Looking to jam out with some Grateful Dead tunes on your acoustic guitar? Well, look no further.
Below are the best Grateful Dead songs to learn on acoustic guitar. Some are very easy, others are challenging, but all are awesome songs. I hope you enjoy the list and have a blast learning these songs.
To make things easier, I’ve linked to guitar chords and tabs to help you learn the songs. I also linked to video lessons where I could find them. Some of these recordings and lessons aren’t on acoustic guitar, but you can easily translate them onto the acoustic.
For more great stuff from the Grateful Dead, make sure to check out:
One final note before we get started: don’t forget to tune your guitar! These songs won’t sound right if your guitar is out of tune… If you need a great tuner, here’s my favorite clip-on guitar tuner (on Amazon).
Now let’s jump into the best Grateful Dead songs for acoustic guitar:
Dire Wolf is one of the Dead’s classic balads, released as the third track on their 1970 album Workingman’s Dead. The story goes that Robert Hunter penned the lyrics after watching The Hound of the Baskervilles. The song combines elements of country and folk music, in typical Jerry Garcia fashion. The song tells the story of a man who plays cards with a “dire wolf” on a cold winter’s night in “Fennario”; the lyrics have been variously interpreted.
In my opinion, Dire Wolf is one of the more challenging songs on this list as far as learning it on acoustic guitar. However, it’s one of my favorites. The acoustic versions of the songs are some of my favorite Dead performances (like the video above for example).
Ripple is perhaps the Dead’s most popular studio acoustic song – and for good reason. The beautiful lyrics and compelling melody continue to attract new listeners to this day.
In addition to the acoustic guitars on the studio version, Jerry’s friend David Grisman also played the mandolin – an acoustic instrument often associated with bluegrass.
Since the chords are relatively simple and the melody is very strong, I think Ripple is a great Grateful Dead tune to start off with learning.
I Know You Rider
Any true Deadhead knows the legendary China-Rider duo (if not, see the Europe 72 performance and others) wherein the Dead would play China Cat Sunflower and seamlessly transition into I Know You Rider.
I Know You Rider is another relatively simple song to learn on the acoustic guitar. The song is actually a traditional blues tune that has been adopted and covered by many other musical artists.
Beat It On Down the Line
Beat It On Down the Line is a country/western blues tune that the Dead covered all throughout their touring years.
The theme of the song is somewhat similar to the band’s also-famous song Cumberland Blues, with lyrics about hard work in coal mines, etc.
Bertha first appeared on the Skull & Roses studio album, but was played in many live performances thereafter. It’s one of my favorite dead songs to play on the acoustic guitar.
The main chords in the song (C, G, and D) are pretty simple and familiar to most acoustic guitarists.
Scarlet Begonias is one of the Dead’s more famous tunes, having been covered by other artists such as Sublime.
Another Hunter-Garcia masterpiece, the lyrics feature gambling, loss, and fairy-tale imagery and symbolism – all common Grateful Dead lyrical themes. It’s no wonder this is a favorite song among many favorite Deadheads.
For fans of the live performances, there are many legendary performances of “Scarlet > Fire” – wherein the song is paired with/followed by Fire On the Mountain.
In my opinion, this is one of the best pieces of songwriting of both Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. A bold statement, I know. But if you haven’t heard Terrapin Station before, give it a listen and you just might agree with me.
There are a lot of moving parts here, so this will be a challenging one to learn on the acoustic guitar. But the payoff is well worth it for being able to play such an incredible song.
This one is another favorite of mine. Over time, it’s become my favorite song from the American Beauty album (which is high praise when you consider how many awesome songs are on the album).
Supposedly, Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to this song and Ripple on the same day.
Roll away the dew! Franklin’s Tower might be the first Dead song I learned on guitar. It was either that or Friend of the Devil. Franklin’s is one of the best Dead songs to learn first, as the chords are very simple.
There are only three of them, and they stay the same through both the verses and chorus. This one is a blast to jam over with others too. The simple chord structure makes for a really cool backdrop for guitar solos. Give it a shot.
An upbeat, summery song, Sugar Magnolia is another great Grateful Dead song to learn on the acoustic guitar. It is another of one of the most popular studio songs from the band.
According to Deadbase X, the song was the Dead’s second most-played live song in their long career, with 596 performances, only Me and My Uncle had more performances.
Box of Rain
Box of Rain is another Grateful Dead classic from the American Beauty album. Apparently, it was also the first studio song to feature vocals from Phil Lesh (the bassist).
At live performances, crowds would shout “let Phil sing!” to hear the song played.
Friend of the Devil
No list of the best Grateful Dead songs for acoustic guitar could be complete without Friend of the Devil.
This is another great one to start with as there are few chords, and they are relatively straightforward. There is a bridge section, but it uses only two very easy chords (C and D).
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