Stevies guitars were all pre-63 model Fender
Stratocasters, except for Charley (outfitted with
the Danelectro lipstick tube pickups, it was made
from kit parts at Charleys Guitar Shop in 1984). They
all have names, too: Number One, Red, Butter Scotch, Charley,
and Lennie. The only significant change from the stock on
these Strats has been the addition of 5-way switches and a
good coat of shielding paint in the control cavities. Number
One, the beat-up sunburst that we all know, is Stevies
With all the guitars, neck straightness (or relief) is the
first thing I checked, sighting down the fingerboard. A
fingerboard should either be dead flat or have a slight
up-bow, known as relief, in the direction of the
strings pull. Stevies guitars had approximately
.012" of relief around the 7th and 9th frets, and then
leveled out for the remainder of the board.
Stevie tunes his guitar down a half-step and uses GHS Nickel
Rockers measuring .013, .015, .019 (plain), .028, .038, and
.058. On this particular day, Rene had substituted an .011
for the high E to keep down the sore fingers that blues bends
can cause. Rene changes strings every show for each guitar
that gets played.
If youre trying to evaluate action, its nice to
know what size and shape of fretwire is used on any guitar.
Number Ones frets measure .110" wide by .047"
tall. These frets would have started out at .055" tall
when they were new, and were probably either Dunlop 6100 or
Stewart-MacDonald 150 wire.
I measured the distance from the underside of the strings to
the top of the fret at the 12th fret on both E strings. Rene
Martinez describes I set up all of Stevies the
same: 5/64" on the treble E string and 7/64" at the
Knowing the radius of the fingerboard can help in setting up
a comfortable bridge saddle height and curve. Stevies
Number One was somewhat flatter than the vintage 7-1/4"
radius. Rene has refretted the neck at least twice, and in
the process the fingerboard has evolved into a 9" or
10" radius in the upper register. This isnt the
result of a purposeful attempt to create a compound radius,
which allows string-bending with less-noting out; it just
Stevies Number One wants to break high E and B strings
at the saddle every chance she gets. Rene showed me why the
strings break, and how he takes care of the problem: As a
string breaks out of the vintage Strat tremolo block/bridge
top plate, it breaks or contacts, the metal
directly; this causes a slight kink that weakens the string.
With the bridge saddles removed, Rene uses a Dremel Moto-Tool
to grind the holes edge until the lip is smooth and gradual,
and any binding is eliminated.
Number One uses vintage replacement saddles (the originals
wore out long ago), and theyre not all alike
some have a shorter string slot than others. The high E and B
strings may contact the front edge of this string clearance
slot as they rise toward the takeoff point at the
saddles peak. The kink formed by the contact stretches
into the saddle peak during tuning, and breaks right at the
crown. Rene elongates the slot, again by grinding, and then
smoothes any rough metal edges. Finally, he slides a
5/8"-long piece of plastic tubing (insulation from
electrical wire) over each string to protect it from the
metal break points. He uses the heaviest piece of
tubing he can get that still fits down the tremolo/block
hole. Even with this, the high strings still cut through the
plastic quickly (sometimes in one set), and when they do, the
strings break. Rene plans to try a Teflon wire insulation if
he can find the right size.
Stevies Number One, Lennie and Charley have standard
Fender-style nuts, but Rene makes them from bone. Stevie
prefers the sound of bone, although for studio work he had
Rene make brass nuts for Scotch and Red.
Vaughans standard vintage tremolo uses all five
springs. Rene prefers the durability of the stainless steel
Fender tremolo bars. He puts a small wad of cotton at the
bottom of the tremolo-block hole to keep the bar from
over-tightening and becoming hard to remove if it breaks. He
emphasizes the importance of lubricating all the moving parts
of the tremolo system, preferring a powdered
graphite-and-grease mixture (the grease holds the graphite in
place where its needed). He lubricates everything that
moves: mounting screws/plate; all string breaks
and contact points, including the saddle peaks; where the
springs attach to the block and claw; the nut slots; and the
As a reference point I laid a precision steel straightedge
along the frets for making the measurement. Stevies
pickups were raised fairly high. I measured from the
straightedge to the polepiece tops: On the treble side, the
bridge pickup touched the straightedge, and the middle almost
touched the straightedge, and the neck pickup was 1/16"
away. The bass side measured 1/32" at the bridge pickup,
1/16" at the middle, and 1/32" at the neck.
Weve covered about everything except tuners, and
theres nothing secret here. Stevie Rays tuners
are all originals, and each has three full string winds to
get the best angle at the nut.