How B.B. King & Stevie Ray Vaughan Dealt With Breaking Strings Onstage Mid-Song: A Masterclass in Handling Onstage Mishaps

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.

via Twister Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

B.B. King Explains in an Ani­mat­ed Video Whether You Need to Endure Hard­ship to Play the Blues

B.B. King Plays Live at Sing Sing Prison in One of His Great­est Per­for­mances (1972)

Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an Plays the Acoustic Gui­tar in Rare Footage, Let­ting Us See His Gui­tar Vir­tu­os­i­ty in Its Purest Form

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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