Ask accomplished blues and southern rock guitarists who they listen to and you’ll hear a number of names come up: Duane Allman, Albert King, Buddy Guy… the list of guitarists’ guitarists could go on and on. One name you’ll hear from nearly everyone: Stevie Ray Vaughan, the king of Texas blues, before whom even the very best players stand in awe, a guitarist whose legend has only grown in stature since the music world lost him in a tragic, fatal helicopter crash in 1990.
The most iconic guitarists get associated with their instruments of choice, and Vaughan is no exception. The Flying V defines the look and sound of Albert King; the custom black Gibson 335 (“Lucille”) that of B.B. King. And when we think of Vaughan, we may immediately think of “Number One,” the beat up Fender Stratocaster he loved so much he called it the “first wife.” One of a number of Strats Vaughan played throughout his too-brief career, “Number One” has become “a centerpiece” at the Texas State History Museum, and for very good reason.
Almost no guitarist before or since has ripped such raw emotion and searing power from an instrument, with the exception perhaps of Vaughan’s hero, Jimi Hendrix. Like Hendrix, Vaughan is known entirely as an electric guitarist, his tone so legendary it has inspired a cult following all its own. But give SRV, as his fans call him, an acoustic guitar and you’ll see right away why the most the distinctive feature of that mythic tone is how sparkling clean it is.
Vaughan needed no effects to produce his massive sound, though he used a few on occasion (most notably a classic Vox wah pedal that once belonged to Jimi). The tone, as older guitarists will forever tell aspiring newbies, was in his fingers—in the dynamics of his picking, his bends and slides, his intimate, forceful engagement with the fretboard. In the rare acoustic sessions here, see just why Vaughan is so revered. Above watch him launch into a six-string 12-bar acoustic blues.
And just above, see Vaughan tear it up on a 12-string acoustic guitar in his MTV Unplugged appearance in 1990, the year of his death. Guitarists and serious fans of the blues and country guitar will often namecheck Danny Gatton—the Washington, DC wunderkind so incredibly talented that he earned the nickname “The Humbler”—as the greatest guitarist they’ve ever seen. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. But Vaughan wasn’t just an amazing player, he was also a beautifully understated performer. Here we have the unique opportunity to see his showmanship and skill stripped to their essence.