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Stevie Ray Vaughan's Guitar called "Number One"


"Number One"- Also called "First Wife," a 1959 Strat body with 1962 neck, received in 1973 in trade of 1963 Strat with Ray Hennig, Heart of Texas Music

Reminder: click on the graphic to see a larger version

Many of the photographs on these web pages were taken by W. A. Williams. He has very kindly allowed me use these photographs on this site.

"Number One" is the beat-up mongrel Strat that we all know and love. Constructed of a 1959 body, and (originally) a 1962 neck, it possessed a deep, dark growl of a tone that was immediately identifiable. Even though it used all "stock" Fender Strat parts, about the only "original equipment" parts it possessed by 1990 were the body and the pickups. Over the years, Stevie and Rene Martinez, his guitar tech, replaced the pickguard, vibrato unit, saddles and neck. Some modifications were purely cosmetic, some were functional (to derive a particular feel or tone), and others were out-and-out repairs.

Number One was obtained in 1973 in a trade-in of his first Strat, the 1963 he purchased in 1969. According to Stevie, he saw the Strat in Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas Music, in Austin. He said he knew that this tobacco-sunburst, used Strat was, just by looking at it, the guitar for him. The neck was an oddly-shaped rosewood D-neck, very large, which fit Stevie's large hands like a glove. The body was stamped "LF-1959," but the neck was stamped "1962." Stevie surmised that Leo Fender probably assembled this guitar from left-over 1959 production parts in 1962. It was rumored that the "LF-1959" actually meant "Louis Fuentes" and not Leo Fender. Neither was ever truly verified.

In interviews, Rene sometimes took issue as to the date of manufacture of Number One. Rene claims he has found that the pickups are 1959, while both the neck and body are 1962 (See Guitar World book on SRV). In Stevie's mind, the guitar was a factory-cobbled-up 1959, so all discussion ended there.

The guitar originally came with a stock, early-sixties style white pickguard, a right-handed vibrato unit, and 1959 pickups. It is rumored that sometime during the life of the guitar, either Stevie or a previous owner had the pickups rewound at the Fender factory. The result was a slight overwind from original, which is duplicated in the SRV Signature Strat. I cannot find proof of the pickup rewind.

Over the years, Stevie replaced the pickguard (several times) with a black pickguard and added his "SRV" initials in iridescent lettering of several styles. Rene Martinez remarked that he would prowl truck stops to obtain letters to replace the ones that wore away. Eventually the iridescent "SRV" was replaced by Letraset script-style lettering, first seen during his appearance on the "Tonight Show" in 1989. This show introduced the SRV Signature Strat prototype. Stevie was to play this prototype, but it did not sport his trademark initials. The "Tonight Show" art department came up with this new lettering style at the last minute. These script letters are what is engraved in outline form on the SRV Sig Strat.

The vibrato was replaced with a gold left-handed unit sometime around 1977. This was the beginning of Stevie's "Hendrix period." Since Jimi Hendrix and Otis Rush played a right-handed guitar turned "upside down," therefore putting the vibrato bar on top, Stevie emulated this by installing a left-handed vibrato unit in Number One. He also felt it gave him better access to the bar, but did remark that several times, during especially manic performances, it fairly well tore half his sleeve off when he got caught-up on it. Stevie normally used four or five springs in this unit, and had the pivot plate pulled tight against the body. This meant he could only push the bar, and not pull up on it.

Another significant change from stock were the installation of jumbo bass-style frets. This added to the sustain, and gave Stevie added ability to bend the strings with the enormous strings that he used. He gradually went to smaller strings as he got older, but they were still heavy by modern standards. His string sizes in 1984 were generally .013, .015-.016, .019, .028, .038, and .056-.060. In the 1970s, his high E string would sometimes go as high as a .018! By the time 1989 rolled around, Rene convinced him to use a .011 or .012 to save his fingers. His fingers would get torn up so badly that he would actually use super glue to re-attach torn callouses.

The finish of Number One became progressively more beaten up as the years went by. Stevie would pound, scrape, kick, stand on, and otherwise torture the guitar during his performances. Eventually it developed a quarter-inch gouge just above the pickguard where Stevie's manic strumming continually bashed it. There probably was not a square inch of lacquer remaining by 1990. That certainly did not detract from the wonderful sounds it made.

It is not known when the original neck was replaced. Number One had many repairs throughout Stevie's career. An early mishap can be seen on the liner photos for the In the Beginning album. Stevie had watched how his brother Jimmie would bounce his guitar off the wall, and he thought it was a cool trick. During an early performance of "Third Stone From the Sun," he recalled, he tossed Number One a little too hard. It hit the wall at a bad angle, and severely split the headstock. The photos in the album show the taped-up headstock. Either Rene Martinez or Charley Wirz eventually repaired this damage, as Rene has said that Stevie used the original neck until 1989.

Stevie briefly considered retiring Number One by late 1989, when the neck became unusable. It had gone through so many re-frets and repairs that it just could not hold another re-fret, and its playability was near impossible. So, Rene swapped the neck from "Scotch," a 1963 Strat, onto Number One. This was the neck that was snapped on July 9, 1990 at the Garden State Art Center in New Jersey, when a heavy piece of stage scenery fell on several guitars. This prompted Stevie to beg Rene to try and get one more life out of the old neck. Rene ended up ordering a replacement vintage neck directly from Fender, and received according to Rene a 1963 copy, similar to what was destroyed in the accident. Stevie was without Number One for only one show.

Number One was originally rumored to be buried with Stevie at Laurel Land Cemetery, near Dallas. Another rumor was that Number One actually "resides" with one of the Vaughan family members, either Jimmie or his mother.

The truth is that all of Stevie's guitars, pedals and amps are safely locked in a vault. The Guitar World, August 1998 issue, interview with Jimmie Vaughan has laid this issue to rest.

GW: Where is all of Stevie's gear now?
Jimmie Vaughan: I got it locked up at Fort Knox. [laughs] It's at a bank, and I don't even look at it. Every time I go back to that stuff, it kicks my ass, because I have to go through it all again. Each amp, each pedal, triggers a memory: "I was on the road with him for six months when he was playing that amp..."

Rene Martinez swapped the original neck back onto Number One and gave it to the Vaughan family.

An in-depth article on the set-up of Stevie Ray's guitars was provided in the article "Supernova Strats" by Dan Erlewine as published in February 1990 issue of Guitar Player magazine.

More pictures:

Copyright © 1990- WA Williams


Copyright ©1990-Karl Zimmerman

Copyright ©2001 - Jeffrey Weiss; Guitar Player 03/2001

Information and comments pulled from archived TexasFlood mailing list digests.

The SRV Signature Strat is a "copy" of Number 1. There are some obvious changes and additions (a nice finish, for instance ;-D), but the dimensions and wood composition are supposed to be the same. The "Texas Special" pickups were developed specifically for the SRV Strat, and are supposed to duplicate Stevie's. He had his originals rewound at some point, and that is what Fender copied. The SRV Strat neck uses a more exotic rosewood, and slightly smaller frets than Stevie had (though still larger than stock American Standard, but the radius is as flat as Stevie's Number 1 (12" I believe).

Rene [Martinez] states that it was around age 18 that he was introduced to guitar repair and rebuilding; he discovered a way to earn a living in a profession he truly enjoyed. Rene established a good reputation, not only in Dallas, in the music business at large, by becoming a master at his craft between 1971 and 1985. He left Dallas in 1985 when he accepted Stevie Ray Vaughan's offer of employment as his Guitar Tech. Rene traveled extensively and exclusively with Stevie Ray and Double Trouble from 1985 until Stevie's death in August of 1990.

Found this info on Stevie's strings in Guitarist, Feb. 1994. This is from an interview with Rene Martinez, SRV's tech (straight quote):

...Supergluing fingertips for added protection is not a new trick (Superglue is better at accidentally sticking your fingers together than anything else because it was originally developed to 'hold' the wounds of Vietnam GI casualities together until proper medical attention was available). Because of his extreme playing style, Stevie took this type of 'repair' one step further- he would put Superglue along his right forearm, then place his left fingertips in it. When the glue had set, he'd pull his left hand away, tearing a skin patch off his arm to cover each damaged fingertip. Rene, was, however, responsible for moving Stevie onto lighter gauge plain strings as time went on.

"He liked that heavy gauge string tone but was wearing out his fingers a lot through doing so many shows. He was playing a .013, .015 or sometimes a .017, then a .020 plain, with a .028, a .038 and a .058, or even a .060; once even a .074! At the end we got the string gauges down to .011, .015, .019, .028, .038, .058, round about that sizing, so that he wouldn't actually ruin his fingertips so much on the blues bends."

 

You can also estimate the date of the SRV photo or performance video by examining the condition of Number One. This Strat started out fairly generic-looking, and Stevie slowly added to and modded it until it turned into the guitar we'd all love to hold for just a second! At first it had a cream pickguard, and a right hand trem. He added "SRV" letters to the top horn of the body, which wore off fairly quickly. Later, he added the black pickguard, the lefty trem, and the "CUSTOM" sticker. The "SRV" trucker stickers even went through a couple iterations of styles. Rene Martinez said even he (Rene) would scour the truck stops to get replacement letters. You can tell when Rene took over the care and feeding of Number One - it started looking more, well, "consistent" for lack of a better word. Check out various performance shots of Number One. Through the years you'll see various knobs, pickups, covers, etc. either missing or held on by tape. Stevie even shattered the headstock by throwing Number One against a wall! You can see it taped (!) together on the "In The Beginning" CD insert. The neck was replaced at least twice through the years.

One other point, the tremolo or "whammy" bar also went through a number of changes over the years. Stevie was pretty rough with #1 as you can see on the Japan video especially. For a while, particularly in 1983-84, Stevie used some extra heavy guage tremolo bars made by his tech's father to try to cut down on the number of bars he would break. Some were straight and some had the customary bend. You can see these heavy bars on the cover of the Australian tour program and the cover of the El Mocambo laser disc (I assume its visible on the VHS, too) and many photos from that era. I don't know how many there were for sure, but I believe the tech said there were less than a dozen. Those bars have surfaced on the market from time to time over the last few years. They started out commanding about $300, but the last sale I heard of was $1500! The tuning knobs from #1 have also been offered on the market for about $1500. The original right-hand tremolo bridge sold in that neighborhood, too. It be 'spensive to collect that type of stuff!!

Lots of comment on #1 Strat. There's a letter from Stevie saying he got #1 in 1974. His tech still had the original right-hand tremolo off #1 until about a year ago. I have no reason to doubt his story that #1 started out with right-hand tremolo.

SRV bought #1 in 1973... In 1986, he said he bought it 13 years ago. Ok here's a documented source, the Sept, 1995 Guitar World. Page 178 they are talking about Stevie's Gear, a good read for sure...

"About a year or two before Stevie died, Fender began work on the SRV signature model...
(Larry brooks of the custom shop explains)'Stevie wanted to leave (No. 1) at home. I first made that one guitar and took it down to the Tonight Show where Stevie was a scheduled guest.'"

The story I heard about the Carson show (and I believe he was on twice - the first with Leno as guest host, and the second with Carson - but I could be wrong) was that because of the "national publicity" of this show, Fender was rushing to get the prototype to Stevie so he could play it on the show. They showed up at the last minute and someone realized that the pickguard did not have the trademark SRV initials. Someone in the Tonight Show art department found some Letraset stick-on or dry transfer letters, and just minutes before the appearance put them on the pickguard. I only have a recording of Tightrope from the Leno appearance, and not having seen it for a while I can't remember which guitar he's using on that song. I don't know about the other songs. Stevie did like the new letters so much that he asked for more of the letters so he could put them on Number One.

I just finished watching my recording of SRV when he was on Carson, the episode that Leno hosted, and He was playing #1!!!!! on both songs, House is Rockin' and Tightrope. I never saw a second appearance on Carson, but I remember him passing on, only months after this appearance?

The accident happened just weeks before Stevie left us. Because they couldn't find a "perfect" neck, I believe he swapped necks from one of his other guitars, then replaced the other guitar's neck. I think Rene, in Beverly's AOL session, stated that Number One's pickups were never changed. The neck, though, had been changed at least twice. The Austin Chronicle published a list of assets in his estate a while back. It was interesting how many guitar parts he had "laying around". I'd bet he experimented more than we think. Who knows if the experiments ever made it to a performance, though.

CITCF and STS both have pictures of Stevie with No.1. It originally had a white pickguard and a standard trem! (No lefty trem) Both the lefty trem and the black pickguard were added by SRV.

I just wanted to clarify that Stevies #1 wasn't a 62 body with a 59 neck. Rene Martinez, who was a repair man at Charley's Guitars in Dallas and SRV's guitar tech in 1985, recaled that the body and neck were both stamped 1962, but the pickups were 59's, so SRV called it a 59 strat. In 1987, when the original neck was too worndown for a refretting, the neck was replaced with a 63 neck, which lasted until it was cruched in July 1990 at the tragic New Jersey's Garden State Arts Center Performance when the accident almost killed SRV. Then it was replaced with another 63 neck, which lasted until SRV's death. Then the original 62 neck was put back on, so it was the all-original #1.

Also, I seem to remember an interview where Stevie said he was having neck problems with Number One during the recording of In Step, and only used it for "The House is Rocking" and "Crossfire." I think he said he used mostly Scotch and Red (not Lenny, except for "Riviera Paradise) on In Step. I'm certain that's Scotch on "Leave My Girl Alone", and Red on "Travis Walk".

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