Guide to getting and playing better gigs


Stevie Ray Vaughan

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The bigger the string, the bigger the sound. Great tone, but this makes fretting and string bending near impossibe. To make things a lot easier, tune down.

1/2 step flat =
Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
  Whole step flat =

For more alternate tunings, click here

GETTING "THAT TONE"Stevie Ray Vaughan
If you want to duplicate Stevie's tone, first of all remember that much of the tone was in Stevie's hands and fingers. In other words, equipment is only part of the equation. His aggressive right hand attack and strong left hand fingers made much of the sound. But bear in mind he used a variety of equipment and still got the same sound. In other words, the only way you'll really sound like SRV - is to actually
be SRV!

The first thing to do is to find a Strat or Strat copy that has single coil, Fender-style pickups, a rosewood fingerboard, vibrato, the biggest strings you can stand to use, and bigger frets to match the big strings. Like every guitar, every amp is different in its response. Even amps in the same model line may sound different. As a start, use a tube amp that you can dial-in to slightly distort at your desired volume, preferably one with at least a single 12" speaker, or two 10" speakers. Stevie's rig had a big bottom end response, and you won't get that using an 8" or single 10". Keep in mind that Stevie normally played at ear-splitting levels, even in a club setting, with several amps. This all adds up to a lot of square inches of speaker surface. Add a distortion pedal (or a Tube Screamer, to emulate Stevie), compressor (so you can sustain at reasonable volumes), chorus or Dunlop Rotovibe (to cheaply emulate a Vibratone), and wah. Add some reverb, and you're on your way.

You'll have to play around with the amp to get a volume setting that just breaks up a bit, but doesn't really fuzz-up. Stevie used multiple amps, chained together, to get his sound, and unless you can do the same, you'll have to dial-in your one amp to get close to the same sound. If your amp has a Master / Preamp setup, set your guitar volume knob to ten, your preamp knob to at least 5, and set a reasonable listening level on the Master knob. Stevie pushed the power tubes and the speakers, and you'll be pushing the preamp tubes only, so you won't get an identical breakup, but it should be close. Plus, you won't go deaf in the process. If you're to play on stage, these reasonable levels will be your stepping stone to the higher concert levels. The guitar volume knob can now be played at 10 for the "greasy breakup", or rolled-off a number or two to back-off on the distortion but keep relatively the same volume.

Listen to something like "In The Beginning" while you dial-in a stage tone, or "Couldn't Stand the Weather" for a consistent album tone. Start by either setting all tone knobs to zero, and turn them up one at a time until you like what you hear, or turn them all to ten and back them off one by one. For you Bassman users, Stevie said in an interview that he liked the sound of his Bassman with all the tone knobs turned almost all the way down. This was around 1989, and not representative of his early years. For that early tone, you might try setting treble to 9 or 10, the midrange to 6, and the bass to 6 on the amp. The guitar tone knobs will then simply roll-off the treble. Stevie constantly fiddled with the guitar tone and volume knobs while he played, and this would allow you to do the same.

After you've dialed-in the amp, you can get down to business on the effects pedals. Stevie kept things really simple, so don't get too carried away on the effects. The less you use them, the better off you'll be. The more effects you add will tend to destroy that vintage Fender tone. Start with the distortion pedal. Stevie used the Tube Screamer for more gain, not distortion. In other words, he used the TS as a sort of "pre"-preamp. Do the same with your pedal. We really don't have a specific setting for Stevie's rig, but it would probably be close if you set the Level to max, the distortion to maybe 2, and the tone to max.

Now remember, Stevie is playing on the edge already, and using the Tube Screamer this way will simply provide a wall of volume with more power amp distortion. If you can't turn up like he did (and I don't know who can!), use the distortion control to give just a little more fuzz, and use the level to match the volume like you normally would. It won't sound the same, since you're introducing "imitation" distortion, but it will be at a more reasonable level, and it will help sustain.

Stevie did use a Fuzz Face on some songs, especially later in his career, and mostly in concert rather than on an album. Stevie used the Fuzz Face specifically for distortion, while he used the Tube Screamer mostly for added gain (make it louder). You can hear the Fuzz Face on "Leave My Girl Alone" on IN STEP. Stevie turns the Fuzz Face on as he begins his solo. You can hear how his tone becomes much more distorted at that time. You can set your distortion box to this type of fuzz, too. It may not be as "smooth" as a Fuzz Face, but it'll produce the extra distortion.

Now, the compressor. Tube amps naturally introduce some compression, but mainly when you drive them hard. A small amount of pedal compression will help sustain, and smooth out the pops and thumps when you play hard, like Stevie's attack. This will help a lot when you play at lower volumes. His playing style had a lot of string pulls, finger plucks, and rakes, which means the "volume" of the sound when you use these playing techniques will greatly vary. The compressor will smooth these out. To the best of our knowledge, Stevie never used a chorus unit, or a Rotovibe. Unless you can afford a vintage Vibratone (the Leslie-style speaker cabinet), either of these effects can approximate the shimmering sound found on songs like "Cold Shot" and "Couldn't Stand the Weather". Set the depth to shallow, and the speed to medium-fast, about 6 or 7 beats per second. You want just a hint of an organ tone, not a full-out, phased and echoed goth-rock effect.

These tips are just a start. Your equipment, your fingers, and your style will give you a tone all your own, even if you played with Stevie's own gear. Even Stevie's tone changed through the years, so use this info as a jumping-off point, and change it to introduce your own personality.

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