Stevie Ray Vaughan is known for his fast and heavy guitar work as well as his powerful voice. He is considered the last great bluesman and a top 10 guitarist of all time. With these accolades in mind, ranking the guitarist’s best instrumental work is no small feat. SRV has many instrumental songs, but let’s find out what the 3 best Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental songs are.
The three best Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental songs are Little Wing, Lenny, and Scuttle Buttin’. Little Wing and Lenny exemplify SRV’s rhythmic and lead prowess while Scuttle Buttin’ demonstrates Stevie’s raw guitar playing power and speed mixed with note and timing precision.
Continue reading to learn how and why each of these songs got their rankings.
What is an Instrumental Song?
An instrumental song is a song that consists of only instruments and no vocals. Throughout the song, there are no vocals but there can be multiple instruments playing at once.
More common with Jazz and Classical genres, instrumental songs are not as present in the blues and rock genres. This is comparing the total amount of songs in blues music to the amount of them that are instrumental solely. So when they are present and studio recorded, they are often at the hands of a master guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Best Stevie Ray Vaughan Instrumental Songs [Ranked]
The 3 best Stevie Ray Vaughn instrumental songs are:
- Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix cover)
- Scuttle Buttin’
Continue reading to learn how each of these songs got their placement.
1. Little Wing
Little Wing is the best Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental song. This is not an original song by SRV, it is instead a cover. This cover won Stevie Ray Vaughan an Emmy in 1992 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
As a dedication to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan covered Little Wing on the album The Sky is Crying in 1991 (released posthumously), the last of SRV’s studio albums. Although, he recorded the studio version in 1984.
Covering Jimi Hendrix is a large feat that many guitarists feel is sacred, which is why most don’t do it. Stevie mentioned how he was trying to expand on Hendrix’s stuff. Noting how he can’t expand on it much but he can try.
Stevie plays every song with absolute precision, but this he played and handled perfectly. This is the best version of Little Wing, arguably any guitar instrumental, ever performed.
With respect to Hendrix, SRV keeps the groove of the original track as well as the speed. He never oversteps the song, an important characteristic to note when covering Hendrix. Furthermore, he triples the duration of the song. There are jazz tones halfway through and subtle touches that have the listener on the edge of their seat itching to know what will come out of it.
Stevie made the song his own and did so in typical SRV fashion. Every note had emotion tied to it. From the pitch harmonics to the powerful pace pickup at the 3:20 mark of the studio version.
John Mayer has described this version of Little Wing as the best guitar piece of all time.
“Jimi Hendrix wrote it in 1967, Derek and the Dominos produced a rip-roaring cover in 1970, but it was Stevie Ray Vaughan who nailed it. Quite simply, if there has been a better guitar performance than this version of Little Wing I have yet to hear it.”Ian Tasker, The Guardian
If you are a guitarist, I encourage you to check out Sean Mann’s cover of this song for a close-up, note-for-note, view of it.
The second best Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental song is Lenny. This song first appeared on Stevie’s breakout album, Texas Flood, in 1983.
Stevie wrote this song as a dedication to his wife, Lenny. Early in Stevie’s career, he did not have much money. There was a $200 Fender Stratocaster that he wanted and needed but he could not afford. His wife at the time, Lenny, convinced multiple people to pitch in $50 and she bought the guitar for him. That night, Stevie wrote Lenny.
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Lenny is a compositional masterpiece. Beautiful chords mixed with embellishments and soft solos that progress into fast licks, only to go back to the original beautiful chords. This song is simply a wave of emotions, starts slow, picks up speed, becomes slow again, and then finishes strong.
Guitar-wise, it is an exceptional example of mixing major and minor pentatonic scales. Stevie blends the two scales effortlessly and with immediate flow.
3. Scuttle Buttin’
Scuttle Buttin’ is the third best Stevie Ray Vaughan instrumental song.
The video linked above of the song has poor audio quality but is the best version of the song, only added by the fact Stevie is smoking throughout half the song.
Scuttle Buttin’ first appeared on the album Couldn’t Stand The Weather which was released in 1984. It is the first song on the album and sets the tone for what is to come. SRV would also play this song first at the beginning of most sets.
Scuttle Buttin’ is the perfect demonstration of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar prowess, speed, and power. I see this song as a skateboard trick that only the pros can pull off correctly. Every note is perfectly on time and not one note is missed, despite the extremely rapid pace.
Known for its extremely fast opening lick, this song is both challenging and goosebump-inducing. Stevie would often open each show with this song as a means of warming up his fingers and getting into the groove. Again, as a warm-up…..
What makes this song so difficult is the speed of the riff and the intricate bends that are needed to be performed. A speed that most guitarists have a difficult time reaching in their careers. The bends are what throw most guitarists off. The first note is bending the A to the B, not a slide. Then two open strings, and then another bend from D to E.
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I won’t explain how to play the song note for note, but doing bends correctly at that speed is challenging. SRV bends on the studio version and slides when touring.
And according to Paul David, it has been quoted as one of the hardest blues riffs to play.
The insane speed of the fretting hand is coupled with the speed needed on the picking hand. SRV does this through a method called outside picking.
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