How Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Tune His Guitar? [Solved]

Have you ever noticed Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sound did not always align with the key his hands seemed to be in (with standard tuning)? I did and I sought to find out: How did Stevie Ray Vaughan tune his guitar?

Stevie Ray Vaughan tuned his guitar to Eb. SRV tuned his guitar to Eb because he enjoyed the harmonics and tone that came from tuning down. Furthermore, he used heavier strings and found it easier to bend when tuned to Eb.

Continue reading to learn more about Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tuning, why he did it, the benefits of this tuning set-up, and how you can tune your guitar the same way.

How did Stevie Ray Vaughan tune his guitar?

How Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Tune His Guitar?

Stevie Ray Vaughan tuned his guitar down a half step to Eb. He did this because he found it easier to bend, enjoyed the increased “slinkiness” of the strings, and allowed him to achieve his desired tone output.

Stevie Ray Vaughan tuned his guitar via the below tuning:

Stevie Ray Vaughan Guitar Tuning Setup Chart

Stevie used famously heavy strings and the highest action possible on his Fender Stratocaster. So, leaving tone aside, tuning down to Eb allows him to be able to bend fast and control the bend from beginning to end accurately. As we will discuss further below, Eb tuning also influenced tone. Stevie and his brother Jimmie were tone junkies and likely messed with many tuning options until landing on Eb.

Find Out What Strings Stevie Ray Vaughan Used Today!

When Stevie was not playing with Double Trouble, he would often confuse other guitarists he was playing with on his tuning setup. Eb was relatively common among blues guitarist, but Stevie seemed to always make the mistake of not telling the accompanying guitarist until they were jamming and all of sudden they would be out of key.

A funny example of this is in this live version of Tin Pan Alley , at the 7 second mark (linked to YouTube), where Stevie is telling Johnny Copeland what key they are in while the song starts. Stevie noticed Johnny is looking for the chord and is looking at Stevie’s hand placement. He is telling Johnny not to look at his fingers because it will not look like the key of B even though it is. It does not look like B because he is tuned down to Eb, therefore not in the traditional standard tuning position of B.

Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Use Standard Tuning?

No, Stevie Ray Vaughan did not use standard tuning. He always tuned his guitar down a half-step to Eb. All of SRV’s recorded songs, both live and studio, have been performed without standard tuning.

What is Eb Tuning?

Eb tuning is when each string is tuned down one semitone. This is also known as tuning down half a step from standard tuning.

Many blues guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, who we are discussing now, and Jimi Hendrix are known to do this, often for most of their careers.

Simply put, Eb tuning is like standard tuning with sunglasses on. I personally believe Stratocasters sound way better tuned to Eb than with standard tuning.

Let’s dive into the benefits of Eb tuning and if it is the right tuning method for you.

3 Benefits of Eb Tuning

The three benefits of Eb tuning are:

  1. Makes Bending Easier
  2. Fender Stratocaster Scale Length Promotes Eb
  3. Sounds Better with Fuzz Pedals

Let’s look into each of these to understand why they are a benefit.

1. Makes Bending Easier

Bending is the kickflip of the guitar world. Seamless and accurate bends can send a wave of emotions into the listener’s ear. When you are tuning down, the tension on the strings become lighter.

This is especially the case on the 12th fret. Bends become much easier to grab and even more controllable.

Stevie Ray Vaughan notoriously used heavier strings than average as well as an extremely high action. Tuning down helped him to maximize the bending capability of that setup.

2. Fender Stratocaster Scale Length Promotes Eb

Tuning down on a Fender Stratocaster specifically gives off an amazing tone which is why many blues guitarists choose to do so.

For those who do not know, scale length is the distance between the saddles on your bridge and the nut. Basically, the playable length of the string. On Fender Stratocasters, they are 25.5″.

Scale length affects string tension as well as tone. Generally, the harmonics on a longer scale length like 25.5″ are going to be spread further apart which is going to give it a little more bell-like tone.

Find Out What Pickups Stevie Ray Vaughan Used To Achieve His Distinct and Legendary Tone

Tuning down to Eb on a longer scale length guitar like the Fender Stratocaster accentuates the bell-like tones and the clarity you get from the single-coil pickups. Strings seem to cut through a little bit more when tuned down.

3. Sounds Better with Fuzz Pedals

The looser string tension of Eb is giving the guitar a slight edge over standard tuning when interacting with fuzz pedals and heavy distortion. Looser strings have more vibrations that are emitted once struck.

This increase in vibrations can give a different feed to a fuzz pedal that results in a different tone.

How Do I Tune My Guitar to Eb?

To do this it is rather simple. I personally use the Fender Tune app as this has been the most consistent tuning app that I have used and is especially easy to tune to Eb. Just follow the below steps and you will be tuned to Eb in no time.

Tuning Your Guitar to Eb Steps:

  1. Open the Fender Tune app
  2. Click Auto Tuner, as seen below
How to tune your guitar to Eb
  1. Click the top right dials to bring you to the below screen
How to tune your guitar to Eb
  1. Scroll down to tuning and select “Half step down
  2. Click done
  3. Your screen should now look like the below. Now simply tune your guitar based on the app’s recommendations
How to tune your guitar to Eb

Tuning down to Eb can completely change the character of a guitar just as Stevie Ray Vaughan figured out. I encourage you to do the same, especially if you have a Fender Stratocaster.

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