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This article was originally published in issue #20
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To get the amp cooking I chose a standard tube screamer overdrive. Stevie used all the models of the Tube Screamer, updating to each pedal as they came out.
So you really want to nail that Stevie Ray Vaughan sound but can’t quite stretch to a pre-CBS Strat and a vintage Vibroverb? Michael Casswell considers some much more affordable alternatives from Vintage and Peavey.
If we have a limited budget, can we get something close to the iconic Stevie Ray Vaughan Blues tone? Well firstly, we have to accept the fact that most of his sound came from the man himself. He could have picked up your guitar, plugged it in to your amp, and still have sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughan. The mark of a great player is the fact that it isn’t down to the gear used, it’s more about the sound coming from the hands, and how the guitar is forced to do what it is told!
Stevie’s guitars, amps and pedals are very well documented. Marshall, Fender and Dumble amps in different combinations were used over the years (how I would love to own a Dumble!), pushed by various models of Tube Screamers, with mainly Stratocasters, the most famous of which being the “Number 1”. That Strat we associate with SRV is often said to be 1959 guitar. What it actually was, was a ‘62 neck, on a ‘63 body with ‘59 pick ups..... so really it would probably be classed as a ‘63. And these days, a ‘63 Strat doesn’t come cheap!
Stevie was also famous for using a heavy string gauge. He tuned to Eb so some of the string tension was eased, but it’s still tough on the hands. He would have 13’s on the top E but went down to 11’s when his hands started to feel it, which if you were touring a lot, you would, no matter how strong your hands are. Don’t feel the pressure to put heavy gauge strings on your guitar. Unless you are a very seasoned player, it will limit you in some styles of playing. Better to get your string
bending and vibrato perfected on lighter strings, then build up to using heavier gauges if you really must.
So the basic elements of what you need for a respectable SRV Blues type tone on a budget would be some kind of single coil Stratocaster-type guitar, a good valve amp, and tube screamer style overdrive pedal. Here is what we did.
The obvious place to start would have been with a Fender and in fact we tried to borrow one of the genuine SRV Fender Strats for this special issue but Fender UK declined, saying they didn’t have any. You can make of that what you will. In either case, when it came to our ‘tone on a budget’ section we decided we’d go for the best guitar of that type that we know of at a budget price, regardless of whose name is on the headstock - and the guitar we chose was a Vintage Icon series which, as we have found in the past, can produce exceptional results for not a lot of money. They come with Wilkinson hardware and pick ups and prove the point that low cost guitars don’t have to be low in quality, can be perfectly usable and do the job of much more prestigious and expensive instruments.
The precise model we used is called the V6MRSSB and is a relic’d looking sunburst, in our case specially strung with extremely heavy strings for extra SRV realism (thanks guys!!). I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending one of these for a beginner, or someone with limited funds, or maybe just to have as a spare on stage.
The pick ups sound just how a Strat should and for what you get for the money, this guitar is hard to beat.
Blues style amps are harder to choose on a budget. A good player can plug into most things, and still get a usable sound, even if they might need some pedals to breath life into a lifeless amp. It can be done. What you can’t always judge is how
reliable or robust an amp will be, which why we looked to Peavey for our amp of choice. Peaveys are American made, reliable, tend to be cheaper than the, um, ‘obvious US rival’ and, in my experience, sound just as good. The Peavey Delta Blues which we settled on is an old friend here at GI Towers - in fact we keep coming back to it as a test amp. The 15 inch speaker it comes with gives an extra depth and size to its projected sound, plus it features channel switching, is an all-valve design, kicks out a loud 30 Watts and has a very nice tremolo on board. These amps are widely available on the second hand market and usually any problems that arise with these will be valve based and really easy to fix.
To get the amp cooking I chose a standard tube screamer overdrive. Stevie used all the models of the Tube Screamer, updating to each pedal as they came out. For an SRV tone, it definitely has to be an overdrive pedal rather than a distortion pedal.
A distortion pedal will take you away from Blues, and put you more into a generic Rock sound. There are many overdrives out there and they all have their own sound and characteristics, but the Ibanez Tube Screamer is where it all started and is still a cheap pedal, new or second hand.
As an alternative, the new TC Spark Boost Mini is also a great pedal for injecting life into any guitar and amp combination, especially when you can’t turn your amp up to stage volumes. It will also give you more when stacked with the Tube Screamer. It is more than just a booster pedal, and seems to have some kind instant ‘mojo’ thing going on. I strongly suggest you check one out no matter what sound you are going for. These are brand new to market but even brand new, they are still very reasonably priced, unlike a lot of boutique pedals out there today.
The last element is you as a player, of course. But watch the video and you’ll see that, even if I don’t sound exactly like Stevie Ray Vaughan (because I’m me and not him!) this is pretty close to the target and means you won’t have to sell your house to buy original 1960s gear.
Vintage V6MRSSB guitar UK £299 US $439
Peavey Delta Blues 15 combo £835 US $799.99
Ibanez Tube TS 808 Screamer £179 US $257
TC Electronic Spark Mini Boost £69 US $99.99