The Story Behind Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Callused Fingers
Stevie Ray Vaughan, or SRV to everyone, was more than simply a formidable guitarist—he was a force to be reckoned with on six strings. His greatness was determined not by accolades or sales but rather by the unadulterated love he put into each note, the way he brought the blues to life, and the devotion that left its mark on his hands.
Vaughan didn’t play the blues, he lived it. Every bend, every vibrato, every blistering run held the echoes of Mississippi juke joints, smoky Texas clubs, and the soul-wrenching stories whispered by generations of bluesmen. He didn’t just mimic the greats, he channeled their spirit, adding his own fiery Texas twist, creating something original and electrifying.
He’s a mean guitarist who’s mean to his strings. As in literally hand-shredding kind of mean. It was so bad that there are reports that he superglues himself whenever he shreds too hard and rips the skin of his fingers.
SRV likes his strings thick and heavy, just like his style
SRV wasn’t shy about manhandling his Strat. He wasn’t a gentle cowboy coaxing a ballad out of his six-string, he was a wrangler wrestling a sonic bull. He dug his fingers into the fretboard, bent strings until they screamed, and milked every ounce of tonal fire from its wooden belly. Part of his secret weapon? Thicker strings, heavier than most dared to wield.
Slapping on a set of .013s was like strapping on boxing gloves for his fingers, each pluck and bend a punch of sound. This thickness gave his playing a weight, a growl, a richness that resonated like a Texas thunderstorm. But like any beast worth taming, these strings demanded a price.
Rene Martinez, SRV’s ever-present guitar tech, saw the cost etched onto his fingertips. “We played so many shows, he started tearing the skin off his fingers and they would bleed,” he’d recall with a sigh. Worried, Rene gently suggested switching to lighter strings, offering relief for the ravaged fingertips.
But SRV, the musician who built his sound on grit and sweat, wasn’t easily swayed. The thicker strings weren’t just strings; they were part of his voice, shaping his music into a raw, molten lava flow. Lighter strings meant a softer sound, a voice muffled by fear. So, Rene, channeling the resourcefulness of a MacGyver with a soldering iron, came up with a temporary solution: superglue.
The torn calluses were the price SRV has to pay for his art
It was a testament to SRV’s unwavering devotion, a fierce commitment that saw him bleed for his art, quite literally. They thickened his music, turning it into a molten stream of fire, a Texas tornado howling through his amplifier.
His fingers paid the price, becoming sacrificial offerings to the altar of his art. Yet, even though his fingertips were battlegrounds, scarred and tender, he wouldn’t trade that raw power for anything. only these behemoths could unleash.
So, when you hear SRV’s riffs erupt, scorching your ears and setting your soul alight, remember it isn’t just the guitar bellowing. It’s the echo of his unwavering passion, the grit etched onto his brow, and yes, even the phantom sting of superglue on his wounded fingertips.
It’s the symphony of a man and his instrument, forged in the crucible of dedication, bleeding and screaming a sound that could level mountains and melt hearts in equal measure.
“I’m using a lighter setup now because I’ve got a hole in my finger”
By the time the 90s rolled in, SRV has had a small change of heart, because he revealed in an interview that he started using lighter 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.
Yep, you heard that right, he had to use lighter strings because he tore a hole in his finger. As the Fire Meets the Fury Tour tore across the country in late ’89, SRV and Guitar Player found a quiet moment backstage, where Stevie confessed the blood, sweat, and soul woven into every note thanks to his beloved thick strings.
But, the thinner strings stayed until his thick skin grows back. “I’m using a little bit lighter strings, just until I get my calluses back,” the iconic guitarist added.
The legacy and death of SRV
Unfortunately, and sadly for the world of music, Stevie Ray Vaughan would meet his demise just a few months after Guitar Player published their interview. On August 27th, 1990, a helicopter carrying SRV, along with three others, crashed in Wisconsin, silencing the Texan bluesman at the zenith of his electrifying resurgence.
Vaughan’s legacy wasn’t confined to dusty vinyl and grainy concert footage. He breathed life into the blues, resurrecting its raw power and injecting it with his own fiery Texas spirit. He inspired a generation of guitarists, from John Mayer to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, proving the timeless allure of his gritty soul.
Even in death, SRV’s music continues to soar. His albums reach platinum status, his concerts still fill stadiums with echoes of his blistering riffs. Tribute bands keep his flame alive, and new generations discover the magic woven into his songs.
Stevie Ray Vaughan may be gone, but his soul, etched in every note, still burns bright. He left behind a legacy etched in calluses and superglue, a testament to the lengths a true artist will go to for their art.