How Did Jerry Garcia Get His Tone? [In-Depth Guide]

Like many guitarists in the 60’s, Jerry Garcia was heavily influenced by blues music. Especially bluegrass music as that was his first instrumental passion with the banjo. With these influences and his own genius, he created his own unique tone and play style with the Grateful Dead. So how did Jerry Garcia get his tone?

Jerry Garcia got his tone by using a Silverface Fender Twin Reverb Amp, Ibanez Tube Screamer, BOSS OS-2, MXR MX118 Analog Delay Pedal, Real Tube Reverb, Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal, and a Mu-Tron III envelope filter.

Continue reading to learn more about Jerry Garcia’s pedal setup, effects, amp, and guitar setup to learn how he achieved such a unique and distinguishable tone.

How Did Jerry Garcia Get His Tone?

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How Did Jerry Garcia Get His Tone? Summary

Jerry Garcia got his tone by using the following amps and pedals:

Tone EffectGear Used
AmpSilverface Fender Twin Reverb Amp
Overdrive PedalIbanez Tube Screamer & BOSS OS-2
Delay PedalMXR MX118 Analog Delay Pedal
ReverbReal Tube Reverb
Distortion PedalBoss HM-2 Heavy Metal
Envelope FilterMu-Tron III
How Did Jerry Garcia Ge His Tone

Jerry Garcia lived in an era before guitar hero’s and before the high energy guitar ripping that we know and love today. His playing is more subtle and nuanced giving an elegance to his playing. He had a layer of depth to his playing that many guitarists are trying to understand and implement to their playing.

Jerry played the guitar like a classical musician plays piano. His tone was the result of this method of playing first and foremost. The pedals and effects came second. That being said, incorporating a similar pedal board to Jerry will help you get closer to his tone. Let’s take a look at the various amps and pedals that Jerry Garcia used.

What Amp Did Jerry Garcia Use?

Jerry Garcia used a Silverface Fender Twin Reverb Amp for most of his career and was a central piece in achieving his sound. Jerry continued to use the preamp from the Fender amp until 1993.

Instead of using the speakers from the amp directly, Jerry used three JBL D120/E120 speakers in a vertical box. These were powered by a McIntosh solid state amp. Finally, the sound was outputted for the masses with a Sennheiser 421 mic. He has also used the coveted Mesa Boogie Mark I and Mark II amplifiers. The Mesa Boogies are likely some of the most famous amplifiers outside of Fender at that time. Many guitarists from Santana to Jorma Kaukonen used these amps. As a matter of fact, they were used mostly by west coast bands.

Find Out How Jerry Garcia Learned Guitar Today!

Finding the exact amp setup will have you looking at Reverb for relics and paying thousands of dollars. Instead, below is a similar up to date amp setup that you can purchase on Amazon:

What Effects Did Jerry Garcia Use? – Pedals

Jerry Garcia used a multitude of different pedals to help him achieve his desired tone. Early on in his career, it was simple. As time progressed and he made more money, more pedals were added to his pedalboard to fuel the Grateful Dead sound. Let’s take a look at the main pedals he used.

Overdrive Pedal:

Jerry Garcia intermixed a few Boss overdrive pedals during his time with the Grateful Dead. Originally, Jerry used an Ibanez Tube Screamer (find it here on Amazon) for many years until he found the Boss OS-2 Overdrive Pedal. From there he used the Boss pedal as his main overdrive pedal.

Delay Pedal:

For a delay effect, Jerry Garcia used a MXR MX118 Analog Delay Pedal. He used this pedal for most of his career, often replacing broken ones almost immediately without using any other kind of delay pedal. He used this pedal until the late 70’s.

Jerry Garcia's Delay Pedal
Jerry Garcia’s Delay Pedal

The MXR MX118 Analog Delay Pedal is considered one of the first analog delay pedals in compact stomp box form. The tone of this pedal is weightier and thicker than other analog delays. This attribute is an acquired taste as many guitarists do not find the tone of this pedal complimentary to their playing. Although Jerry loved it and he was not alone. Guitarists like Neil Young and Glenn Tipton were large advocates and users of the MX118.

Reverb Effect:

Researching Jerry’s reverb effect proved to be more difficult than other components of his tone. Jerry Garcia used the Real Tube Reverb when the Groove Tubes preamp replaced the Twin Reverbs head.

Distortion Pedal:

For a distortion pedal, Jerry Garcia used the Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal Pedal. In fact, Jerry would often add a Boss OS-2 overdrive pedal at the same time. As you can imagine, this can cause some spotty sounds with so much distortion and overdrive intermixed. To compensate for this, Jerry had a Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer Pedal that he used to shape the sounds of the overdrive and distortion pedals.

Envelope Filter:

The final and connecting piece to Jerry’s pedals was an envelope filter. Specifically, it was the Mu-Tron III envelope filter. The Mu-Tron III translates the volume picture of every note automatically into an easily controlled and vowel like sound. It creates a variety of synthesizer sounds through the guitar. What Jerry liked so much about was the sharper you struck your guitar and the more percussive your guitar, the crazier sounds you would get. This degree of creativity offered by the pedal made it a long-standing member in Jerry’s pedal board setup.

Jerry Garcia’s Favorite Guitar: Wolf

Jerry Garcia’s main guitars are often one of a kind unless you have some cash. Jerry did not like playing guitars that were widely produced or available to the masses. Instead, he often had luthiers build him new custom guitars from scratch that are one of a kind and tailored to his play style.

Most notably, his main guitar and most famous guitar was Wolf. Wolf is a custom Doug Irwin that he paid $1,500 for. The guitar originally simply had the wolf sticker over the body. After some wear and tear, Jerry and Doug decided to inlay the graphic into the body of the guitar. Thus, the Wolf we know, and love was born.


Jerry Garcia used Thomas Vinci Strings with the following string gauges:

Low E.046
High E.010
Jerry Garcia Strings and String Gauges

Like many guitarists in the 70’s and 80’s, Jerry preferred a higher action for longer sustain on his notes. He also felt it was easier to move around the fretboard with a higher action as it reduced accidental notes. Furthermore, a higher action will give you the plucky tone with precision vibrato.


The guitar is configured with a plate system allowing for mounted pickups. Wolf is setup with custom single coil pickups. Specifically, it was setup with three Fender Stratocaster Standard pickups. The luthier, Doug Irwin, decided to incorporate a second pickup plate for humbuckers. At the time, this was a radical idea to incorporate humbuckers with single coil pickups. The goal was to reduce the overall hum from the guitar, hence the added humbuckers.

As time went on, Jerry often switched out the pickups. Trying new ones and experimenting with new ideas. Jerry did not prefer old pickups because he felt that they would lose their steam after a while and would replace them with new ones.

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