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From the Vault: Klipsch, McIntosh, Altec from the Grateful Dead’s deep Sotheby’s auction

Written By: 
E. Little
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Legendary Klipsch, McIntosh, Altec, Sansui equipment from the Grateful Dead go up for auction this Thursday.

On Thursday, Sotheby’s will open bidding on a breathtakingly deep auction of the Grateful Dead gear, clothing and various archival material from across the band’s 30 year career. The largest-ever sell-off by the band will occur across seven days, offering any Dead obsessive or cover band the opportunity to own, and jam on, a piece of American music history.

Of particular interest to us, of course, is the gear. Included in the auction are amplifiers, speaker cabinets, rare tweeters used by the band to perfect their sound.

“We’ve got Wall of Sound speakers that we know were Jerry’s, we’ve got Wall of Sound speakers we know were [Bob] Weir’s,” Sotheby’s Richard Austin told the great Grateful Dead chronicler Jesse Jarnow. “If you look at the shots of the band, over the drums, we have [two of] those cabinets [used for vocals]. The speakers have been removed. It’s like a thin metal frame, they’re almost like sculpture.” 

The auction also includes twelve McIntosh MC2300 power amps that powered the Dead’s famed Wall of Sound PA system. Among them, notes Jarnow, is “Jerry Garcia’s personal favorite, with a Budweiser sticker on the front.”

Below, some highlights, along with details excerpted from the Sotheby’s catalog.

[Hells Angels] | Party stereo system — including the earliest Grateful Dead speakers

“Lot includes: Sansui 4 channel 130 watt receiver in wooden case. — 2 Klipsch La ScalasSpeakers, painted black, with Grateful Dead spray painted in green, “Support Your Local Hell’s Angels” sticker, handles on sides. — 2 Hard Truckers D140 Speaker Cabinets, wood, birch plywood, heavy aluminum brackets, one with “Support Your Local Hells Angels” sticker and “Dead” in felt-tip on back.”

Grateful Dead insider “Big” Steve Parish:

“The Klipsch speakers were purchased by Jerry’s mother for the first small PA used by the Grateful Dead, 1966/67, then stored in our warehouse until the early 70’s , when Jerry asked us, as a gesture of friendship, to gift them to the Richmond Hells Angels for a music system for their clubhouse. The 2 black Kllipsch plus the mid range speakers that the crew built and powered by the Sansui amp were used at the Richmond clubhouse from 1973 to 2019. We present this historical small PA with a great history.”

Jerry Garcia’s McIntosh 2300 “Budman” Amplifier and Bob Weir’s Wall of Sound McIntosh 2300

Garcia’s “Budman” power amp, from the catalog (top): Solid-state power amplifier (10.5H x 19W x 17D), 300 watts per channel or 600 watts per monoblock, with anodized gold and black panel. Serial number: 1Y460. With original “Grateful Dead” black rolling road case with stickers and stencils.

“Big” Steve Parish: “Jerry played through Fender Twins and they were loud, but everyone always wanted to be louder for the big gig, especially outdoors. Dan Healy figured out how to take a line out from Jerry’s guitar amp, first into a McIntosh 350 tube amp during the early Wall of Sound set up. When the 2300 power amp came out we bought 70 of them, and put them throughout the system, but this is the one that Jerry liked the best and he played through it for years. It really made that Twin sound huge and became part of his signature tone at the time. At some point, Ram Rod stuck that Budweiser Budman sticker on it one day and it’s instantly recognizable as Jerry’s.”

Weir’s power amp (bottom). Solid-state power amplifier (10.5 x 19 x 17″), 300 watts per channel or 600 watts monoblock, with anodized gold and black panel. Front panel with tape reading “1011” below power meters, duct tape reading “M-9” below right power meter. Serial number: ED010. With original white Anvil rolling road case, front with Grateful Dead sticker, lid with Steal Your Face stickers, green tape reading “189,” white tape with “Q2 EQP.”

“Big Steve” Parish: “This was used in the Wall of Sound for Bob Weir’s guitar, later used in a keyboard rig for Brent.”

Rare McIntosh amplifiers used during the Dead’s early years and at Altamont

“Big” Steve Parish: “These extremely rare old tube McIntosh amps were purchased by Owsley for his P.A. system experiments at Alembic studios, and were used at Altamont. As the years passed, Bear gave them to Ram Rod to use for his home speaker system.”

Altec Lansing | H-811 Tweeter used at Altamont

From the catalog: “These horn tweeters were standard in the iconic Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers, which were originally part of the Dead’s live sound, before it became evident that the size and weight of these were unsuited to the rigors of extensive touring. The limitations of the Altec cabinets were one of the reasons that the band turned to their own engineers and roadies to design and build the speaker array that became the Wall of Sound.”

“Big” Steve Parish: “This was from one of the earliest sets of speakers owned by the Dead and part of a jury-rigged PA system that Owsley built. This tweeter was at Altamont, which is very, very cool.”

Sony TC-770 Reel to Reel Portable Tape Recorder, ca. 1969

From the catalog: Tape recorder (12 x 11 x 6’’). With two “Good Old Grateful Dead” stickers, one “Keep on Trucking” sticker, and one Rhode Island sticker.

A conveniently sized and sleek battery-powered, four-head recorder with 7-inch reels, XLR microphone connections, VU meters and noise reduction. The present model was one of the best choices of its time for easy recording live in the field. 

“Big” Steve Parish: “Ram Rod’s personal reel-to-reel sometimes used by Owsley and Bob Matthews to record live Grateful Dead shows in the late 60’s, early 70’s.”

Hard Truckers speaker cabinet built for the Jerry Garcia Band

From the catalog: Speaker cabinet built for the Jerry Garcia Band, ca. 1970s. 4×12 speaker cabinet (19 x 13 x 52’’). Wood and birch plywood, with 4 JBL Model E120 speakers, black cloth grill cover, marked “LOO” in white felt tip, tape on side and bottom.

Recording Interface: Cassette deck rack to record Grateful Dead shows

From the catalog: Open rack for making multiple after show recordings, 1990s. Metal reinforced rolling wooden case (25.5 x 25.5 x 35’’). Crazy Moon smiley face sticker, channels labeled at rear, with two fans for cooling the unit, one on each side.

Rack containing:

KEBA Research and Development—Real Time Duplication System, consisting of 5 dual open faced cassette decks, patch cables stored in rear. Serial numbers: 111925, 111924, 111927, 111923, 111887.

“Big Steve” Parish: “This deck was used to make copies of concerts to give to the band and crew to review the show and adjust the sound and make changes for the next gig.” 

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