Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One

As blues guitarists go, very few are in the same league as Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was an innovator both in his style of play and in his choices of amps, guitars and other gear. Kenny Wayne, Los Lonely Boys and other current musicians credit Vaughan as a strong influence on their styles. Even though his life was cut tragically short in a helicopter accident at the age of 35, Stevie Ray won six Grammy awards and was nominated for many more. He is listed as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

Stevie Ray Vaughan grew up in Dallas Texas as part of a music-loving family. Stevie received his first guitar as a seven-year-old, if you can classify a Sears toy model with three strings as a guitar. Stevie’s brother Jimmie was three years older and encouraged Stevie to play and sing the blues with him. By the time he was a young teen, Stevie was playing in blues clubs around Dallas and dropped out of high school to pursue his music full time.

In 1982, as lead singer and guitarist for a group called Double Trouble, Stevie got his first break. Jackson Browne and David Bowie heard him perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Bowie invited him to perform on his next album. Browne offered Double Trouble free time in his recording studio. The two events led to Double Trouble landing a recording contract of its own.

Vaughan’s guitar of choice was the Stratocaster by Fender, and he used several throughout his career. The most well known is one that Stevie referred to as “Number One” or his first wife. He bought the instrument in 1973, but there is some confusion as to which model it actually was. Stevie called it a ’59 because he saw that year stamped on the back of the pickups, but his guitar setup man, Rene Martinez, saw 1962 stamped in the body and on the neck.

Number One was rebuilt and refinished a number of times because Stevie Ray was notorious for his hard use of guitars. He used it on all of his studio recordings and many of his live shows, as well. His unique clanging tone was derived from heavy gauge strings, the fact that his guitar was tuned down a half step, and the use of several different amplifiers at the same time. In 2004 the Fender Custom Shop made 100 reproductions of Number One as a tribute to Vaughan.

Stevie Ray used numerous other Stratocasters on specific songs. Some were given to him by friends, and all of them had names. These included Red, which he used when playing “Love Struck Baby” and “Rude Mood,” and Main that he used while filming his “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” music video. Charley was a white, custom-made Strat look-a-like made by Charley Wirz of Charley’s Guitar Shop in Dallas. Stevie often used it when playing “Life Without You,” a song he wrote in tribute to Charley. Lenny was a ’63 or ’64 Strat named for Stevie’s wife Lenore. It was usually played on the song “Lenny” which was dedicated to her.

No matter which kind of guitar you play, you can get a lot of inspiration from listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you need to brush up on some guitar skills at any level, you might want to try using a comprehensive guitar course like Learn and Master Guitar or Guitar Tricks. The first is a DVD-based system, and the second consists of online instruction, but both can help you fill in any gaps you may have in your guitar knowledge.