The S.R.V. Tone Quest: Part Two
Thanks for reading the Guitar Sun, Sunfield Music Store’s weekly take on gear, music history, tone tips, and more.
At Sunfield, we take pride in producing instruments that keep the spirit of the electric guitar alive. For us, that means making high-quality instruments at gig. Our core customers want gig-quality electric guitars. You could call them “cheap electric guitars,” but Sunfields aren’t just beginner’s guitars. They’re simply priced differently—for parts and labor—in a bloated instrument market that caters to prestige and huge marketing budgets (all ultimately paid for with musicians’ dollars).
The SRV style guitar has long been one of our top sellers. This totally functional SRV replica guitar not only gets the looks right—it puts you on the track for the right tone.
Of course, that tone is a subject of fierce debate. Any SRV fan knows that his guitar is only a single piece of the sacred combinations of amp, pedal, and legendary chops that combine to generate the tone of this all-time player.
So we thought we ’d shed some light in a two-part blog series where we take a look at some of the history, gear, and sonic choices behind the legendary tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Last week, we took a look at the powerful amp setup he employed. This week, we round out the rig examination by looking at his guitars and pedals.
“Screaming Tubes,” Strats, & More: S.R.V.’s Pedals and Guitars
One of the main themes of our examination of S.R.V.’s amps is that no single model is the “one true secret” to his tone. He was a true gear geek, who used dozens of amps on single albums and constantly tweaked his live setup throughout his career. We think he exemplifies the “working man’s spirit” we love about the electric guitar: he was on a quest to find sounds that inspired great playing, not on a search for a single “holy grail” sound.
His approach with pedals was much the same. Vaughan, for instance, famously employed the 808 Tube Screamer from Ibanez, driving its status as one of the most collectible pedals on the vintage market, numerous reissues, and an immense market of tweaked boutique reworks of the same circuit. Stevie has probably single-handedly sold millions of the little green monster:
But Stevie wasn’t obsessed with a particular circuit, just a customer who liked the Tubescreamer sound. He had no special reverence for the 808 version of the Ibanez. In fact, he used each new version as it came out. He started with the 808 and switched the to TS9 when it came out in 1982, migrating to a new TS10 when it came out in 1988.
If you’re seeking to emulate his rig in your own tone-quest, it’s important to understand that he actually drastically changed the way he employed these pedals over his career. In the earlier 80’s, his cranked Fenders generated plenty of overdrive on their own. He used his TS808 and TS9 with the Volume set high and the Drive set very low: the Tubescreamer circuit features famously pronounced mid-pushed EQ characteristic, and Stevie was using them as clean boosts to add some aggressive mids to the slightly scooped sound of most “silverface” Fenders.
By the time he got hold of the TS10, he was using incredibly loud and clean Marshalls and Dumbles that simply wouldn’t overdrive like his earlier Fenders. With the TS10, he rode both the volume and drive controls: boosting his amp and letting the pedal provide some clipping.
The Ibanez's are the most distinct aspect of the S.R.V. sound. The rest of his pedal selection was chiefly used for his frequent covers of Hendrix classics (we took a brief look at Hendrix’s setup in this post). The remainder of S.R.V.’s typical arsenal consists of classics fueled by a later-career obsession with Hendrix: a Vox wah, rotary speaker (S.R.V. used a Fender Vibratone), Dallas Arbiter FuzzFace, and Tycobrahe Octavia Fuzz.
But don’t bang your head against the wall trying to get any particular S.R.V. song's tone with this setup. Remember: he loved to experiment, especially in the studio.
Guitars: Yes, more than just Strats.
We probably don’t need to tell anyone reading this article that Stevie Ray favored the Stratocaster. His most famous, called the “Number One,” is the inspiration for our own tribute model:
But Stevie loved guitars and used a number over the course of his career. We won’t even try to cover every single one here, but this article features a great comprehensive discussion.
Among Strats, the “Lenny” is probably the second most known S.R.V. guitar. It was gifted to him by his wife Lenora (thus the name) and features a swap to a neck given to him by Billy Gibbons. It also sports a Mickey Mantle autograph on the back (whom he met at a mutual appearance):
He actually used a Telecaster on tracks like “House is Rockin’” It was given to him by his brother Jimmy (another great player in his own right). He occasionally used a Gibson ES-335 on some early tours. He used a Gibson “Johnny Smith” archtop to record “Stang’s Swang.” He even owned a 1958 Rickenbacker that he eventually gave to Hubert Sumlin (yes, that’s the guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf and creator of legendary riffs like “Smokestack Lightin’”).
Once again, we have found a truly workingman's approach to the guitar and associated gear. From amps to pedals to guitar, he utilized many of the greatest guitars ever made, but never felt pigeonholed. He was never searching for “one perfect tone,” but for a sound that suited the song at hand.
Some trends are clear: Strats, loud clean-ish amps, mid-boost pedals, and a lasting fascination with Hendrix-style sounds. Outside of those basic commonalities, it looks like he simply enjoyed experimenting. Who knows what rig he’d be using today if he hadn’t died so tragically young.