Garcia’s Turner “Peanut Guitar”

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“The Peanut”

This guitar keeps popping up on Facebook as the “what’s that guitar Garcia is playing here” instrument.  It’s often mis-identified as an early Alembic…reasonably enough…but it’s not; I put it together three years before Bob, Ron, and I signed the papers creating Alembic, Inc., in June of 1970. The Peanut is  a guitar from my own rock’n’roll playing days in New York when I was in the now-semi-legendary band, Autosalvage.

When my 1965 guitar playing gig with Ian and Sylvia drew to a close, I started splitting my time between Cambridge and New York with the idea of putting together some sort of eclectic band with Felix Pappalardi who had been playing bass with Ian and Sylvia.  As often happens in the music world, we sometimes zig while others are zagging and so it was with Felix who had gotten deep into record production with the Devil’s Anvil (great album if you can find it), the Youngbloods, and eventually Cream and of course with myself.  I ran into an old pal, Tom Danaher, while walking around Greenwich Village; he invited me to a rehearsal; I played electric guitar…a wonderful 1962 Epiphone Howard Roberts…;  we decided to form a band, and that was it.  Winter of 1965/’66 was the year I went electric.

By 1967 we’d played out a bit, mostly at the Café Au Go Go, an outdoor gig or two, and some of the right people heard us (including Frank Zappa for whom we opened at his Mothers of Invention first New York gig), thought we were pretty original (yeah, Frank wanted to produce us, but wound up going to Europe for too long), and so we did wind up getting signed to RCA.  We also had a nice kind of familial scene; we spent a lot of time hanging out at Skip and Donna Boone’s place right across from the infamous “Night Owl.  Marc Silber had a place upstairs from Skip and Donna, and there was always a comfortable hangout scene going on there.  One of our buddies managed an apartment building as the super and handyman; that used to be a way to get a free basement apartment, heat in the winter, and a subsistence living, and one of his duties was cleaning out vacated apartments.  In one clean out, he found that someone had done a Pete Townsend on a 1961 or ’62 Gibson Les Paul custom (current value in decent shape…more than $10,000.00!)…the SG shaped guitar with three gold PAF humbuckers and the weird sideways acting vibrato system, and miraculously, the neck survived as did the pickups and hardware, though the body was smashed to smithereens.  At the time I had an antique “Romantic” guitar, one probably built by Gaesel in the mid 1800s.  It had one of the features of the Viennese Stauffer guitars…the “clock key” adjustable tilting neck, and had a lovely little shape…perfect for building up a Phoenix of a guitar.

 

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I made a deal with my pal and bought the wreckage for $75.00, sat down at the kitchen table, and drew up a body design.  On Broadway about 1/2 a block from Bleecker St there was a cabinet shop in the half basement, and they happily cut out my guitar body shape in Honduras mahogany; I think that cost maybe $20.00; and I was on my way to electric lutherie.  For some reason or other, I decided to go all the way, and I veneered the back and sides of the body in walnut; put a distinctive marquetry strip down the back and bound the top and back in maple, and then sprayed the “new” guitar in the stairwell of our loft building, and then set the guitar up in “stereo” with the neck and bridge humbuckers working as per a “normal” Les Paul, and the middle pickup…missing in the Garcia photo, running out on a second channel.  Both channels went through a primitive pedal board with volume pedals, fuzz, and wah-wah, and at different times I tried building some small effects into…or onto the guitar.  And if you look closely, you can see that I did indeed add a couple of frets to the fingerboard.

 

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As these things go, the band broke up in the late spring of 1968 about two months before getting a rave review in Rolling Stone for our RCA album (subsequently on it’s 2 1/2 reissue!), and my wife, Amber and I moved to West Marin where my musical activities moved over to playing bass on recordings my pal Jerry Corbitt was producing.  I also set up a small workshop at our house in Inverness Park, and started to make my own pickups and build instruments, the first for Jesse Colin Young.  And then, thanks to Rosie McGee, I met the Grateful Dead band and family, and got sucked deep into that vortex.  Jerry saw the Peanut guitar, liked it; I wasn’t playing it and so it became Jerry’s.  At some point I took off the middle pickup, though Jerry would years later go back to a three humbucker setup on his Doug Irwin guitars.  Then the guitar just kind of vanished; I didn’t think about it much ’til 1978 when I resuscitated the basic body shape, added a cutaway, and designed the Model 1 guitar about which you can read elsewhere on the blog.

The Glaesel?  I  had it in pieces for restoration at my house in Santa Rosa, and on December 7th, 1978, an arsonist torched the house.  Gone, but it lives on in my Model 1 guitars, and I’m planning on making a limited run of “Peanut” guitars in 2018 which would be just about right for it’s 50th anniversary.   The “Peanut” itself?  Rumored to be somewhere in Marin.  Yeah, I’d love to get it back, but I imagine the price would be a bit rich for my blood these days!