Tongue N’ Groove
As it would happen, the Garcia connection to Cripe guitars would continue well past the loss of both musician and luthier in the hands of yet another Bay Area six-stringed master of the lyre, Steve Kimock. The story of how he came to own two of the surviving Cripe guitars is another threaded through with charity and magic.
First, the disposition of the two instruments in question: Adam Palow, mindful both of his friendship with Steve Cripe as well as the legacy of the fine craftsman’s work, felt compelled to visit Theresa and see about what remained of Steve’s guitar collection. Upon seeing his reaction to holding ‘Teak’ (or ‘No. 6’ as Cripe would have called it), she seemed to get a flash that Adam should finish the guitar, which in his words surpassed his abilities.
Adam began paying her in modest installments that started with the money in his pocket. She would pay a visit to him the next year, 1997, bringing with her not only the still-unfinished Teak, but Ebony, Tribute, Eagle and another Irwin-shaped guitar with oval inlays.
After leaving the guitars with him to use during a recording session for a few weeks, Adam also came away impressed with Ebony.
During their next visit for him to return the guitars to Trilby, FL, Adam paid off Teak and made a down payment on Ebony. Theresa let him take both back to his home in California, where they remained—if not quite in his possession.
TEAK – Its name, unofficial or otherwise, is no misnomer: constructed from rare birdseye teak on top and back with a Brazilian rosewood core, Teak features a neck fashioned from maple laminate and an East Indian rosewood fretboard. One of the hardest woods in the world and resistant to warping from dramatic environmental changes, Cripe likely became adept at using teak during his boatbuilding era of doing fine trim and decorative work on yachts.
After Cripe’s death, Palow found the guitar “taken apart” and missing its electronics, but knew that at one time it had been finished enough to be played. While owning it, however, he says, “I didn’t touch it. All I did was buy a trio of DiMarzio Super 2 pickups, which I gave Ed [Giguere] when it was sold for Steve Kimock to use on The Other Ones tour.”
The Other Ones—a clever name for a band missing its leading light. Seeking a way to honor the legacy without exploiting the brand in a manner crass as many famous bands had and do to this day—continuing on in name only, without the human beings who first made the act possible and relevant—the surviving Dead, for spiritual and probably financial/legal reasons as well, would play together again under a variety of names and configurations while remaining identifiably themselves.
In their case, it made sense to continue—the catalog of remarkable music they produced was a true group effort, a gestalt of multiple virtuoso musicians, writers, thinkers and bohemians seeking a higher ideal. Sure, it could never be the same without Jerry, who possessed that ineffable X factor of so many charismatic artistic geniuses. But then again, he reportedly said much the same when original frontman Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernon departed the coil, in 1973: “It can never be the real Grateful Dead again now,” Garcia is alleged to have remarked.
But life is strange, and the Dead do live on, even today as Dead & Company, fronted still by rhythm guitarist Bob Weir aided and abetted by younger artists like John Mayer and Otiel Burbage. In those days, however, the enormous show business economic engine that had been the Grateful Dead still struggled to find its footing in the wake of losing its charismatic, masterful lead guitarist and symbolic leader. After two years of ‘Furthur Festivals’ populated by various solo acts that delivered so-so fan and artist satisfaction, the 1998 season would see the first real attempt at reconstituting a close approximation of the old band. With Phil Lesh returning from a two-year break to join Weir, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby and a variety of sidemen, including two gunslingers in the form of Kimock and Weir’s side-band guitarist Mark Karan ably, if nervously, attempting to fill enormous Jerry-sized shoes, the festival would lumber across the country and sell out many of the old sheds. It felt like the old days, a little bit. And a big part of this success was the sound of the band, in particular Steve Kimock’s clean Jerry-esque tone and style.
Kimock came of age hanging around San Francisco musicians, with Garcia’s playing as a formative influence among many. His selection by the former Dead made sense; the only problem was that Kimock didn’t own a guitar in his growing collection that could truly emulate the tone of the Irwins, or Cripes for that matter, that Jerry favored.
Cue Adam Palow—or rather, Ed Giguere. Ed, an old friend of Kimock’s, was not only “sitting pretty” in his words, but now thrilled to hear that after years on the club circuit with Bay Area improv stalwarts Zero, Kimock had gotten such a high profile gig.
Ed asked his old friend from the studio scene if he could do anything for him. With finding an appropriate guitar cited as Kimock’s number one issue, Giguere snapped his fingers and remembered a Zero show where Palow had brought the still-unfinished Teak to show around, including to a fascinated Kimock.
After tracking down Palow, who upon hearing the story was more than willing to sell the guitar for such a meaningful purpose—the Jerry thread.
With time running out before the The Other Ones summer tour was to begin, the first stop for Teak was once again the electronics bench of Gary Brawer, who set aside a Metallica guitar repair to quickly finish out the instrument with humbuckers, a new brass plate to replace Cripe’s wooden one, and other details. He stayed in touch with Kimock throughout the day, who gave specifics about how he wanted ‘the action’ set up. At the end of an eight-hour day, Brawer completed the work.
That same night Giguere rushed the guitar to the Club Front studio where Kimock was rehearsing. The guitarist took out the instrument and placed it on a stand. He and Giguere just looked at it for awhile.
“Are you sure you want to just give me this?” Kimock asked.
“I don’t want money. This is straight from my heart. Just take it out there and play it. That’s how I’ll get my joy. Don’t worry about it.”
Kimock nodded and plugged Teak into a Fender Twin amp. He began to play. Ed Giguere stayed for a couple of hours to listen. Later, Kimock would tell people that he didn’t put down his new Cripe guitar for 72 hours.
EBONY – Ebony, the second Cripe that Steve Kimock would come to own after Adam Palow, took a slightly different if equally charitable, path into the hands of a musician who already had ‘too many guitars,’ including the beloved Teak which he would continue to play onstage for years after the successful Other Ones tours in 1998 and 2000.
By 2005, Kimock, whose Dead connection goes back to his first professional gig in the Heart of Gold band fronted by the just-departed keyboardist and vocalist combo Keith and Donna Godchaux, fell out of the Dead’s orbit, and with it, perhaps, some of Garcia’s shadow. Instead, putting time into KVHW, the Steve Kimock Band, and an occasional Zero reunion gave ample time to give Teak a workout.
While working one of those tours with his old friend, Giguere happened upon an eBay listing—holy Cripe! he might have exclaimed. Adam Palow, at the point of needing to unload some of his own gear, had put Ebony on the internet reseller site. Giguere got on the phone to Palow: “I don’t know who will end up buying it, but it needs to get in Kimock’s hands.” Steve Cripe’s old friend Adam agreed.
Ebony & Ivory, as it was known by Cripe, features a maple core with ebony top and back, laminated ebony, maple and rosewood neck, 22 fret ebony fretboard with recycled ivory inlays, laminated ebony headstock, black Schaller bridge, Grotoh tuners, natural, burnished finish and delivers a warm yet bright and distinct sound. It is another beautiful instrument shaped by the hands of Steve Cripe, heavy and distinct, all twelve pounds of it.
Luckily, Giguere had a benefactor at hand. Janice Wulf had always wanted to buy Kimock a guitar, but wasn’t sure if the Cripe was the right one, or if it was the right price. Giguere offered to go in on the gift, and the sale was made.
Only one problem—the box arrived with an enormous hole torn in it from what had likely been a thrust from an errant forklift. “It missed the guitar by about a hair. Adam, who had packed it well, gave the shipper some real grief over it.”
The guitar, thank heavens, was fine, and Wulf would present it to a shocked and gratified Kimock at San Francisco’s famed Great American Music Hall. He began playing it that night. Wulf, herself a musician who had a chance to play Ebony, said of it, “That guitar has amazing sustain. You hit a note and it resonates for the longest time. I’ve never played anything like it, and I’m sure I never will.”
Kimock, who feels that the two guitars, constructed of different materials but with similarly fine craftsmanship, are ‘completely different’ instruments and thus not a redundancy in his arsenal. He said of his Cripes: “The Teak guitar is basically a paintbrush, and the Ebony guitar is more of a knife. I prefer the Teak through a cleaner amp because I think it has such a unique tone all by itself, and I like to hear that. I don’t like to have that too mangled. The Ebony is one of those guitars that just rocks if you are playing it clean or with a bunch of distortion.”
Both of the customarily-heavy Cripe guitars, he also said, are “exceptionally well balanced” ergonomically. “They present themselves on the strap both standing and sitting equally well. They are really both a joy to play.”
LEGACY – Kimock, who would have opportunities to play several of Garcia’s Irwin guitars, was asked about comparing them to his own Cripes:
“I thought the Irwin’s were all just sort of heavier guitars. They felt big and they were more ornate in a lot of ways. Of course there were similar neck-through characteristics. Jerry had kind of an odd setup on the things. Action was pretty high and there was a lot of relief in the neck on all those instruments. That kind of leads the charge in terms of your impression of the instrument and I don’t set my guitars up like that. Garcia usually used lighter strings and higher action and I use heavier strings with slightly lower action, on those guitars at least, and prefer having the neck a little straighter.”On the question of Steve Cripe’s legacy, Kimock offers a thoughtful answer: “Building those guitars for Garcia, and having him adopt them as his main instrument, I don’t think you can ask for more than that.” As for his own role in keeping the Cripe legacy, and legend, alive, Kimock continues to play and enjoy the guitars. What better compliment could be paid to a man who dreamed, truly, of only one achievement he didn’t live to make: learning to play the damned things himself. At least we can hope that somewhere, Steve Cripe can hear the happy fingers of people like Steve Kimock, who continue to enjoy the luthier’s work a quarter-century after his death. Just as music lovers everywhere continue to dance and appreciate the music of artists like Jerry Garcia and Steve Kimock, Cripe’s legacy of work, limited in number but unsurpassed in quality, is indeed built to last.
Someone has to carry the Cripe torch. Gratefully, Steve Kimock is the one who has kept two Cripe guitars active in the live music scene.
Kimock, an accomplished musician, is a guitar aficionado who has amassed an amazing arsenal of fine fretted instruments.
So how did Kimock acquire them? A brief history is in order.
Adam Palow: The Teak guitar had been taken apart before I bought it but it did have a finish on it. At some time prior to this, it had been fully assembled. I purchased it in 1996. It didn’t have any electronics in it. That was my first meeting with Cripe’s fiancé, Theresa (McFarlane) Nix. I ended up giving her all the cash in my pocket and that was my down payment on the body for the Teak guitar. Which was probably only $180 or $200. That was how it started.
It seemed like it was meant to be. Theresa got this flash of insight that said “you need to take number 6”, which was the unfinished teak guitar, because she knew I had built a Warmouth parts guitar and she figured I could finish number 6. It was beyond my capabilities, which is why I never did finish it. But at that point I couldn’t say no to a Cripe guitar. So I made a down payment. I started sending her $200 a month, every month.
I believe when I came back to Florida in 1997, she came to a recording session I was doing in Orlando and brought five or six guitars. It was the Teak, the Ebony, the Tribute, the Eagle, there was an Irwin shaped guitar that had Oval inlays and maybe another. She left those guitars in my possession for two or three weeks. When I returned the guitars to Theresa in Trilby, FL, I had paid off the majority of the balance on the Teak guitar and I made a down payment on the Ebony guitar. She let me take both at that time and I shipped them back to my home in California.
I played the Ebony occasionally while it was in my possession. I mostly played the Warmouth guitar I built. The Ebony neck was considerably thinner than what I normally would play. It mostly stayed in the case.
Ebony guitar has a slim neck from front to back. Ebony is the thinnest neck on any Cripe I’ve played and that is one thing that Kimock liked and I didn’t.
Palow: I knew that those two guitars at some point would be passed on to someone else. I had always envisioned in my mind that they would go to Kimock, because I knew that he would further Steve Cripe’s legacy.
Armato: Did you do any work on the Teak guitar when you got it?
Palow: I didn’t touch it. All I did was buy a trio of DiMarzio Super 2 pickups and when The Other One’s tour was getting ready to happen in 1998, a mutual friend (Ed Giguere) contacted me. When he purchased the guitar to give it to Kimock, it was just the stripped body and I gave them the three pickups.
Ed Giguere: In May 1998, Steve Kimock got a job with The Other One’s (a band featuring former members of The Grateful Dead). I had some friends that lived with Kimock and I had gotten to know him a little bit and when he got that gig I thought, “Wow, I knew him when he was sleeping on the couch at Studio E.” I was sitting pretty well and I asked him if there was anything I could do to help him with the tour. He declined but said he appreciated the offer. I said, “OK, if there’s anything I can do, just let me know.”
Shortly after that he contacted me and said, “I could use a guitar like Garcia’s.” I said, “an Irwin” and he said, “Yea, something like that. I don’t really have anything that does that.” I remembered a friend of mine, Steve Ford, knew someone who was at a Zero show we attended. He had a Cripe guitar with him. His name was Adam Palow. I remember Kimock seeing the guitar at the show and getting excited about it. I contacted Adam, who had a number of Cripe guitars including this unfinished guitar. So I called Kimock and told him about it and he said, “You’ve got be kidding me, right? If you could get me one of those it would be great.” So I went to Palow’s house and he had the Ebony, the Tribute, and the Teak Cripe guitars. Palow was willing to sell me the Teak guitar.
I knew I would need to get it to Gary Brawer, Garcia’s electronics guy, hoping that he would be willing to drop everything and get to the guitar right away. I debated over the Teak and the Ebony. The Ebony was ready to go but I liked the Teak guitar – it felt really good in my hands and I got a good vibe from it and I decided on it.
So I purchased it and took it home late that night and I didn’t get much sleep. The next morning before taking it to Gary Brawer, whose shop was in Real Guitars in San Francisco, I took a few pictures of it in the back of my Subaru, thinking I might never see the guitar again. Then I went to my friend Chuck’s house and took pictures of it on the couch and him holding it.
I went to Brawer’s shop, told him I had this Cripe guitar and that I wanted to get it fixed up like Jerry Garcia’s. He looked at it and said, “I was just over at The Other One’s practice. You’re going to give this to Kimock? I’ll fix it for you right now.” He verified he had the materials he needed and said, “I’ll hook you up. I’ve got one of the Metallica guy’s guitars here on the bench but I’ll put it aside for a few days. I’m going to take this on right now.” So I hung out and watched him cut a piece of brass that become the nut. He sprayed the inside with some anti-electrical stuff. Gary called Kimock to talk to him about how he wanted the action set up. He worked on it for about eight hours until he finished it. Unbelievable! He had it looking beautiful and that’s the picture of him you see holding it.
When it was finished, I drove straight up to Sebastopol and got there about nine o’clock. Kimock came out to the car and met me and opened the trunk and took out the guitar looked at me and gave me a wink and took the guitar inside Studio E and set it on a stand and just stared at it. 10
He started walking around and kept looking at it and said “Are you sure you want to give this to me? Are you sure you don’t want something for this.” I said, “I don’t want money. This is straight from my heart. Just take it out there and play it, that’s how I’ll get my joy. Don’t worry about it.”
So he picked up the guitar and Kenny Eberhard who owned Studio E looked around for a Fender Twin amp to plug it in.
I had a diagram of how the electronics worked from Brawer. Kimock looked at it for a few seconds set it down and started playing the guitar and said, “Yea, I got it.” He jammed on it for quite a while. I hung out for a couple of hours while he played it and I said “Good luck with it I hope the boys in the band like it tomorrow at rehearsal” and he said, “Oh yea they’re going to love it”. I said good night and drove back home to Sacramento. The next day I went to Club Front studio where they were practicing all day. Kimock called me up that night and said Phil was so impressed with it and Steve Parish was admiring it and asking where I got it and saying it wasn’t real and they had a lot of fun talking about it. He said he didn’t put it down for like 72 hours straight and wouldn’t let it out of his grasp.
Kimock hooked me up with a couple of laminates for the whole Other One’s tour; I got them from Kathy Sunderland at the Dead office. I was only able to go to a couple of the shows. I got treated well and got to meet all the people in the band and got to hang out with Parish and the boys in the backstage. Kimock just rocked the house and got better with it. It became his main ax for a while.
There’s a white spot on the top of the highest tip on the headstock. My understanding is it sat in Cripe’s workshop and picked up salt from the ocean air. I’ve been around a lot of boats and it looks like typical salt-water damage to wood. The guitar did not have a cover for the electronics.
It had a battery cover for it made out of wood. I had some extra pieces of wood that came with the guitar and I talked to Brawer about piecing them together but Kimock said it was too much trouble and not to worry about it. The truss nut isn’t covered either. Kimock liked it the way it was. I told him I’d have a gold cover made for it and he said, “No, no, I like it just the way it is.” Brawer just made front and back cover plates out of a piece of Plexiglas.
That’s what is on it now. Then at some point Kimock pulled out the Super humbuckers and put in the Z90’s that Henry Kaiser begged him to try. In December 1999, he switched them out. He was finished with The Other One’s and he wasn’t as concerned with tonal differences that the boys might not have wanted.
One more thing on the Teak Guitar, when I gave him the guitar, I told him there was one condition to it, he kind of toughened up and said, “OK what is that”, and then I told him he could never sell it and he just about died cracking up. He agreed! I am so harsh sometimes!
Giguere: In the fall of 2005, I was helping out on tour with Kimock and we’re back in the hotel room and looking on eBay and someone says, “Holy shit – do you see this?” It was the Ebony Cripe. Kimock said, “I don’t need any more guitars and he left the room not wanting to think about it.”
So I emailed the seller and found out it was Adam Palow. He said he had the word “Strat” in the title of the eBay auction and they closed the auction early for copyright issues, which facilitated our being able to negotiate a more favorable price. I called Adam and said I don’t know if I will buy it or who will, but Kimock needs to end up with it which is all Palow wanted.
A friend of mine, Janice Wulf, always wanted to buy Kimock a guitar. At first, she wasn’t sure this was the right one. She thought it was a lot of money. I said I’d go in with her on it and she thought about it for a day and she decided she’d buy it. She sent Palow the money and he sent me the guitar.
The guitar shipped in a case in a box and my Mom had picked up the guitar from UPS. I get home from work and I looked at it and there’s a big hole in the box – like a forklift hole. So I open the box and there’s a forklift hole in the case. I opened the case and it missed the guitar by about a hair. UPS caught some grief from Palow who had packed it well. He had put a towel in the case, which may have saved it from damage.
I gave it to Janice and we got a new case for the guitar. I wasn’t able to be there when she presented it to Kimock at the Great American Music Hall but she said he was very pleased.
It’s more of attack guitar. I call it the rock and roll guitar. The Teak is more of a jazz guitar. They are both just absolutely beautiful.
Janice Wulf: I gave Kimock the Ebony Cripe guitar on December 27, 2005. It was a surprise.
Ed Giguere helped me find the guitar. Originally I wanted to give Kimock a guitar for his 50th birthday that year and we were going to see him in Arkansas but I couldn’t find the right guitar. Then the Ebony popped up sometime between October and December and Ed got a hold of me and said, “You’ve got to check out this guitar. Kimock and I saw it on EBay.” Ed knew the guy, Adam Palow, and he worked it out with him. Once I saw it, I knew it was the right one for him.
I got it from Ed in Tahoe. A UPS forklift had hit the case. I still have the case. We were so lucky; it didn’t hit the front of the guitar.
We went straight to Guitar Center and got another case. I took the guitar in and the staff there were like “Where did you get this?” So they gave me a SKB case coincidentally as that was the abbreviation for the Steve Kimock Band. It fit like a glove. I bought him a real simple strap. And he played it that night! I didn’t know he was going to love it as much as he did. I was so surprised and it exceeded all my expectations.
He does so much for me with his music, so touching and it goes so deep I was just really happy that I found him something he enjoyed because I know he has a lot of guitars. After that four-night run at the Great American, we went on Jam Cruise and he played it a lot there, I was really surprised. He asked me what I thought of it. I said it blew away all my expectations, beyond my wildest dreams, and that it was such a perfect fit for him. I already knew he had the Teak Cripe and I questioned whether I should get him another Cripe but it was just so original, so beautiful and on the other end of the spectrum from the Teak. Like Kimock said, he equates the Teak with a paintbrush and the Ebony with a knife and that’s so true. Kimock asked me and I said the Ebony is more direct; it has more of an edge or a growl to it.
I had a chance to play it. I had it in Tahoe for a month or so. That guitar has amazing sustain. You hit a note and it would resonate for the longest time. I’ve never played anything like it and I’m sure I never will. We had a good time with it. I had some guitar player friends of mine play it and they really loved it. It was at my friend Phil’s house and I recently got a picture of me playing it. I have pictures of Ed and my buddies playing it.
I gave it to Kimock backstage at the Great American Music Hall the night before they were scheduled to play. I told him I really wanted to get him something nice because music is really one of my passions along with photography. When I go to see Kimock play, all my troubles fall away and I really have a great time. He’s such an inspiration. I told him the guitar was a gift from the heart. I didn’t want him to think it wasn’t anything strange. He was totally accepting and the first thing he said was, “Wow”! He grabbed it and started playing it. He just really enjoyed it and took it up on stage and played it. He gravitated towards it instantly. He’s really picky so I was really happy about that.
Brad Sarno: Kimock’s Cripe is crazy cool … just obscenely heavy. Gotta’ be every bit of 12 pounds. All ebony and maple. Even acoustically, it’s surprisingly toneful. Some heavy dense-wood guitars are kind of dead and lifeless with no resonance. This one, for some reason just sounds real cool and harmonically rich. Steve has 3 humbuckers installed. The neck is a Lollar low-wind Imperial. The middle and bridge are Lollar El Rayo’s. He has a Strat selector switch, but also a secondary volume control and polarity flip switch for the middle pickup, I think. It allows him a couple of “out of phase” settings where all the bass goes away and the result is a very clear and juicy and thin tone. I think the secondary volume control allows him to blend in the middle pickup, but I’m not 100% on that. What I do know is that the guitar makes a huge variety of tones and he got a LOT of use out of the phase cancelled tones. They were so sweet and musical and funky. It’s a very playable, fun, and comfortable guitar, other than the weight.
Eddie P: Steve Kimock unveiled yet another amazingly cool guitar to his arsenal a couple of nights ago. It was a guitar designed and hand made by Steven Cripe who built Jerry Garcia’s famous “lightning bolt” guitar, which was modeled after Jerry’s other guitars designed by Doug Irwin. This is Kimock’s 2nd Cripe guitar and they sound simply stunning. Steven Cripe passed away in 1996 but there are obviously a few of his masterpieces still around. As a certified Kimock nut, I can tell you that he is an absolute tone freak and he put’s as much thought, time and money into perfecting his “sound” than almost any guitarist out there. His notes, like Garcia’s simply hang on the air and the dissolve beautifully…an amazing player who continues to evolve both technically and sonically…