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This article was originally published in issue #20
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Does Phil think placement of SRV’s tremolo arm, upside down a la Hendrix, made a great deal of difference?
GI’s Vintage gear expert, Phil Harris talks to Gary Cooper about SRV’s vintage Strat, Fender amps and Ibanez Tube Screamer
As Phil Harris and Michael Casswell have both stressed in our SRV sessions, there’s a lot more to getting a great player’s sound than just emulating his equipment. It’s a truism of guitar playing that the real greats sound like themselves whatever you put into their hands and whatever you plug it into. All the same, getting an SRV sound with a vintage Strat and a nicely worn Fender Vibroverb is going to be a lot easier than it would be with a big hair vintage BC Rich and a Roland Cube!
Phil Harris dug deep into his collection to bring us this selection of SRV vintage gear. The Strat is actually his own ‘63 and the two amps - the 1x15 Fender Vibroverb and the 2x10 Vibrolux - are both ’64 models. Just add Ibanez Tube Screamer and go? Well, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. All the same, let’s play ‘If I win the lottery’. How much would replicating this classic SRV set-up
cost in 2013? “You can never say exactly, but a Vibroverb about £1,750-2,000 and a Vibrolux £1,500-1,750 - so you’re into four grand just for your amps at UK prices. Of course, it’d be different in America. You’d probably get those two amps for $5,000. A ‘63 Strat? If you were being a purist and insisted on an original sunburst, that could cost anywhere between £10,000 -12,000, less in the States again, of course.”
Does Phil think placement of SRV’s tremolo arm, upside down a la Hendrix, made a great deal of difference? “Not really, but Stevie Ray thought it was something Hendrix did and was a part of the sound, so SRV 1 was routed out to take a left handed tremolo in a right handed guitar. It wasn’t that he was trying to get
something identical to Hendrix, but he definitely wanted that sort of vibe.”
And what about the strings? There has been a lot of debate about SRV’s use of 13s - a set most players would find crippling and even more unusual back when SRV was playing, when the trend was for even lighter gauges than are popular today. In
common with Michael Casswell, who makes the same point in our ‘SRV on a budget’ Tech Session, Phil doesn’t feel it’s necessary to undergo that sort of torture.
“I really don’t think it’s that important and if you read-up on him you find that he dropped down to lighter strings as his fingers began to suffer. Obviously, you can’t
use 008s - they’ll be like elastic bands. But if you go, say, 10-46 as a minimum, you are going to get a good sound and you can set the amp to give the right tone. With Stevie Ray, a lot of his sound was controlled by the volume on the guitar, so on the video, I put the amps flat-out, both of them on 10, quite toppy because he used to get a lot of air in his playing, a lot of lift and the bass just rounded in, under there but not booming. No boost on the amps, though: no treble or brilliance switches. And you can’t use the tremolo or reverb channels - they just sound terrible. I have to presume he couldn’t have used them because they sound absolute crap. So seven or eight on the treble, three on the bass and the volume at ten.
“When I first started looking into his sound I thought he’d used earlier Strats with slab boards and then when I realised what he actually used, a curved board, it started to make more sense. When you’ve got a thinner rosewood board on a maple neck, you get more of the maple coming through, so it’s brighter. Play a ‘61 slab board Strat acoustically and you can hear it instantly - it’s a lot deader - and when you put it through amp it’s a lot more sustainy. Wind it up and it will go a lot more Gibsonesque.
Stevie Ray’s sound had a lot more zing and life in it, which is the maple coming through.”
And even if you were a lottery winner, would it be worthwhile? Well, maybe for studio use or impressing yourself at home, but while a ‘63 Strat is perfectly functional today, it will be an insurance risk - and who wants to risk taking a 40 year old amp on the road? Phil thinks that a top notch valve amp specialist could go through a Fender of that vintage and make it pretty reliable electronically – but then you are up against the finite life of the speakers within.
Still, as dreams go, it’s a nice one!