The Garcia Tiger Origin Story – Recollections From The Luthier

About the Iconic Garcia Guitar

This is a re-envisioning of a legendary guitar by one of its original creators. Lieber’s Garcia brings with it a large slice of history as well as a lifetime of seasoned craftsmanship.

An iconic guitar made famous by its celebrated owner. The Garcia is known worldwide for its elegant body design, beautiful inlays and unmistakable sound.

Recollections From The Luthier

Origin of The Garcia Tiger

During the years 1974 through the end of 1977, I served an apprenticeship for D Irwin guitars. I was Doug’s first luthier apprentice for the company. The Jerry Garcia guitar that is presently referred to as “Tiger” is one that Doug and I originally coined “The Garcia”. Our sole intent was in creating our generation’s “Les Paul.” The Garcia body design was one of a series of designs Doug and I created.

Two years later, in 1976, I designed the companies’ deluxe logo for the Pete Sears Bass project.

“The Rosewood” guitar was built by Doug on the speculation that it would spark something in Jerry and he would purchase it. Rosewood was one of the first Irwin guitars Doug built after his exiting Alembic and forming his own company.

To our disappointment, Jerry did not purchase the guitar but to our delight he decided to do a brand new guitar project and allowed us carte blanche in creating it. We were only afforded such design freedom because of Jerry’s confidence in the fact that we understood clearly his personal parameters and needs as a musician.

When “Rosewood” was shown to Jerry, his favorite feature on the instrument was the tiger inlaid into its electronics cover plate. We noticed his clear obsession; touching it and returning his gaze time and time again. This was the singular reason for Doug incorporating a tiger into the ornamental design scheme for Jerry’s new custom guitar. Though this time its designate was front and center, not on a back plate. A few weeks after our meeting with Jerry, we drove down to his house in San Rafael.  This was the first and only time I met Mountain Girl. She greeted us with a $2000.00 cash deposit toward the instrument’s $4000.00 total (at the time), then handed us a stick of  Sinsemilla and said, “Jerry wanted you to have this.”

On the “Garcia” project, Doug spec’d out the entire inlay design subject matter and wood choice combinations. His artistic eye was impeccable at both. Doug executed all of the re-sawing and dimensioning of the wood components. I later bled the oils from the Coco Bolo and the Vermilion in preparation before we engaged in laminating all the components. This included neck blank parts and the two body wing halves with their parts for the multi-lam sandwich.

Yes, this design was originally neck-through body construction. I had rough-carved the full length Western Curly Maple/ Vermillion laminate neck blank and then the project sat for a while. It wasn’t until I began the Pete Sears project that we realized Jerry’s guitar needed to be a set neck body design, eliminating the Maple neck-through body intersection, which could only interrupt the aesthetic visual beauty of the arched Coco Bolo top.

A subsequent center block was created for the body, comprised of the same multi wood laminate schedule.  When assembled with the body wings an evident seam resulted, hence the 1/16 inch brass inlaid line that runs parallel to the strings and around the body.

“The Garcia” was one of my very first guitar designs created in collaboration with Doug. Together we designed a line of models during the years 1974 thru 1977. There was: The Pendulous (Front and Back), The Firedrake (Front and Back), and The Garcia (Symmetrical and Asymmetrical versions). We had built a few asymmetrical Garcia’s, one bass with an arched Purple Heart top went to Phil Lesh. Jerry’s “Garcia” was completed by Doug two years after I had left D.Irwin and Company.

Following my departure from Irwin, I spent a few months working with Master Luthier Steve Klein who was gracious enough to put up with me while I was birthing a parabolic bowl acoustic Spider Grinder Bass with an asymmetrical Kasha brace system. 

Much was learned of my craft from both Doug and Steve in those early years. We were all teaching and learning our way… and continue to do so!

Read about the Garcia as featured in Relix Magazine.

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