhibit being reassembled. Photo courtesy of Joe Sligh

Armato: Have any members of the Grateful Dead seen the exhibit?Kramer: Yes. Let’s see, Bob Weir has seen it. I took Mickey Hart through the museum. I assume Bill Kreutzmann must have seen it, but I was not here when Bill visited. Actually, Phil Lesh has been here too. The four guys have seen them. All four have been here.

Armato: Any other comments?
Kramer: I want to go back on one thing. We started out with five guitars and now we have four. That’s because of Irwin’s lawsuit and subsequent auctioning off of Tiger and Wolf.

Photographer Carl Fowler ridding Rosebud of shadows during the Garcia guitar photo shoot

Armato: I’m sure you were sad to see Tiger go.
Kramer: I was, but I wasn’t surprised. When the instruments were first loaned to us, Irwin’s legal issues were brewing. The Dead held back a guitar on purpose.

Armato: That being Wolf.
Kramer: Right, I never saw Wolf. The other thing, for our purposes, we could only put five guitars out anyway. Grateful Dead Productions made a point to leave one out, for whatever reasons. They obviously had a good reason to do so. We were fine with any rationale they had. It wasn’t our concern so much. Were we sad to see Tiger go? Absolutely. But, we still have a great exhibit!

Armato: I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you.