SRV on strings--1990 interview

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by eichaan, Feb 26, 2020.

  1. eichaan

    eichaan Tele-Holic

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    As I was putting together my monthly look at the Guitar Player magazine from 30 years ago, I was struck by the times that Stevie Ray Vaughan had to talk about his string gauges. By 1990, he was famous for using thick strings, and influenced more than one player to try to go up in string thickness--me for one. Anyway, the February 1990 issue had SRV and Jeff Beck on the cover, and here are the excerpts about strings:

    The Strat requires a lot of hand strength. And you both use fairly macho action on top of that.

    SRV: If I put smaller strings on there so they don’t hurt, I can’t get the same sound. Then my tendency is to play harder, and I just tear things off. Sometimes at home I either tune down to C and leave the same strings on, or I put lighter strings on and use a light pick so I start remembering about a lighter touch. But when I get on stage, I really need the big strings.

    You’re using pretty tough strings.

    I’m using a lighter setup now because I’ve got a hole in my finger. Because of the schedule we’ve had, Rene [Martinez] hasn’t had the chance to dress the very edges of my frets, and I just found yesterday that at the points where I play a lot, my calluses were getting ripped off to where it stuck a hole in the finger. Right now I’m using a little bit lighter strings, just until I get my calluses back.

    Then you’re going back to an .013 E?

    Yeah. I like the sound of them, I really do, even though it’s painful to use them. I used to use a lot heavier. I used to use an .018.

    On the E string ?!

    Yeah. In a way, it was insane, but I played a lot more simply, and what I chose to play was very to the point. I got out of that, and into using smaller strings just looking for recognition, I guess, looking for flash. But using bigger strings and playing slower was my way of being able to be reserved. Of course, I couldn’t see playing as many gigs as we’re doing now like that; I don’t think my hands would hold up. They’re not holding up right now.

    What did you have on the bottom, a .127?

    [Laughs]. The biggest one I found so far was a .074. It’s been years and years since I found them, and I just used them for a little bit, because they ate tuning heads, but it was great. You’d hit an open E and it sounded like “Crosstown Traffic”, that piano part. Those things are fun, and I like that sound, but then again I don’t think there are many amps that can take that for very long. Right now I’m using .058s through .012’s.
    I know that I switched from 10s to 11s after reading this article (eventually settling on 10-52 sets) and that one of the reasons had to do with the idea of being "stronger" than players who use lighter gauges. Clearly that is NOT the case, but I wonder if the tone of this article ("macho", "tough") influenced me more than the tone of Stevie Ray's Strat?

    [​IMG]
     
  2. uriah1

    uriah1 Telefied Gold Supporter

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    Oh ya.
    Piano strings.!!
    Of course, it could have been nylon and he would rock it.
     
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  3. tah1962

    tah1962 Tele-Afflicted

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    No way I could play .13’s. :eek: I had .11’s on my Les Paul for a while but went back to .10’s because the .11’s were hurting my fingers. SRV was a beast!! RIP Stevie.
     
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  4. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Friend of Leo's

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    I started playing in 1989.
    Due to Stevie’s pervasive influence (especially here in Texas) on my early gear choices (yes, I got a Stratocaster and a Tube Screamer and a Fender Tube amp, partially because of him and Jimmie and the Arc Angels and Ian Moore and...), I set up my guitars for string gauges up to 12’s or 13’s.

    It sounded glorious, but it was hard to be nuanced...of course, at the time, I was a guit-basher, not a guit-player, so nuances weren’t really my thing.

    Mostly due to easy availability of string sets, I gradually went down to 10’s for my Fenders and 11’s for my G&Ls (my G&Ls were all Fender scale, but just didn’t agree with lighter gauges for some reason).

    Fast forward fifteen years—after a neck surgery, a shoulder surgery and the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome, I was not enjoying life when playing the guitar. Pain in my wrists, forearms, shoulders and neck was horrible, and getting progressively worse.

    I stumbled upon an interview with Billy Gibbons (another of my life-long heroes), who recounted that he uses 7’s...7’s?!?

    Well, shoot fire and save the bullets...if the Right Reverend Willie G could get such a Huge Monster Tone from dental floss, maybe I could go a little lighter and see what happens.

    I went to 9’s for my Fenders and 10’s for the surviving G&L in my Guitarsenal (I tried 9’s on the G&L, and it just didn’t sound or feel right...somebody smarter than me could probably tell you why, but I’m stupid so I’ll just say it’s because of Gremlins).

    It was an epiphany.
    I no longer had to wrestle my guitar—I could play faster and more delicately (which was good, because of all the surgeries mentioned above), and with some judicious tweaking of the tone knobs on the ol’ Vibroverb, there was no loss of tonal intestinal fortitude...and no pain.

    I use 10’s on my Gibson-scale guitars (an Epiphone ‘57-reissue Les Paul Jr. and a Dean VX), with similar results.

    I have a box of Dunlop Willy G’s Mexican Lottery strings (9’s) that I’m slowly working through, and will try out the new(er) Dunlop Billy Gibbons strings when those run out.
     
  5. eichaan

    eichaan Tele-Holic

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    Good story, Fiesta Red! And I'm glad that you are able to play without pain again.
     
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  6. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Friend of Leo's

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    I'm having some carpal tunnel issues lately, just from playing more regularly than I have for years. In the 90s I played with 11s. Now with 10s. The action's a tad higher on my new epi than I prefer, so that's not helping.

    I just have to wonder if SRV were alive today, what shape his hands/wrists/arms would be in. I mean, my whole arm has been hurting lately... And I only play about 30-60mins on most days. And no gigging.
     
  7. Mike Eskimo

    Mike Eskimo Telefied Ad Free Member

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    He tuned down.

    I think normally he was almost always tuned to E flat.

    That makes a huge difference - so much so that it makes the “wow - such huge string gauges !” thing kinda ridiculous...
     
  8. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Friend of Leo's

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    I don't think it makes that much of a difference with strings that thick. But it's been years since I played 11s or tuned down half-step. So I can't really compare. Doing either is not worth the effort to me nowadays. 11s are too big, and don't like standard cut nuts. And tuning down is a hassle. I don't sing and play live as much as I used to. If I do sing live nowadays, it's either with an acoustic or a bass. And with the acoustic I just stick to songs in my range. I'm a baritone. Tuning down never really helped as much I like to believe it did, anyway. And the whole 90s "tuned down is richer tone" thing was just hogwash. Period.
     
  9. igor5

    igor5 Tele-Meister

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    An interesting different point of view.
     
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  10. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I've got 4 strats. 2 have 9-46 sets, one has 9-42. one of my strats is all warmoth with the biggest neck and biggest frets warmoth offers. I built it to be my SRV guitar. it's set up with 11-48. I keep it with the heavier strings because I think of it as my "medicine ball" guitar. it's just to exercise my hands. but when I play it, i can really see why Stevie wanted the heavy strings. it's not all in the fretting hand - there's something about the solidness of the heavier strings that makes your strumming hand want to really pound on them. but i can't sit and play that guitar all day like I do with the others.
     
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  11. EsquireBoy

    EsquireBoy Tele-Afflicted

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    I’m following the same path: used to use 12-52 on a Strat 10 years ago; I currently have 10-48 on my Esquire but planning to go buy a set of 9-42 next Saturday.
     
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  12. zeedoctour

    zeedoctour Tele-Meister

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    I'm not going to try to tell anyone what is or isn't but i'll add something to this thread that happened to me. I don't know the specifics why. I tried the heavy strings route. Yeah it forces a more physical approach obviously, but doing nuanced string manipulation tone tricks was almost impossible. I tried the super light route but found it uncontrollable, pitch accuracy wise. Even 9's were too loose.

    11's were ok for a while, but the bending/vibrato/chip-slur nuanced stuff was still a struggle for me.
    So I ended up on 10's like a lot of others.

    Then D'Addario came up with 9.5 - 44. Perfect. For me. I don't know the reason why ... it's hardly a big difference ... but these 9.5 are in some weird magic zone, easy to bend/manipulate for all that nuance string attack stuff but not so loose that I can't pitch the note like the 9's and under were doing to me. The difference seems way beyond such a small gauge variation. I don't know what it is, but on my 25.5" necks (stratocasters) it seems like something more than 0.5 on the high E, or 2.0 on the low one. Maybe it's some tension sweet spot or something. I don't know, but it was a magic thing to me.
     
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  13. DugT

    DugT Tele-Holic

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    My guitar with 11's tuned down a half step feels to me to be as easy to play as a similar guitar with 10's but I think the 11's sound better. Maybe I just prefer the low E being Eb. Why play 10 if the knob goes to 11?!!!
     
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  14. zeedoctour

    zeedoctour Tele-Meister

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    Weird discovery I made one day. The control knobs I bought for a couple of my partscasters (they are Gibson pattern knobs) .... the volume knob goes to 11. The tone knobs just go to 10. I was a little surprised.
     
  15. tdoty

    tdoty Tele-Meister

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    I don't think that tuning down is enough to compensate for 13s, let alone 18s.

    The article is a blast from the past.....I read part of what was quoted, and the rest came back (I still read through it).

    I used heavy strings when I was gigging as a bass player - .045 to .135. As a guitarist, I tried heavier strings, but I didn't really get into it. 9s are my favorite. For me, 9s on a 24-3/4" scale are glorious. I use 9s or 10s on Fender scale guitars, it doesn't seem to matter as much for some reason.

    Tuned down does seem to be "richer" to me. I'll go as low as C, just for fun. Add some distortion and play Dueling Chainsaws, lol.
     
  16. Northern Tele

    Northern Tele Tele-Meister

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    Trower also uses fairly heavy strings but tunes down to D these days. I guess the takeaway is that a lot of people that use heavy strings are not in standard tuning. I used to use 11's went down to 10's and then about 15 yrs ago went to 9's and have stuck with those. It's all in the touch and if you let the amp do the work I find you can focus on playing and not have to bludgeon the guitar.
     
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  17. guitartwonk

    guitartwonk Tele-Meister

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    There's something in that, definitely.

    When I got my first half-decent electric guitar, it was an Aria Pro II TA40 (335-a-like), and it came with 13s on it for some reason. I couldn't get on with it so tried 10s (Slinkies), but I kept breaking them. Then I tried the EB 11s ("Not so slinky", or whatever they're called), and kept breaking them. Then I tried Roto Reds (11s) and they lasted much longer, so I stuck with that. My mates would all laugh because they were all using 9s and 10s, "Why are you using those monster strings?"

    But then I'd been a bass-player previously, so it makes sense I had a heavy-hitting technique.

    Fast forward a number of years and I tried 10s again, and this time tuning down to Eb. I was forced to play with a lighter touch and that has meant no more string breakages, and somehow I can be more expressive with my playing, because I'm not fighting the strings anymore.

    As to the whole tone thing, it's a complete BS notion that fatter strings give better tone. If anything, I've found the reverse to be true, because you don't need such an aggressive technique. Half the battle in getting a decent tone is in the way you articulate the notes (The other half is between pickups and amp) and how can you vary your expression if you're having to fight and struggle just to make a sound?

    Back when I played bass I used to play a lot of funk lines, and the best I found were DR HiBeams in 40-100 gauge. They could handle all the slapping and popping and were punchy and full-sounding too. I kind of feel like 40-100 are like the 10s of the bass world. Roto Solo Bass (55) in 45-95 are pretty good too but the ground-wound finish would lead to some brutal exfoliation on the finger tips.
     
  18. CapnCrunch

    CapnCrunch Friend of Leo's

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    I played 11's and 12's on my Strats for a long time. Now I hardly ever play them. For me, and how I play, it always seemed like you had to think of your non-fretting hand as hammer. There is no "caressing" great tone out of a Strat, you have to pummel it into submission with your right hand (or left if that's your "strumming" hand). The heavier the strings, the easier it seems to be able to hit them hard enough to get what you're looking for. That's what I always thought.

    Then I discovered that Knopfler was playing like 8's on Strats and getting stunning tones with his fingers through high gain amps with the guitar volume down. Turns out there really is more than one way to skin a cat.
     
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  19. slauson slim

    slauson slim Friend of Leo's

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    Jimi, I have read, used 10-38s and tuned down 1/2 step.
     
  20. LKB3rd

    LKB3rd Friend of Leo's

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    He probably bashed his strings live because he was high on cocaine.
    So make sure to snort some cocaine too when you're using your 13's to sound like him.

    Seriously, none of us are ever going to sound like him no matter what strings we use, or what drugs we snort. His sound was him, not his strings.
     
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