Achieving the Stevie Ray Vaughan sound

Stevie Ray Vaughan was a very influential electric blues guitarist who was considered by many to be one of the greatest before he tragically perishes in a 1990 helicopter crash. While it is impossible to duplicate Stevie’s tone (as you would need his hands), the following guide can help.

The Sound

Stevie Ray Vaughan used one guitar mainly and this article deals with his Number One guitar. It was a 1962 worn down sunburst Stratocaster that had 1959 pickups in it. This would give him a very unique tone. His pickups were stock 1959 pickups, not overwound as mistakenly believed, the late 1950s single coil tone is often achieved with low resistance, mostly in the 5.8k-6.8k range, Alnico V magnets, and 42 gauge formvar wire.

Stevie played with Fenders, and he overdrives the amp quite hard, which is what produces his Texas tone. He also uses very thick guitar strings; he played with string gauge 13, and hit them hard. Like Hendrix, he tuned down a half step to Eb for most of his songs.

The Effects

SRV‘s most famous effect is the Tubescreamer, and he often used two in live settings. He also used a Vox wah and occasionally, a Leslie rotating speaker. The most important part of SRV’s tone is the way he plays rather than the effects.

Playing Like SRV

While it is hard to duplicate SRV‘s playing, he often utilizes he pentatonic blues scale, and has alot of certain licks he frequently uses in many positions. The opening to Pride and Joy shows the normal blues shuffle in E that he uses frequently. This same shuffle is used double time in Rude Mood, which is a hard song to master rhythm wise. The Rhythm has to be properly understood to get closer to his sound. He also displays lots of use of Hendrix style barre chords and double stops for his softer tunes like Lenny and Riviera Paradise. Perhaps his ultimate blues piece is Texas Flood, a slow blues piece in G in which SRV pulls out all the stops. Note the following video in which he plays this piece, he goes from slow to almost-shredding speeds quickly, and also does this move where he turns around and simultaneously undoes his guitar strap and reattaches it behind him so that he plays behind his back. It takes several tries to do this well but it’s a good show-piece.

Equipment Links

Fender ’59 Bassman
Fender ’65 Twin Reverb
Fender 1959 Stratocaster Relic
Fender SRV Signature Stratocaster
Fender 57/62 Pickups
Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer
Maxon OD9 Overdrive
Vox V847 Wah

Achieving the Jimi Hendrix sound

Five years ago, I wrote an article briefly noting the Hendrix style and here I will post an updated, revised version.

Some people want to sound and play like the great master himself, Jimi Hendrix. While there is no guaranteed way (since Jimi is impossible to duplicate) I can get you pretty close.

The Sound

Jimi Hendrix took the electric guitar to new heights and did things no one before him did. Being an experimenter, instead of having a left handed guitar, he took a right handed guitar and re-stringed it so that the low e string was now the longest string. This would give him a very unique tone. Right handed players can get that tone either by restringing a lefty or getting the Voodoo Stratocaster. His pickups were stock pickups, the late 1960s single coil tone is often achieved with low resistance, mostly in the 5.8k-6.8k range, Alnico V magnets, and 42 gauge plain enamel wire.

Jimi played with an 100-watt Marshall Plexi amplifier, Jimi often tinkered with his settings, but if you have enough distortion and angle your pickups towards the amp, it should create Hendrix-like feedback. Using the tremolo bar also helps control the feedback.

The Effects

Jimi‘s most famous effect is the Wah, and you should get a Clyde McCoy Vox wah (which Jimi used) and if you run it through fuzz/Octavia you can get feedback at certain settings, giving you a star spangled banner like sound.

His second most used effect is the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz face, which is the basis for songs like foxy lady or purple haze. He also uses a Roger Mayer Octavia which makes his notes sound one octave higher and a Univibe, which emulates the leslie rotating speaker. Both of these can be seen in his rendition of the star spangled banner as well as “Machine Gun“.

Alternatively, you could also go for the Digitech Hendrix Pedal, which gives you all the effects of the above and then some. While not as good as using the effects seperately, it does a good job of emulating Hendrix. The effects include “Purple Haze” “Foxey Lady” “All Along The Watchtower” “Wind Cries Mary” “Star Spangled Banner” “Voodoo Child” and “Little Wing“.

Playing Like Jimi

While it is hard to duplicate Jimi‘s playing, he often utilizes arpeggios, barre chords, inverse chords and double stops in his improvisation. The song Little Wing is a great example of this. It also shows how Hendrix thumbs his bass notes as a melody while using the rest of his fingers for rhythm.

He also tends to fly all over the place…as in Voodoo Child He makes transitions from the 15th fret back down to the 2nd so keep practicing making those position changes.

He also has many sound tricks, for example sliding the thumb along the low e string back and forth creates an almost ‘humping sound’ (Hendrix is notorious for making sexual innuendos with his guitar), and he’ll also use the back of his hand to slide along the guitar (you can see this at monterey). Since his controls were right beneath his hand, he was often very accomplished at volume swells (turning the volume knob up and down, as seen in Foxey Lady). And a technique called pickup sweeping where he switches his pickup selector switch back and forth to create a variation in sound (turn the middle pickup tone to 0 for greater effect). Also his heavy usage of the whammy bar is notorious so just fool around with that once in a while.

Lastly, for those of you who like to show off, playing behind the head, legs, back, etc. is not really that hard, just practice those tricks.

Keep practicing swinging your guitar behind your head, between your legs (keep your balance) and behind your back and you will gradually get used to it. Playing with your teeth also requires practice, but its easier to use just the bottom teeth and pick the D,G and B strings as the rest are relatively hard to pick. Gradually you will find yourself doing somersaults over the stage, sliding along the front of the guitar with your arm, and lighting your guitar on fire just like Jimi did at Monterrey (be careful of burns).

Jimi Hendrix was primarily a blues and psychedelic rock player. I suggest playing Purple Haze to start off with and then move to advanced songs such as All along the watchtower or Bold As Love (try playing that while singing).

I just practice Woodstock improvisation everyday and everyone should appreciate and learn from Hendrix.

Equipment Links

Marshall Super 100JH
Fender 1965 Stratocaster Relic
Fender 60’s Stratocaster
Fender CS ’69 Pickups
Digitech Hendrix pedal
Jim Dunlop Octavio
Jim Dunlop Hendrix Wah
Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face
Jim Dunlop Univibe
Vox V847 Wah