Legal deal resolves fate of Grateful Dead guitars

By | January 9, 2002 at 12:00 AM

A long-running dispute over four famous guitars that once belonged to the late Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia has been resolved, with the instruments to be divided between remaining band members and the man who crafted them, lawyers said Tuesday.

Under the agreement, guitar maker Doug Irwin will get custody of guitars dubbed “Wolf” and “Tiger” for their decorative inlays, while the Grateful Dead will keep two other instruments

“It’s all signed and inked. It hasn’t yet been approved by the court, but we don’t see any problems,” said Douglas Long, an attorney representing Irwin.

Long said that Irwin planned to keep Wolf, at least for the moment. But he said the guitar maker, who has been nearly destitute in recent years, planned to auction off Tiger – which potentially could net hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Tiger will be put up for auction soon,” Long said.

The struggle over Garcia’s guitars has been one of the nastier legal episodes following his death in 1995.

Irwin built the guitars for Garcia between 1981 and 1989, and in his will Garcia left them to the guitar maker.

However, several other band members refused to part with the guitars, saying that Grateful Dead Productions bought and maintained instruments as a group and the guitars were never Garcia’s to give away.

The band has plans to open a museum in San Francisco with Garcia’s guitars as a cornerstone exhibit.

Last month the two sides neared agreement, but Irwin backed off at the last minute, objecting to a clause which would have required him to give the right of first refusal to the remaining bandmates before selling any of the guitars – a move his lawyers said might scare off potential buyers.

Long said that the question of the guitars’ value has been one of the big stumbling blocks to reaching a deal.

“There is only one way to figure out what something is worth, and that is at public auction,” Long said. “You’ve got to give the world a chance to buy it.”

Sales of guitars owned by rock legends including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon have fetched between $200,000 and $300,000 dollars, while the guitar Eric Clapton used to record the anthem “Layla” was sold in 1999 for a record $450,000.

Related Content