Vaughan's main guitar was a battered `59 Strat which he had refitted with a `61 rosewood neck and referred to as `Number One'. The body has the initials `SRV' on the lower part of the scratchplate and is fitted with a left-handed vibrato system (Jimi Hendrix and Otis Rush also used `upside-down' vibrato systems). To help get his h-u-g-e tone Stevie tuned down a semitone (to Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb) and experimented with different string gauges, generally using heavy gauge GHS strings - 0.013, 0.015, 0.019 (unwound), 0.028, 0.038, 0.058. If his fingers weren't holding up he'd compromise with a 0.012 to 0.058 set although at one point Stevie even strung his guitar with 0.018 to 0.074 (`it was insane,' he recalled, `but I played a lot more simply'). Stevie had the neck on Number One fitted with bass frets - naturally rather wider than the originals. This guitar can be seen in the `Live At The El Mocambo' video and design of the Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model was based on this guitar. Stevie had his Strats fitted with 5-way pickup selectors and used all 5 positions.
The `...El Mocambo' video also shows Vaughan playing the instrumental `Lenny' on his red, maple neck Strat which dates from `63 or `64. Guitar and song were named after Vaughan's then-wife Lenora, and this Strat reappears on `Riviera Paradise' from `In Step'. Vaughan also owned a yellow Strat from `64, formerly owned by Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge, which had been hollowed out. This guitar's uniquely bright tone can be heard on `Tell Me' from `Texas Flood'. Other Stevie Ray guitars included an orange 1960 Strat, a blonde `57 Strat, a `58 Gibson 335, a cherryburst Hamilton Lurktamer with his name on the neck (a present from Billy Gibbons) and a National Duolian acoustic which Stevie claimed was once owned by Blind Boy Fuller.
For the `In Step' sessions Stevie had 32 amps at his disposal including a `59 Fender Bassman (used for many tracks on the album according to Vaughan's amp technician, Cesar Diaz), a pair of Marshall Major 200 watt heads, a 100 watt Marshall JCM half-stack, a `62 Fender Twin, two `64 Fender Vibroverbs and a 150 watt Howard Dumble Steel String Singer head with a Dumble 4 by 12 bottom.
Not surprisingly, Stevie used few effects, his two main ones being a Vox Wah-wah and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. For `Say What!' from `Soul To Soul' Vaughan said he used two Wah-wahs at the same time, one of the Wah-wahs allegedly belonging to Hendrix, Jimmie Vaughan having apparently obtained the pedal from Jimi in a swop and passed it on to his brother. Bassist Tommy Shannon confirms Vaughan's use of two Wah-wahs on `Say What!', adding, `He tried some of the weirdest things sometimes and they'd work!'
A longtime Hendrix fan, Vaughan hoarded a host of Hendrix-associated boxes, including a UniVibe, Fuzz Face and Octavia. The UniVibe approximated the sound of a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet but Vaughan usually preferred the effect given by his Fender Vibratone, as can be heard on `Cold Shot' from `Couldn't Stand The Weather'. Vaughan resurrected the Fuzz Face and Octavia for live shows in `89 and `90, occasionally using the Octavia for `Voodoo Child (slight return)'.
This feature was originally published in `The Guitar Magazine' Vol 6 No 2, January 1996.
© Douglas J Noble 1996