Gear Blog: Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One

photo by Kevin Cochran

In honor of iconic Texas guitarist and ACL veteran Stevie Ray Vaughan’s birthday today, our intrepid FOH mixologist and gear blogger Kevin Cochran turned in this report on the instrument also known as “the Wife.” 

As far as guitars go, only a handful are as iconic (and synonymous of their players) as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One guitar. A centerpiece of the Texas State History Museum’s Texas Music Roadtrip, this is the first time this instrument has been seen by the public since Stevie Ray’s death in 1990. Vaughan made two appearances with “the Wife” on Austin City Limits: the first time in 1983 and again in 1989.

After snapping this picture, I was chastened by security that no photography was allowed inside the exhibition. As I’ve learned in the past, it only takes once to run afoul of museum muscle and then they’ll follow you around for the rest of your stay. It’s a bit of a chore trying give your full attention to the next exhibit when the security guard  is only a few feet away giving you his full attention. In this case, it was totally worth it.

Number One is a “ragged American Stratocaster with 1959 pickups, a ’62 neck, and a ’63 body, reveals upon inspection a brutally worn finish, upside-down tremolo bar, cigarette-burnt headstock”. Vaughan acquired this instrument in 1974 from Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas Music. When Vaughan took possession of Number One, it was already well worn. What is not as well known is that its previous owner was was another celebrated Texas musician,Christopher Cross. Hennig tells quite a story. As I’ve heard the tale, Cross wanted something “beefier” and traded the Stratocaster for a Les Paul. Stevie had already had a loaner guitar from Hennig, who was pleased to trade it for Cross’ guitar since it was in much better condition.

The original tri-colored sunburst finish has been eroded away by the rigors of years of heavy touring and Stevie’s abusive playing style. A closer inspection of the body will reveal gouged indentation of the wood above the pickguard from repeated contact of Vaughan’s guitar picks. Not just nicks and scrapes, but a deep dent that exposes the bare wood. The vibrato was swapped from the nominal set up of a right-handed player, to left-handed so that that Stevie could emulate Jimi Hendrix’s more exotic techniques. Repairs were needed quite often as Vaughan would break whammy bars and wear down frets on a regular basis. Charley Wirz and Rene Martinez are credited with most of the repairs for Stevie’s instruments.

Because of frequent refretting, the original neck became unplayable by the late ‘80’s and was swapped with the neck of another guitar in Vaughan’s stable, Scotch. Ironically, just a month before his death, a piece of stage rigging fell on Number One and snapped the neck at the headstock. It was the Scotch neck and not the original that was destroyed. Martinez acquired a replacement from Fender and Stevie was without the use of his favorite guitar for only one show. After Stevie Ray’s death, Rene replaced the new neck with Number One’s original and the guitar was given back to Stevie’s family. It now belongs to Stevie’s brother, Jimmie.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar behind Number One. I didn’t get chance to grab any pictures of that guitar. It is a 1963 Stratocaster  (according to the exhibit placard) with a Schecter maple neck (sporting a Fender decal on the headstock) and a salacious girly sticker on the back of the body.

ACL @ the Alamo: Stevie Ray Vaughan

photo by Scott Newton

ACL @ the Alamo returns on August 27 with a special evening featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan. First up is Stevie Ray Vaughan: A Retrospective, our season 20 episode that combines the Texas guitar slinger’s 1984 and 1990 appearances with his band Double Trouble. All your favorites are here: “Love Struck Baby,” “Texas Flood,” “Pride and Joy,” “Cold Shot,” “Crossfire” and an absolutely incandescent version of “Riviera Paradise.” While these performances have been released on DVD before, they’ve never been seen before on a big screen, and we’re excited to make that happen.

Following the Retrospective will be A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, a PBS pledge special filmed in the ACL studio that presents Stevie’s music as performed by his friends and fans, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Dr. John and, of course, Stevie’s brother Jimmie, who also leads the band. Far from a somber occasion, this show is a true celebration of Stevie’s musical legacy, with joyful performances. As with the Retrospective, this has been available on DVD but never shown in a theater.

As always, this screening benefits the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, a most worthy organization. You can find the skinny on tickets here. If you’re in Austin, please join us!