An often overlooked piece of achieving Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tone are the strings that he used. SRV is notorious for using heavy gauge strings with a thick tone. So what strings did Stevie Ray Vaughan use?
Stevie Ray Vaughan used a custom set of GHS Nickel Rockers Strings that he helped to design. This custom set was called the CU-SRV. Stevie used the following string gauges for this custom set: High E-.013, B-.015, G-.019p, D-.028, A-.038, low E-.058.
Continue reading to learn more about the strings that Stevie used as well as where you can get them.
What Gauge Strings Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Use?
Stevie Ray Vaughan used the following string gauges for the majority of his career:
The first 5 strings often stayed the same string gauge throughout his career. Although the low E changed every now and then especially in the late 80’s. He would typically use the .058 string gauge but has intermittently used .060’s and even .074’s.
The first five strings are relatively light compared to a typical set of 13’s, besides the high E. Please keep in mind, they are still very heavy compared to standard electric guitar strings. If you have ever played a set of 13’s on your electric then you will realize just how difficult they are to play.
Discover What Pick Stevie Ray Vaughan Used and Why
Stevie used a slightly lighter version of 13’s for the middle four strings to allow him more bending power. Stevie had monster hands, paws some would say, and was able to bend those heavier strings when most guitarists would find it difficult. He also played with such ferociousness and apparent anger that the difficulty of the strings, almost like they are battling against him, played very well into his style.
Furthermore, he tuned down to E flat for vocal reasons which also relieved some of the tension in his strings. It is not confirmed if relieving string tension, because of the heavy strings and high action, was a factor for tuning down. I would believe not because Stevie would be able to play regardless of his tuning.
“I can’t sing in E; it’s gotta be in E-flat.”Stevie Ray Vaughan to Rene Martinez
Now let’s discuss more about his favorite string and ultimately his favorite note. The low E being his favorite string because of the open E being his favorite note (go to minute 3:37 of this video). The 6th string, low E, was most often a .058. It would go up to .060 and even .074 later in his career. The .058 is 2 hundredths heavier than typical standard low E’s. This is a heavy string, far heavier than the preceding strings. Let’s discuss why he used such heavy strings below.
Why Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Use Heavy Strings?
So why did Stevie Ray Vaughan use such heavy strings? He liked heavy strings because of the thick tone that gave a big, percussive sound. This was preferred by Stevie because of the rhythmic playing style he had developed. Heavier strings allowed for a heavier and richer sound.
Furthermore, Stevie enjoyed the durability of heavier strings. Heavier strings are much harder to break than a typical set of standard electric strings. With the ferocity that SRV plays at, the durability of strings are essential for live shows.
Stevie also used a high action to allow his strings to ring out fully without any interference from the frets. Because of the heavy nature of the strings, this was necessary and contributed greatly to his tone.
“He started with a .013 and ended with a .060. They were big, yes, but that wasn’t the only thing; it was the action, the height of the strings. I used to adjust the screws down at the bridge to raise the height, and I would run out of thread – I couldn’t make the strings any higher.”Rene Martinez, SRV’s Guitar Tech, Music Radar
What Strings Did Stevie Ray Vaughan Use?
SRV used a custom set of GHS Nickel Rocker Strings that he helped to design with GHS. These strings were called CU-SRV custom set.
This custom set were lighter on the top end and heavier on the low end. That is comparing them to a typical set of 13’s.
If you asked for a set of 13’s at a guitar store, the string gauges would be far different then what Stevie used. They would end up being be very similar to acoustic strings.
Stevie and his brother Jimmie were notorious for always looking for the perfect tone. In doing so, they often changed out amps, pedals, guitar electronics, etc. Although it did not stop there. Stevie is known to change string brands often early in his career, while keeping a similar string gauge. When he started working with GHS, he found his brand.
Discover What Pickups SRV Used to Achieve His Unique Tone
So why GHS Nickel Rockers in particular? GHS Nickel Rockers are warmer and less bright than most strings. They are ultimately durable and have a smooth feel. GHS Nickel Rockers are a cross between the round-wounds with great tone and the flat-wounds with smooth action. As exemplified by Stevie’s playing, he did not like bright tones, especially with his rhythmic playing. These strings provided the perfect balance between durability, warmness, and smoothness.
Where Can You Get GHS Nickel Rocker Strings?
GHS Nickel Rocker Strings can be directly purchased on their website. Luckily you can also purchase individual strings so you do not need to mix and match different sets. The link to the custom set is here. Through this link you will be able to create the above string gauge set that Stevie had (if you’re brave enough).
It would be great if GHS would release a SRV custom set of strings for us Stevie enthusiasts but mixing and matching our own works just as well. Fender did this with Jimi Hendrix so maybe GHS will do it with Stevie sometime in the future.
One last thing to mention. Using heavier strings like Stevie is not a guaranteed way to achieve his tone. There are many other factors that go into it like action height, pickups, amps, pedals, etc. With all that being said, if you are on a true mission to achieve his tone like me, then these strings are a good starting point.
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