Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

See Jerry Garcia’s ‘Tiger’ guitar and other rock & roll treasures up close

Jerry Garcia, guitarist and singer for the rock band Grateful Dead, plays his "Tiger Rose" guitar on July 25, 1982. | Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images

A treasure trove of rock & roll history will be on display in San Francisco next weekend. 

Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, brings his collection of rare guitars and music memorabilia, along with artifacts of American history, to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for a free, one-night-only event on Dec. 10. 

The valuable collection of rare instruments and more includes Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Fender Mustang—which Irsay paid a whopping $4.7 million for in May—Janis Joplin’s 1953 Gibson J-45, Prince’s whimsical “Yellow Cloud” guitar, Bob Dylan’s “Dylan Goes Electric” Fender Stratocaster and Jerry Garcia’s legendary “Tiger” guitar. 

Prince's "Yellow Cloud" guitar is seen displayed at the Smithsonian on Dec 31, 2008. | WiscoBoy91/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

The instrument was Garcia’s primary axe between 1979 and 1989, Jim Irsay Collection Chairman Larry Hall told The Standard, and Garcia commissioned the instrument from famed luthier Doug Irwin, who took six years to complete it. 

“It can be heard on Grateful Dead studio and live recordings, including the Dead’s only Billboard Top 10 single, ‘Touch of Grey,’” Hall wrote in an email to The Standard. “Tiger was the last guitar Garcia played in public during his final concert with the Grateful Dead at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995,” Hall also noted. 

Beatles fans also are in for a special treat. Irsay’s collection includes Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics for “Hey Jude,” John Lennon’s piano and Ringo Starr’s drum set, various parts of which accompanied the band on its road to fame. The Beatles’ “Drop T” logo bass drumhead that Starr played during The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, is also in the collection.  

Ringo Starr's drum kit is part of Jim Irsay's collection of rock memorabilia. | Courtesy Jim Irsay Collection

Their U.S. television debut “ushered in the ‘British Invasion’ that defined American musical tastes in the mid-1960s and served as the precursor to the larger ‘counterculture’ movement that followed,” Hall explained.  

American history buffs will find plenty to ogle as well. Irsay’s collection boasts the original 1777 Continental Congress proclamation designating Thanksgiving as a national holiday, one of the first facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence, signed documents from notable U.S. presidents, and the original “wanted” poster for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. 

Bookworms can take pleasure in poring over Jack Kerouac’s original 119-foot scroll of the classic Beat generation novel, On the Road. And sports fans can check out Jackie Robinson’s game-worn bat from 1953 and the first walkout robe famed boxer Muhammad Ali wore to announce his name change

Musician Janis Joplin played a 1953 Gibson J-45. It's among the rare guitars in Jim Irsay's collection of music memorabilia. | Grossman Glotzer Management Corporation/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Boxing enthusiasts may also enjoy seeing Sylvester Stallone’s original handwritten outline and screenplay for Rocky. The 28-page Mead spiral-bound notebook is filled with Stallone’s early and original plot details for the film, including scene specifications, dialogue and character development concepts, according to Hall. 

“San Francisco has a special place in rock & roll history, so I’m excited to bring this musical collection, as well as other unique and historic artifacts, to the Bay Area for all to experience,” Irsay said in a release. 

Irsay’s eponymous band will also play with special guests, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers John Fogerty, Buddy Guy and Ann Wilson. You should RSVP soon if you hope to be part of this celebration of rock & roll music, and get there early. Tickets are free, but capacity is limited so if the event is oversold, entry will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Jim Irsay Collection: San Francisco

📍Bill Graham Civic Auditorium 
🗓Dec. 10, 6-10 p.m. 
🎟 Free with RSVP