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Jimmie Vaughan Reveals His Guitar Tone Secrets

Jimmie Vaughan performs at the Blues Music Festival 1998 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on August 14, 1998 in Mountain View California.
Jimmie Vaughan, 1998 (Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

To hardcore fans, Jimmie Vaughan is a virtual deity – a living legend with an electric guitar style so deep that it defies description.

Since emerging in the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Vaughan has walked the long walk and earned the respect of blues guitar superstars such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton.

He has spun his signature licks in dives and stadiums, shared a bill with Jimi Hendrix, and toured the world with Clapton, ZZ Top, and the Rolling Stones.

Not bad for a guy who traded high school for an endless stream of roadhouse gigs.

Back in 1998, Guitar Player caught up with the man himself following the recording of his maverick solo album Out There (opens in new tab).

During our conversation, Vaughan revealed some rare insights into how he manages to nail his world class guitar tones.

The following interview excerpts originally appeared in the July 1998 issue of Guitar Player

Fat Strat Tone

“I've narrowed it down to what works and what doesn't work, and what works is getting that fat tone on a Fender guitar – which is not necessarily known for that… It's not really any trick. You just turn the amp up and use your fingers to get a good guitar sound.

I like the treble pickup because it has a pure tone without a lot of overtones

Jimmie Vaughan

“I like the treble pickup because it has a pure tone without a lot of overtones. It almost sounds like a steel guitar, you know?

“But you can say different things tonewise by where you pick. For example, depending on where I pick the string – closer to the bridge or farther away from the bridge – and whether I use a pick or a finger is sort of like my three pickups.”

American singer, songwriter and Texas blues guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother, American blues-rock guitarist, singer and founder of The Fabulous Thunderbirds Jimmie Vaughan, pose backstage at the Royal Oak Music Theater during the "Soul to Soul" world tour, on February 14, 1986.

Stevie Ray Vaughan (left) and Jimmie Vaughan, 1986 (Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

Raising the Game

“I don't know if this is good advice for anybody else, but I raise up my [pickup] treble side and lower the bass side. It just seems more balanced that way – you know, the ratio of the volume between the treble strings and the bass strings.

I don't necessarily use big strings, but I have the action up pretty high so that my strings really ring

Jimmie Vaughan

“Now, if you get the pickup too close it'll start making a beating sound. One thing I do that I don't think nobody else does is raise my action up real high. I don't necessarily use big strings, but I have the action up pretty high so that my strings really ring.

“I know Fenders were designed to play really easy, but I like it when you've got something to hold on to.”

Jimmie Vaughan performs in concert during the first show of the 30th anniversary of Austin City Limits Radio's "Blues on the Green" which was personally curated by Gary Clark Jr. at Zilker Park on July 27, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Jimmie Vaughan, 2021 (Image credit: Gary Miller/Getty Images)

Studio Secrets

“Back with the Thunderbirds we got our sound by using the room. Instead of recording the signal and putting an effect on it to make it sound good, we moved the microphones away from the amps and the drums… That's really how I get a good guitar tone. It's the room. Now I'm giving away all my little secrets.

Back with the Thunderbirds we got our sound by using the room

Jimmie Vaughan

“It's also the amp and the guitar, of course, but you record everything where there's enough room for the sound to breathe. You don't put the mic right up on the speaker. 

"This is the same way I've recorded every record I've made – the ones that sounded good, anyway.” [laughs]

Browse the Jimmie Vaughan catalog here (opens in new tab).