The History of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Guitar, Number One

Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1986, playing Number One. Photo: Marty Lederhandler/AP

Late blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan played several guitars over the course of his career, but just like Jimi Hendrix (who Vaughan often covered) and many more famous guitarists, Vaughan was partial to the Fender Stratocaster. The particular Stratocaster that Vaughan played the most was called Number One, which he also lovingly referred to as his “First Wife”.

Number One is a Frankenstein guitar of sorts, and as Vaughan often said, “it was rebuilt more times than a custom Chevy”. The instrument has a 1962 body, a 1963 neck, and 1959 pickups (which is why Vaughan claimed the guitar was a 1959 model).

The original sunburst finish took quite the beating over time, giving it an extremely ragged and recognizable look today, complete with cigarette burns on the headstock.

Vaughan first received the Number One in 1973 as a gift from Ray Hennig, owner of the iconic Heart of Texas music shop in Austin, Texas. From that day forward, Vaughan played the Number One Strat on every single tour until his death in 1990, and also used the instrument on all five of his studio albums, plus the Vaughan Brothers album Family Style.

The guitar was originally fitted with a white pickguard, but Stevie had it swapped out for a brown one that later had his initials “SRV” printed on it. It also had a right-handed tremolo bar, and Vaughan had it swapped for a gold-plated one on the left side, as well as a strap button on the bottom so he could play left-handed like Jimi Hendrix (although Vaughan himself was right-handed).

The guitar was already a seasoned veteran by the time that Vaughan acquired it, as it had been previously owned by Christopher Cross (of yacht rock fame). Apparently, Cross traded the Number One to Hennig’s shop for a Les Paul because he wanted something with a thicker sound.

Vaughan was already playing a loaner guitar from Heart of Texas at the time, but found himself partial to the Strat that Cross had dropped off, and traded it in for the guitar that he had currently been playing.

Apparently, Hennig was more than happy to accept the trade as the loaner he had given Vaughan was in much better condition than the instrument that would become Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “First Wife”.

Stevie Ray Vaughan playing the Number One in the early 1980s.

The abuse that it endured under Cross was nothing compared to what Stevie would do to it with his aggressive playing style over the next 27 years.

In addition to the sunburst finish that continuously got worse as time went on, Vaughan also bore a deep gauge above the pickguard from his constant scratching it with his picks, so much so that he wore all the way through the finish to the bare wood.

Vaughan was also known to wear down the frets and break whammy bars on a regular basis, and often sent the guitars to the talented guitar techs Charley Wirz and Rene Martinez for repairs.

After many years of refretting, the original neck became unplayable by the late 1980s, and was thus swapped out for the neck of one of his other guitars, Scotch, the 1961 Strat he acquired in 1985.

Then, at a concert in Holmdel, NJ on July 7th, 1990, just over one month before Stevie’s unfortunate death, a piece of stage rigging fell on the instrument (and several of his other guitars) and snapped the neck in half. It was then replaced with a new Fender neck, which remained on the guitar until after Stevie’s tragic helicopter crash death in late August 1990.

When Stevie died, Rene Martinez decided to install the original Number One neck back onto the guitar, and then gave the instrument to Stevie’s brother, Jimmie Vaughan, who still owns it to this day.

Prior to his death, Stevie had been working with Fender to create a replica of the Number One, but the project was cut short when Vaughan passed. Jimmie took it upon himself to facilitate the process, and the Fender Artist Signature Stevie Ray Vaughan was officially made available in 1992.

Watch an incredible 1983 live performance of Stevie Ray Vaughan performing a cover of “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix, featuring the iconic Number One guitar below.

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