All the basic info about Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitars and amps is already all over the web (with quite a few mistakes). This article contains some special info about his gear. Some is true, some will contain rumors I have heard, and part of it might not be true, but I will include it here for the sake of comparison.
On the "Charley" Stevie had an extra pickup, hidden beneath the pickguard and wired to serve as a humbucker. In other words, Stevie would have the hum cancelled by this hidden pickup. I’ve heard he used an old Fender Esquire (like a single-pickup Telecaster) on The House Is Rockin’. There are also some photos on the internet, where Stevie plays a Telecaster with his Dumble amp
Stevie mostly used Fenders, but he also had few Gibsons and played them earlier in his career. You can see a Gibson ES-335 on the rack in the El Mocambo video and also in the cover of Soul To Soul. He never had his #1 on cover of his albums, only inside of Live Alive, and maybe the guitar on the back of CSTW is his #1. He also had a cherry red Epiphone Riviera. Stevie also played a Gibson Les Paul occasionally.
There is a video of Stevie giving an interview in Japan in 1985 where he played a Gibson Flying V. I don't know if that was his, but given his Albert King adulation I'm rather sure it was.
Stevie sometimes used the rare 1980 "Hendrix" Stratocaster that was basically like an Anniversary Strat, but sporting a reverse headstock and an additional body contour on the front. Only 25 of these guitars were ever produced. I don’t know if Stevie owned the guitar or borrowed it from someone. He often played it on Superstition and Willie the Wimp.
Stevie even installed a left-handed neck to Red, which originally had a right-handed neck with a rosewood ‘board. I remember it was late 1986, when Stevie put a lefty neck on this beauty. In February 1987 it was left-handed, as can be seen on many photos and videos.
The guitar on the Texas Flood album cover is a Tokai TST-50 or TST-80 50s reissue. I have a poster of the album cover, and you can clearly see the Tokai label – take a look at this scan.
The pickup pole pieces seem to be really low, so these might be the DiMarzio VS-1 pickups that are on the TST-80 model. It is the 50s model with a one-piece maple neck and two-tone sunburst finish. My brother has one just like that, except it’s white, and it’s a killer guitar!
The neck is really big. Compared to it, the Fender SRV-neck is like a toothpick. The Tokai neck is not like a half of a baseball bat, rather more like two whole baseball bats! It must be very close to the neck of #1, the SRV signature has a smaller neck than the real deal.
The Tokai is a very well made guitar, a lot better than most Fender’s I’ve seen. Stevie and Tommy Shannon endorsed Tokai for some time, and in a July 1985 Guitar Player ad Stevie can be seen with a red maple-neck Tokai and a "Tokai #1" (rosewood neck, sunburst with black pickguard).
Stevie was also on the cover of the 1985-86 Tokai catalogue. I’ve heard there has been a Tokai SRV signature model and that Stevie had an endorsement with Tokai before 1985. These guitars must be good (I know they are) because Stevie would not have posed on a full page ad with any old guitar, right?
Funny that Fender did discover Stevie only when he was already gone (although they started to design the SRV model when he was still alive). I haven’t seen any Fender advertisements with Stevie before 1990. Stevie must have helped the sales of Stratocasters almost as much as Jimi Hendrix did in 1967, when all of a sudden everyone wanted an old-fashioned Strat, and not the new cool premium Fender models like the Jazzmaster (Fender’s blurb said: “America’s finest electric guitar”) or the Jaguar! Stevie once had special roller saddles on his e- and b-strings, maybe to help with tuning or string breakage.
Stevie has used:
- Purple D’Addario Delrin Heavy .043", (1.10 mm)
- Purple Dunlop 1.14mm picks and later
- Fender Heavy picks
SRV used 5751's in the first gain stage of his Fenders to keep that clean but loud sound. (I have tried this with NOS RCA 5751 on my Dumble-fied Bassman ‘59 RI, and it sounded great!
Stevie put tape on his amp's grill cloth to eliminate the harsher upper frequencies from the center of the cones. You can see this on many videos and photos.
You can easily say that Dumble was Stevie's main amp brand from 1983; he recorded Texas Flood with one ("Mother Dumble" a Dumbleland head with 6550 tubes), and after that he bought a Dumble Overdrive Special. You can see the amp in many 1983 videos (a black, small head).
The ODS was "too much of an amp" for Stevie, and he changed it for a Dumble Steel String Singer that was originally designed for steel guitar players. The amp has oodles of headroom and tight low end. From then on he always had a Dumble or two in his set-up. During his 1988 European Tour SRV used only his Dumble and a Marshall Major head with 4 x12" cabs, no Fender amps.
Stevie's Dumble Steel String Singer was custom made for him, and the amp had this tight, loud, clear bottom end with a loud and clean tone, which didn’t distort much. Stevie used pedals for distortion with his Dumbles. Stevie’s Dumble SSS had 6550 output tubes and about 150 W of clean output.
Stevie also used Marshalls a lot. For some of his early gigs he might have used only two Marshall Club & Country combos, one a 4x10", while the other was 2x12". He used mostly Marshall Major heads, though – 200-watt monsters with four KT88 tubes. There was a JCM 800 halfstack that was miked up for the In Step sessions. Stevie also used as many as five JCM 800s at the Pori Jazz Festival (July 11th, 1985. Even with those Marshalls he still sounded like SRV.
Pedro Fidel Raggio wrote a mail to Stevie’s guitar tech René Martinez asking for the settings on his Fender Bassman, and René replied
“… He uses four EVM’s and stock tubes with settings below:
- input normal 1
- volume 8
- treble 8
- mids 7
- bass 6 and
- presence 8 …”
Pedro also asked him for SRV’s Marshall JCM 800 settings, and Rene answered him very shortly: “… He uses lots of treble, mids, bass and volume …”
In Sweden in 1984, Stevie used his Dumble with a 4x12" cab, as well as a silverface Fender Twin Reverb to drive the Vibratone. He had a TS-9, a Vox wah-wah and an MXR Loop Selector as a bypass switch for the pedals.
Stevie used EV-speakers in his amps, and had to replace the chipboard Fender baffle for a thick plywood board to handle the heavy and loud EV-speakers. The EV-speakers can handle a lot of power and don’t distort like vintage speakers.
His Super Reverbs had these fitted, and I believe his Dumble cabinets had these, too. He also changed the 15” speaker for his Vibroverb that he later used just to drive his Vibratone. Stevie used a JBL E130-8 speaker, not the original D-model. Stevie didn’t like the sound of speaker distortion and those powerful speakers made his tone so clear and powerful.
More about amplifiers
SRV used to prefer diode rectifiers to keep the bass tight, giving him more headroom and less compression.
There isn’t much info about his amp settings, but you can glean some details from old photos.
Stevie had a lot of bright top-end that made the tone cut through the band. There was a lot of chime and clarity – you hear every note and nuance. But the tone was not thin, as he also had a lot of mid-range added. Here is one Super Reverb setting that can be seen on several photos:
The guitar is connected to the first jack of the Vibrato-channel. Stevie did not use the reverb or tremolo (actually it was disconnected).
- Bright-switch on (up)
- volume 5.5 (already slightly distorting)
- Middle 9
- Treble 9
- Bass 2
The tone is very bright if you play with it in your bedroom, but add a hard hitting drummer and a bass player with a 200 W amp, mainly use your neck pickup on a fat-sounding rosewood neck Strat, and you are there!
Stevie also adjusted his guitar’s volume and tone controls a lot. With the volume down the tone gets darker, and you can always fine-tune the tone with your tone knob.
As you see the Bass is low (2), but you can’t set it higher if you play hard, because the low end gets farty and too loose. There is still a nice bottom-end with a Super Reverb with the Bass on two, and Stevie also used Vibroverbs with 15" speakers, the Dumble with a 4x12" cab, and his Marshalls, so there was no lack of bass punch in his rig.
The Dumble’s settings are also known, but they only help Dumble-owners, and I guess there are not too many of them. He basically set them for a very loud clean tone (and the clean on this Dumble is a killer).
Ross William Perry e-mailed me that Stevie sometimes also miked the amps from the back for a huge tone.
The Vibratone must be miked with two mics for a true Leslie effect, but I have heard that this back miking has also been used in the studio with open back combos. I don’t know if Stevie did it much on his recordings.
- An Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS-9 or TS-10) in front of a Vox wah-wah.
- Whenever Stevie used a Fuzz Face is was in front of the Tube Screamer.
- Earlier Stevie used an MXR Loop Selector to bypass effects.
I just got few photos from a small club during the 1984 Scandinavian Tour, taken in Sweden.
Some are gear photos, taken just to see what gear Stevie played. He had:
An Ibanez TS-9 (you can see very well it is a TS-9, not a TS-808) into a Vox wah-wah. There is also the MXR Loop Selector between the Vox and the TS-9 – he used it as bypass switch to bypass all effects and go directly to the amp.
On this occasion he used a late-70s master volume silverface Fender Twin Reverb, and on top of that a Fender Vibratone. There is some masking tape on the front grille, but no microphones in front of the amp. The Vibratone is miked and next to the "Fender-tower" there is an early 80s 4x12" Marshall cabinet that seems to have a microphone in front of it.
I can't see any other amps there (maybe the Dumble was too much for a small club) and the Twin must be driving the Vibratone, as well as the Marshall cabinet. I have that show on tape and the Vibratone is not on very often.
The Vibratone had a modded switching system: When the Vibratone was switched off, the amp's speakers were switched in (this time the Marshall cab). When the Vibratone is turned on, a special filter sent the extreme highs and lows to the amplifier's speaker and most of the tone came from Vibratone.
On his 1988 European Tour Stevie had only his Dumble head and a 200-watt Marshall Major. Both aren’t very crunchy amps, which is why he also used an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-10. Stevie used Tube Screamers earlier with Fenders for gain, boosting the volume, while using only a little overdrive (probably the best way to use these), but on one photo you can see him set his TS-10 like this:
- Drive: 5
- Tone: 3
- Level: 7
The Tube Screamer settings are different to what Stevie used earlier. There is actually more distortion from the pedal, due to the very clean tone from the amps. Both amps are famous for their large headroom, and his big 1988 tone must be from the amps running just on the edge of break-up, with the distortion coming from the TS-10. With smaller the Fender amps he used earlier (that are easily driven into distortion), Stevie needed the TS only to boost the signal for leads.
Here the settings are different: Drive must be below 2 (or over 9) because you can't see the green notch, Tone: 0 and Level: 5. So here he has less distortion, less treble and less output.
This next quote comes from a reliable source, and may surprise most people that have read the misinformation through the years that SRV favoured the TS-808.
When Stevie was asked in the early 80s what he thought about the new TS-9 Tubescreamer compared to the older one (the TS-808), Stevie said that he liked them both, but that the new TS-9 worked better for him, because it had slightly more bite!
Paul Crowther from Crowther Audio told me that his friend Midge Marsden stayed with SRV at his Dallas home for about two months, and Midge noticed that Stevie had a Hot Cake amongst his equipment. Midge was able to tell him that he knew the person (Paul Crowther) who made them. So SRV definitely owned one, but I'm not sure how often he was using it. The Hot Cake is a ticket to a great SRV tone if you have a good amp to start with. There is no pedal that could get the same tone with mediocre amp!
Stevie started using an Octavia in 1989. First he had a Roger Mayer Octavia and then Cesar Diaz found some NOS Tycobrahe Octavias, and Stevie started using those. Stevie used one from then on for live shows (he never recorded with one). Stevie used the Octavia mostly for Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), but also on Mary Had A Little Lamb, Wall Of Denial, Going Down, I’m Leaving You and Riviera Paradise. You can see and hear the Roger Mayer Octavia in action on Voodoo Chile on the DVD that comes with the SRV Box. It is the grey rocket-shaped pedal to the far left from Stevie.
In late ‘89 Stevie added a Fuzz Face (first a Roger Mayer Classic Fuzz, then a vintage Fuzz Face and later a Diaz-modified fuzz) to his pedal board that stayed there until the end.
Guitar Magazine (UK, Feb 2000) had a few nice photos I had not seen before: One of his pedalboard with a Vox wah-wah, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, a Roger Mayer Octavia, an Ibanez TS-10 and pedals for the Vibratone, plus some homemade box with switches, maybe to switch on/off amps or to bypass the pedals.
His pedalboard (it’s in two pieces) looks very primitive, nothing like what would be considered standard today. I always thought it funny that SRV used the TS-10, that is not a very well-regarded pedal, because back then (in the late 80s/early 90s) the TS-808 was not an expensive, or hard-to-find pedal. Stevie spent a lot of money on his guitars, amps, and other pedals, so he must have been very happy with the TS-10’s tone, or else he would have bought a used (not vintage at that time) TS-808 (that everybody praises so highly now).
Stevie also used Roger Mayer Super Vibe and Noise Gate (both in a rack). Roger said he has never met Stevie, but he wishes he had.
On a show in Daytona (on the 25th May, 1987) Stevie used an Electro-Harmonix Hot Tubes as his prime overdrive. You can clearly see that in the video of that show. Stevie turns it on and off quite a few times. The big question is "What pedals would Stevie use now?" There are tons of great boutique pedals with true bypass, as well as lots of cool, inexpensive stuff.
As you all know Stevie was not just running pentatonic scales in the key of E over a 12-bar Blues. There are many elements in his playing. At the Orpheum Theater Boston (Nov 23rd, 1986) Stevie played authentic Reggae on Life Without You (with some of those nice high-pitched notes made using his ring à la Riviera Paradise).
On the 8th of April 1985 Stevie sat in with Eric Johnson at Fast and Cools, Dallas, Texas, where they played some blues jam, then Come On (Part 1) and Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).
Here is some stuff Ross William Perry sent me:
"I met Jim Gaines a couple months ago when my friend Bernard Allison invited me to come hang out in the studio while he was recording. Jim Gaines was producing him and had some very interesting stories to tell about Stevie."
"Jim said that Stevie was so loud in the studio during In Step that the pipes in the walls were rattling and the mics were picking that up. They had to have somebody come in and shoot foam/insulation down the insides of the walls to isolate the rattle. He also said that the lights that were in the ceiling in the control room were shaking loose and falling down from the vibrations! Jim was talking about his recording amps too."
"He said he had a Bassman, Super, a couple of Dumbles, Vibroverbs, Twins and Quad Reverbs, Marshalls and a few others he couldn't remember. He said that they had a couple of the smaller amps in another room because they couldn't keep up to the other amps - he said those were a little Gibson amp that looked like a table and a Vibratone (Leslie), and something else."
"He said that they had a problem when they were recording because they were getting a hum transferred to tape. He said it was some kind of magnetic field or microwaves that were created by having so many amps running at the same time. They solved that by building a cage that would cancel out the microwaves."
"He also said that someone had come into the studio and told Stevie (I think it was Eric Johnson) that the reason he was getting a crappy tone is because the guitar cords weren't flowing in the right direction (yes, I read your article about this cable problem - it is true, I've tried it!), so Jim had to go to Radio Shack and get some cables that already had arrows on them marking the signal flow. That's about as much as I can remember about the stories Jim told me."
"I'm the friend of a guy who used to work at a local guitar shop in my area. He said that he got to see Stevie's amps and look at them up and close. He told me that Stevie's Super Reverbs had been modified for 150 watts and had 4 power tubes (I imagine 6550's) instead of 2 and had bigger transformers also."
"They had 4 - 10" EV speakers in them. He also said he looked at the amp settings - the volume was on 4, treble on 5 1/2 with bright switch on and the mid around 7. He didn't remember where the bass was set at. He told me that he thought his preamp in the Super was stock and that it was modded only in the power section to give more headroom."
Well, with these 4x10" EV-speakers you can handle a lot of power, but it’s not a minor modification to have the Super Reverb work with four power amp tubes. I’ve never heard this before, but it can be true.
More from Ross:
"Stevie had a short time delay between one of his amps - he had it set for about 10-20ms behind the original signal. This helped give a little more beef to the sound, supposedly. I've also heard he used dummy coils in his Strats. I've listened to some live recordings from around '89 and it sounds more like a noise gate to me. The noise stops unless he rubs his hand on the strings, and then you can hear the buzz."
"I've noticed some photos from around '89 that show that he had a small rack - like a 3 or 4 space rack. I couldn't see what was in it from the pictures, but I suspect if he had a noise gate, it would be in that rack."
Yes, Stevie had a Roger Mayer Noise Gate in a rack. There was also Roger Mayer Supervibe effect that later evolved to Voodoo-Vibe pedal.
This is from Terry Carlson, who used to drive the equipment truck for SRV:
"During the four North American tours I did with SRV, I got to know Rene Martinez on a personal level, I still talk with him occasionally. Rene was Stevie’s guitar tech, and through Rene I learned Stevie’s rig inside and out… I was looking at Ross's rig and noticed the mods done to his Strat, they are right in line with Stevie’s # 1 (he referred to his famous beat up guitar with the mailbox letters on it as "Number One"), which was a '59 Fender Tobacco Sunburst Strat that made its way into a pawn shop in Dallas where Stevie eventually found it."
"He always said that the thing about # 1 was its neck, "it just felt right" he said years later. When Guitar Player magazine interviewed Rene, and wanted to do a piece on Stevie’s signature axe, they disassembled the guitar and found out by running the numbers back to Fender and then to Leo himself at G&L that the guitar was one of five ever made by Fenders R & D shop in LA."
"The only difference between Stevie’s Strat and others made that year, were modifications to the neck. It was a little broader and thinner, funny how Stevie knew all that time from just feel that his axe was different than all the rest…
Unfortunately, in 1990 while on tour with Joe Cocker shortly before SRV's death, that guitar was hit by a set piece that fell from the side of the stage in Holmdell, New Jersey at the Garden State Performing Arts Center, I watched from behind the stage as the neck was snapped off of it when it was struck. Stevie died only a couple of months later. It was as if that guitar was destined to be played only by Stevie."
"These memories are giving me chills, I'll defer to another subject. I see Ross is using a couple of Super Tube Screamers, those were a big part of Stevie’s sound along with an original Fuzz Face and an Octavia."
"He mostly played through Howard Dumble amps sitting on top of Fender Super Twins, and a couple of 4 x 12 cabinets as well, a Rotoverb, a Leslie, and a Vibroverb… He also had a couple of miscellaneous Marshall JCM 100s with 4 x 12 bottoms. They usually didn't last long before they blew up! Mostly the only reason he played through them at all was if one of his Dumble amps had gone down. Stevie had a couple of amp techs on call who would fly out to repair stuff on the road. He was brutal on his equipment and it cost him a fortune to keep it all up and running… An oddball piece in his rig was a Nashville "Steel String Singer" amp, I think that’s the right name anyway. I never saw him plug into it, but he carried it with him every tour."
"Stevie claimed that he learned how to play Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) in a dream. He said when he was first learning the song, he was having difficulty with some parts of the song and just wasn't getting it. He agonized and stressed, until he had a block about it and couldn't go in further into the song, and would wind up blowing it over and over, unable to get through it correctly. I don't know, but I would imagine it was over timing and tone, etc. Anyway, he said he had a dream one night and Jimi Hendrix was showing him how to play the parts he was having trouble with. He got up out of bed and "nailed" it. Pretty weird, huh?
"Number One had a bolt-on neck, the accident in New Jersey that damaged Number One was pretty much limited to the neck being broken. Rene bolted on another neck, but Stevie said it wasn't the same. He said it didn't feel good to him and he didn't enjoy playing it anymore. He was extremely bummed about the whole thing. He and Rene went up to Manny's Music in NYC and wound up purchasing a '62 or '63 Strat that he seemed to like. In fact, the last shows he ever did he wound up playing that guitar quite a bit. He still brought Number One out on stage and played it because, of course, everybody identified him with that guitar, but he wasn't enjoying it anymore."
"Was there anything secret about his rig? No. Believe it or not, it was very simple and straightforward. Charlie and Rene re-wound the pickups, I believe. I know that he used a simple five-way switch. Of course the whammy bar was moved to the other side of the pickguard. He played Gibson jumbo frets with .010 strings. He wasn't fussy about what brand string, either. All he cared about was that they were tough, because that's how he played, tough."
"He was just starting to experiment with using "cryos" when he passed away. He manhandled a guitar when he played, he had tremendously strong hands and fingers, and he played harder on a fretboard than anyone I've ever seen before or since. As you probably already know, his thumb was a large portion of his playing. He used vibrato with his thumb like nobody else."
"BTW, his rig was pretty much an open book. Rene was never sworn to secrecy about the rig, it’s just that none of the crew or Stevie ever dug the press all that much. As a result there was more speculation about his rig than actual facts.
They did one definitive interview however with "Guitar World" I think it was. Stevie allowed Rene to disassemble Number One and have it photographed for a feature in the magazine. Rene answered all questions about it honestly. It is the best article ever written about SRV's equipment and is very in-depth. You may want to research that end. I don't know if I still have that particular issue or not. I believe it was in 1989 during the Jeff Beck co-headlining tour we did."
"Stevie was extremely loud. But the sound was never lost. The sound company of choice on the road was "Showco" outta Dallas, Texas. Johnny Roberts did monitors. The sound was powered by Crown 10,000 Amps through Yamaha consoles played through JBL S-4 speakers. Front of house was engineered by Mark Rutledge."
"Stevie’s sound was always loud, crisp and very clean. The high end was soaringly high treble, never warbled or cut off. It screamed all the way to the heavens. The high end would literally "take you" – it was like a rocket launching, taking you higher and higher. His live sound was simply overpowering and always left you drained. I think it was in part due to the very emotional way that Stevie played, it was very easy to get hooked into his playing, and it was a draining experience by the end of a show, having been taken on such a roller-coaster ride by the man playing…"
Well, some of this is bit strange:
- #1 had a thin neck?
- Stevie carried the Steel String Singer around but didn’t play with it?.
- The P.A. info is nice and the bit about Stevie’s tone.
3.3.2001 Harri Koski (edited by Martin Berka)
The author is the former owner of Custom Sounds Finland, now the CEO of Mad Professor Amplification. Article was originally written for old Custom Sounds Webpage and has now been recently discoverd and released as quasi-historical archive.
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