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Music

Bob Weir walks you through his favourite guitars

Bear this in mind before we proceed, as you no doubt already have anyway from the headline alone: These are the guitars that helped to launch the Grateful Dead. Bob Weir has been picking up and rattling axes since he was 13 and he finally decided that the trumpet and piano simply weren’t suitable for what he wanted to do. 

Naturally, he has his favourites that have proved to be sonic glass slippers for his sound over the years, but he’s no fool to overlook the allure of the right look too. As he said when discussing the allure of rock beyond sound: “The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock ‘n’ roll band. What we saw them doing was impossibly attractive. I couldn’t think of anything else more worth doing.”

Thus, if you picture George Harrison in his early days with a classical-looking Hofner President, you may well picture Weir with a cherry red Gibson ES-335. The instrument is as much a part of The Grateful Dead’s iconography as the famed skull you see on T-shirts the world over, and we’re diving into it below.

Bob Weir’s favourite guitars:

Gibson ES-335

This was Weir’s first trusted axe and the semi-hollowed body of the sexy beast dating back to 1958 helped to establish the Grateful Dead’s sound with a classic resonant ring to the sound. It also placed them amid rock ‘n’ roll lineage by sharing a sound and aesthetic with B.B. King and Chuck Berry, while proving so playable you could let the strumming hand rove.

The intention of the guitar’s unique design was to offer up a warm tone while limiting feedback. This allowed for a versatility that facilitated the melding of genres which The Dead rattled through with their records. Beyond that, it was light enough to lug about as the band played their famed Kool-Aid Acid picnic gigs all over the states. 

Ibanez Cowboy Fancy

Following this early phase, Weir graduated onto the Ibanez. And in 1976, he was lucky enough to collaborate with the famous brand to produce his own ‘Cowboy Fancy’. The axe is a thing of beauty without ever being opulent. With maple and walnut making up an ornate neck, it’s simply a beautiful thing to pick up and play. 

Beyond the beauty, the Ibanez – as with most of their range – has a forward-thinking approach to pick-ups. The ‘Cowboy Fancy’ offered Weir the chance to flick between four selector switches rather than a toggle as the sound of the Dead continued to expand. The same goes with the EQ knobs that allowed him to master an advancing rig on the run. 

D’Angelico Premier

However, with time Weir was afforded the riches of moving on from these guitars and his current favourite six-string is the D’Angelico Premier. This guitar was co-designed by the star himself and after a lifetime of rock ‘n’ roll jamming, the intent of the axe was to “help it poke through heavy traffic situations”. 

It was also designed to be affordable. As Weir decreed: “Good instruments shouldn’t just be for elite folks.” Considering he met Jerry Garcia in a guitar shop, that mantra has proved all the more important to Weir. As he continues, “If I couldn’t afford expensive guitars, it was really nice to run across a guitar that I could afford that had a lot to offer. That premier has put a lot of fire under a lot of folks. It has a lot to say.” And it says it with a cool compact sound that can sing in a solo capacity or weave its way around the rhythm section. As ever with Weir, it’s designed more for the weep that you can ring out of it than anything else.