Playing music live onstage invites any number of mishaps. Breaking a string may not rank that highly as one of them for most professional guitarists. But the experience can still be temporarily embarrassing. It interrupts the groove and forces the kind of creative adaptation not every player appreciates on the spot. Even if you’ve got a perfectly-tuned guitar offstage—or, better yet, a guitar tech to hand you one from a rack of tuned-up guitars—you might only want that guitar: that exact guitar and no other.
If you’re B.B. King, that guitar has a name. While there were many Lucilles over the blues master’s career, when he stood in front of an audience of tens of thousands at Farm Aid in 1985, he wasn’t about to relinquish the current Lucille for a back-up instrument just because he broke a string in the middle of “How Blue Can You Get.” His tech rushes in, but instead of handing him a guitar, he hands King a high E string, and the legend proceeds to restring Lucille without so much as dropping a line of the song.
It helps that he’s got an ace band behind him, but it’s still a bravura display from a performer who wouldn’t get rattled in front of an audience three times this size. (Though he did once say that watching Peter Green play gave him the “cold sweats.”)
As attached as King was to his signature Gibson 335s, so was too Stevie Ray Vaughan to his Fender Stratocasters, especially to the guitar he called his “first wife,” better known as “Number One.”
It’s not got as pretty a name as Lucille, and may not have as colorful a backstory to go with it, but the specs of Vaughan’s vintage '63 Strat were just as integral to his tone and playing style as Lucille’s were to King’s. In the video above, we see Vaughan break a string on Number One while playing an intense solo on “Look at Little Sister” in Austin in 1989. He opts for the switcheroo instead of changing a string mid-song, but what a switcheroo it is.
First, he tears through the solo with a string hanging loose, then he launches into the chorus, churning out the rhythm after a two second-pause to grab a new guitar from his tech, who attaches his guitar strap while Stevie chugs away. If you turned away for a moment, you’d be surprised to find him playing a different, number two, guitar. And, as in B.B. King’s onstage-string-change, if you closed your eyes, you’d never know anything went wrong at all, a sign of how a true professional deals with the unexpected.