1997 Fender SRV Stratocaster, as made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan
A truly iconic Stratocaster. It doesn't take much to guess whose signature model this is. That bold "SRV" print on the pickguard gives it all away. A standard production model, but everything about this guitar is tribute to one of the greatest guitarists there's ever been.
When did you first hear Stevie Ray Vaughan? If you were growing up in the 1980s, you'd have heard him, but might not have known you'd heard him. In March 1983, David Bowie released a new single from his upcoming album, Let's Dance. It went on to be David Bowie's biggest selling single ever. Which is saying something. This is David Bowie we're talking about. And if you'd heard Let's Dance, then you'd have heard Stevie Ray Vaughan. And if you didn't hear, or haven't ever heard Let's Dance, then where have you been? Really.
The story goes that David Bowie had heard Stevie Ray at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, and was so blown away by his playing, he asked him to join the studio sessions for Let’s Dance. Stevie Ray didn’t just bring his blues edge to the solo on Let’s Dance, the single, but also China Girl and the album version of Cat People (Putting Out The Fire). Nile Rodgers may have provided the funk, but it was Stevie Ray that brought the crunch. There’s a lot said about his appearances on Let’s Dance launching his career. To be fair, Stevie Ray was himself in the midst of the recording sessions for his own debut album, Texas Flood, which came out 3 months after Let’s Dance. The Bowie association probably helped, but let’s face it, Stevie Ray Vaughan was going to be big, whatever. Only seven years later, a helicopter crash took him from us. He was only 35. But his talent, showmanship and tone have never left us, and never will.
So much so that Fender’s SRV Signature model, launched in 1992, is still in production today, more than 40 years on – added to only by rare short Custom Shop runs of his Number One and Lenny Stratocasters, of which only 100 and 185 were made. You’ll get more accuracy from those special runs, but the standard SRV is just a wonderful guitar. A lovely early-60s thick oval neck, narrow tall frets and, unusually, a flatter 12” radius fretboard. A matching set of fixed pole Texas Special single coils, that really bring out the mids of Stevie Ray’s tone. Finished off with all that gold hardware – including the almost-as-signature left-handed tremolo (which feels right, immediately!).
Everything you need to make you think you’re sounding, even playing, like Stevie Ray Vaughan himself . . . just so long as you’re not playing through one of his songs in a guitar shop. He’s the only guitarist I know to have not one, but two mentions on a “No Stairway” list of forbidden songs (see below). Seriously, he’s that good. Of course, you can side-step the guitar shops entirely, hire this one now, and play whatever you damn well like! Take the advice of the man himself: "I don't play with a lot of finesse. I usually play like I'm breaking out of jail!"
See & Hear It In Action
30 Years of the SRV Strat, With Chris Buck: Chris Buck is an astonishing British guitarist in his own right, so to have hm playing the SRV Strat and talking through its history is a double blessing. Honestly, just watch the video to learn, and to marvel.
Pride And Joy, Montreux, 1982: From the performance that blew David Bowie away, the classic Pride And Joy, soon to be released on Stevie Ray's debut album, and like most of his recordings, so much better live!
Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster
Three Tone Sunburst
Number of Frets
6 American Vintage Kluson-style
Fender Texas Special Fixed Coil Single Coil
6-saddle Left-handed American Vintage Tremolo
Fender handed Stevie Ray the first prototypes of this signature model on 7 June 1990, ahead of an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Based on his Number One Strat, Stevie loved the guitar, with one small niggle - where's the SRV pickguard sticker? Over to the Tonight Show graphics department, and hey presto, the italic SRV logo that has graced the pickguard, engraved rather than as a sticker, that you see on every SRV Strat.
Sadly, Stevie never got to play or see the signature model go into production. And understandably, production was delayed following his death in August 1990. But come January 1992, the first SRV Strat was showcased at NAMM, and has been in uninterrupted production ever since.
The prototype, just as the production model, was based on Stevie's "Number One" Strat, a 63 neck on a 64 body. The very first (and now very rare) models featured a Brazilian rosewood fretboard, replaced by pau ferro ("Bolivian rosewood") as trade restrictions on Brazilian rosewood came into force. And with that one major change done, the spec was set.
Everything on this Strat is straight out of the factory, with the exception of a bone nut replacing the synthetic nut it came with - which is the same mod that Stevie's guitar tech used to make to most of his guitars. Everything feels right about this guitar. Even that left-handed tremolo, which is surprisingly easy to get used to. OK, it's not going to make you play Scuttle Buttin' any better, but it's going to make you want to, and that's got to be the best thing about any great guitar.
When I first got this guitar, the neck had been put under such strain by a previous owner, it was almost unplayable. Stevie Ray is well-known for his preference for heavier 13-gauge strings and a higher action. But he also downtuned a semi-tone, to lessen the tension. Chances are, if you leave heavier gauge strings on a guitar in standard tuning, over time you're likely to see the neck bend from the nut and the action open up, even beyond whatever you can do with a truss rod (I tried!). So, big thanks again to vintage guitar pro Joseph Kaye for clamping and heat-treating the neck to bring it back to where it started out - near flat. and a beauty to play. Wood has a memory, and thanks to Joseph for bringing back the good times!
Sources & Links
1997 Fender Price List: The artist signature models from 1997 read like a who's who of living and departed Strat-playing legends: Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Blackmore, Raitt, Guy, Malmsteen, Sambora, all recognisable from their surname alone. It's hard to stand out from the crowd, unless you just happen to be known by an acronym!
Fender: The SRV Strat Today: In uninterrupted production for over 40 years, and pretty much unchanged in spec, here's all you need to know about an off-the-rack SRV Strat, including what it will cost you today. . . You might want to hire one first ;-).
Dan Erlewine on Stevie Ray Vaughan's Set-up: Dan Erlewine is a legend in his own right. His Guitar Player Repair Guide is the bible if you're looking for guidance on the simplest to the (don't try this at home) most complex jobs. And back in 1990. he got to take a look at the set-up on Stevie Ray's guitars with his guitar tech Rene Martinez. A rare insight into one great guitarist's set-up. And also a big reveal about how a 7.25" radius ended up closer to 12".