Neal Casal on Playing Garcia’s Wolf
What was it like as a guitar player and Dead fan to suddenly strap on this piece of history? How long did it take for you to figure out your way around it and what were your impressions of it?
I wasted no time getting right into that guitar and amazingly it didn’t take me very long to figure out. There was very little adjustment period for me to understand what it does and understand what’s great about it. The thing that’s great about that guitar really is that it’s a lot simpler than it looks. All these switches, knobs and pickups, people feel like it’s this really complicated instrument. The lesson in that guitar for me- or what I learned from it- is not so much about all the switches and electronics but more about the craftsmanship, the woodworking and the solidity with which it was built.
The build of the guitar is the most impressive thing- the woods that were used. The way this guitar was put together is really what that guitar is all about. When you see all the little stuff, that’s cool but that’s not the soul of the guitar. The soul of the guitar is in the wood and in the building quality.
The guitar was obviously so carefully built, so thoughtfully built, that it’s standing the test of time incredibly. I imagine that guitar doesn’t get played all the time, probably not much at all. A lot of times when that’s the case with a guitar, they kind of go to sleep. Instruments can really go dormant and it can really take a long time to wake them up and get them feeling musical again. Wolf by no means is dormant. By no means ready to retire. There’s still a lot of music in that guitar. It was totally ready to get into our hands and onto a stage. It’s just a very lively, very active instrument. We had no problems playing it. It wasn’t the math problem that I thought it would be. It was actually very band friendly.
I played it for the entire show except for the encore when Chris took it over. It only took me about a song and a half before I was completely comfortable with it. It blew me away the entire show. The way the neck was constructed and there was accessibility up into the 24-fret zone. I could go places on the guitar that are a struggle on other guitars. It adapted to all the CRB music really well. It’s a bit heavy but not problematic at all. The body of the guitar is not that big. Despite its weight, it’s really comfortable. It hangs pretty comfortably on a strap.
The tone of the guitar is absolutely amazing. I’m not saying that because it’s Garcia’s at all. Once the novelty wears off, you see it for what it is. If it wasn’t a truly great instrument, I would have handed it back and said, “Hey, thanks for showing it to me but hang it on a wall for the rest of time.” But it’s not that kind of guitar. It really is an amazing instrument: Incredible sounding, incredible presence, incredible midrange to it with very little low end. The normal low end that appears in the guitars that I have that corrupts a mix when you’re playing with other people. None of that shows up there.
What could you tell from the construction that is different from say a Les Paul that you typically play or other guitars that people might be more familiar with?
It has all the marks of a truly custom instrument. It has the mark of an artisan- not a team of people making a guitar but an individual who poured over every single detail. I don’t know Doug Irwin and I don’t know much about him at all but it had that feeling of some kind of master- a true master- built this and spent a lot of time on it. There’s no production line feeling about this guitar at all. Every single thing- every detail, every bit of material down to the glue- was carefully thought through to make this very solid instrument. It’s not just eye candy. It matches the looks with the tone.
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