John Mayer's Wolf guitar replica got the first chance to sharpen its teeth last weekend, and he put it through a real road test with six sets over the weekend of January 14 at Dead & Company's Playing In The Sand festival in Cancun, Mexico.
Luckily for us, the band made livestreams for their shows with soundboard audio and the first song from each is available to watch for free. John Mayer used Wolf to open all six sets too, and was interviewed by the hosts of the Dead Air livestream ahead of the final set on the 17 January to talk about his Bill Asher-built replica of Doug Irwin's original Wolf guitar, commissioned and used by Gerry Garcia in the Grateful Dead.
"That was commissioned by Doug Irwin, the original builder, which I think is to me why I'm holding it," explained Mayer about his prototype replica in the video above. "I don't know if it would have made it into my hands onstage if it weren't blessed by the original luthier of the guitar. I was looking at Irwin's Instagram page and I realised his son had DM's me like two years ago, 'Hey reach out – Doug's got a guitar in mind for you.' And I went, 'Ooooh I was late to this DM!'
"I think I was aware this guitar was coming out," continued Mayer. "They wanted to get it into my hands so I went over to [replica builder] Bill Asher's guitar shop, who is a great builder out of LA, and they had it there so I plugged it in and played it and went, 'Well now, here you go, here it is.'
And Mayer should know, having played the original Wolf back in 2019, the same year it sold for $1.9 million.
"It's changing the way that I play a little bit because the way the guitar's constructed, I'm not quite able to do my thing exactly as I want to do my thing, and it pulls me more into playing along with the music more the way that it was written because that guitar is so specific to a certain style of playing," Mayer told Dead Air hosts Lambert and Gans.
"It's got a very long scale length, so you can't do these wide bluesy bends, you have to be more linear about what you're saying. So it's been really fun for me to crack that code as I play. Because if you're going for the super expressive blues playing, you're not quite going to get there. It's going to come off a little lumpy sounding. And the fun part of a guitar is every guitar a guitar player picks up you go, 'What do you do and how can I make it work?' You can give me any guitar and I can make it work, the question is what am I going to play on it that is going to highlight what that guitar can do."
But during this learning curve, Mayer got to experience more of what the original Wolf guitar would have been like when Garcia first took delivery of it from Irwin.
"I've been playing and trying these things and finding, that doesn't quite work, then trying these things that are much more linear and stretched out, it's really joyous to play," he explained. "And the secret is it actually plays better than the original because the original has frets that have been worn down over the years with Jerry's playing, and I understand someone might not want to dig into the wood and pull those frets out and put new ones in. But this one is much more playable because it's new.
"If I owned [the original] Wolf I'd be ripping the frets out and putting new ones in because I'm a guitar player. To me that's still a stock guitar. But I understand, people want to keep the sanctity and the pristineness of that instrument. So to have an instrument that plays very, very similar and sounds almost identical, but has frets that are dressed and you can really go up and down and be expressive on it, that's like the best of both worlds."
Check out the six opening songs from the sets below to hear Mayer and Wolf in action.