Eternal SRV "Number One Tribute"
As a huge fan of Steve Ray Vaughan, I had wanted for many years to build a loving and accurate recreation of his “Number One” Strat, and the long periods of lockdown that we’ve experienced in recent years gave me a chance to make it happen.
Choosing an era of “Number One” to use as reference was the first consideration. The guitar changed continuously over the years (it was already well-used when SRV first acquired it in 1974 from Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas Music) and was thoroughly beaten over thousands of gigs right up to Stevie’s untimely death in 1990.
Not long before the end, Stevie’s guitar tech Reme Martinez had swapped out all the remaining hardware for gold, including the tuners for a modern set with pearl buttons and a thick one-ply black pickguard with (I assume) a laser etched “SRV” logo and this is how the guitar has remained.
As great as this looked my own personal preference and pinnacle of the guitars aesthetic was shortly before these final changes, when it retained much of the original hardware, the three-ply black/white/black pickguard with holographic lettering and vintage Klusons, captured beautifully on his 1989 Austin City Limits performance, so this is the look I chose to replicate.
Stevie often referred to ‘Number One’ as a ’59 as this date was written on the base of the pickups, but we can be reasonably sure that the body was made in 1962 with the veneer fingerboard dating the neck to late the same year or more probably 1963.
As much as Stevie loved Number One, he rarely held back when performing, so she must have required almost constant maintenance to keep her playing and gig ready. The body had taken the full force of Stevie’s heavy and aggressive playing style and once the finish abandoned ship, the naked wood had begun to take the brunt with deep wear above the pickguard and chunks removed, scrapes and impact damage all over the body particularly on the back lower bout.
The originals neck was eventually retired in the late ‘80s after a lifetime of re-frets (veneer fingerboards only have so much life in them compared to slab ‘boards which typically can handle more re-frets assuming the work is done sympathetically) and replaced for some later shows with the neck from another of Stevie’s vintage Strats, until this neck was destroyed in a freak stage accident. After Stevie passed away, his brother Jimmie had the original neck restored and is now back together.
I began this build with the body which I made and painted before putting it aside as normal work took over, but this allowed the nitro sunburst finish to thoroughly dry over a period of almost a year, becoming brittle enough to age authentically. Like the original, the body is alder, visibly modified for a lefty vibrato bridge including the false start on the base of the rear trem routing, with a 7.25” radius veneer ‘board, worn clay dots and 6000 fretwire.
Stevie’s huge sound came from a combination of a great sounding and resonant instrument, heavy strings tuned down a semi-tone, his very strong and percussive attack and of course his amps and pedals.
When it came to capturing the right plugged in tone, I decided to avoid the “Texas Special” take on Stevie’s pickups which never sounded truly authentic to me. In all fairness they were designed (much like my own “Texan” models) to offer some extra beef to an otherwise standard guitar. But clearly Stevie never used “hot” or overwound single-coils. It’s definitely possible that over the years one or more pickups on “Number One” could have been repaired or rewound, but if we assume that for at least longe periods of his career that they were original then we’re talking pure, vintage single-coil tone.
In 1959 Strat pickups were most typically wound with Heavy Formvar coil wind, wound to a relatively sedate 5.9 - 6k DC output using staggered poles and lacquer potting. The pickup frame was assembled before being sealed with lacquer to insulate the poles and then wound before a final lacquer dip or potting took place.
The lacquer rarely penetrated the coil properly on these originals which apart from leading to some failures, actually allows the inner most windings to vibrate or move at high volume creating the transparent and very slightly microphonic edge that these old pickups are known for. They were all wound in the same direction, so there was no reverse wound middle pickup. My versions for this guitar are made in exactly the same way.
The electronics are as close to full vintage spec. as is feasible with high quality CTS 250k pots and a “Red Dime” capacitor - I took the liberty of connecting the bridge pickup to the second tone pot as this was just sensible, and used a five-way selector switch, with aged cloth wiring throughout. Hardware is all Kluson, with the excellent holographic letter and “Custom” stickers courtesy of the fabulous “Axtreme Creations” in the States.
Model: Eternal “SRV Number One” Tribute S-Type
Body: Lightweight two-piece alder
Neck: Maple with veneer rosewood fingerboard
Neck profile: C-shape
Neck dimensions: 21.8mm deep at 1st fret to 24mm deep at 12th
Fret size: 6000
Number of frets: 21
Nut width: 41.9mm
Finish: All nitrocellulose, aged three-tone sunburst on body with worn tinted maple on neck
Plastics: Three-ply black/white/black pick guard with aged parchment pickup covers and knobs
Bridge: Kluson vintage lefty repro with steel block and bent steel saddles
Tuners: Double Line Kluson vintage repro split post
Pickups: Eternal hand wound ’59 Heavy Formvar single coils with aged, staggered magnets and lacquer potting
Electronics: CTS vintage repro 250k volume and tone pots with a “Red Dime” capacitor, a CRL five-way
selector switch, cloth covered hook-up wire and a Switchcraft output jack socket.
Nut: Handcut bone
Strings: Ernie Ball Slinky 11-48 (tuned down a semi-tone)
Case: Cream vintage style hardcase with plush blue lining included