Stevie Ray Vaughan Guitar Story : “Lenny” Fender Stratocaster
Purchased from a pawnshop in Auistin, Texas, the beat up 1965 Stevei Ray Vaughan guitar Fender Stratocaster known as “Lenny” was more than just another a guitar to Stevie Ray Vaughan, it was an inspiration. Named in honor of his wife, Lenora, it is one of just two guitar that Stevie Ray Vaughan treasured. It’s also the instrument on which he wrote and always performed one of his best loved songs: the instrumental “Lenny,” written as a thank you to his wife.
And it’s the guitar that, in 2004, was sold to the Guitar Center musical instrument retail chain for $623,500, at a Christie’s auction to benefit the Crossroads Centre. Antigua, a charitable organization for addiction rehabilitation, founded by Eric Clapton.
Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV) was not yet a star on his 26th birthday, October 3, 1980, when his wife presented him with the soon to be legendary 1965 Stratocaster. Though already phenomeal guitarist, he was still seen as the little brother of Jimmie Vaughan, who was making a name for himself as a guitarist in the Austin circuit. The easygoing Stevie took things in stride and kept his focus on improving his guitar playing and performance style.
It was his laidback demeanor that had attracted Lenora to him in the first place. They met a Halloween party at the East Austin nightspot La Cucaracha, where Stevie was playing. When Lenora saw him again a couple of years later at the Rome Inn with his band, Triple Threat, She was moved both by his musical power onstage and his charmingly unassumming manner offstage.
“I kin if fell for him that day,” she says. “It was tear jerking, the guy was so good. He’s so sweet when you meet him, and then he plays and he is so fierce. You can’t help but feel what he feels. That was what I saw when he played.
The next time they met, at a Mexican restaurant in Downtown Austin, there was no mistaking their mutual attraction. Recalls Lenora, “We looked at each other and just went,’Uh-huh.'”
About a year after they were married, she remembers, “The guys went to a pawnshop and saw his guitar. One guy wanted it, and Stevie said, ‘I want it more.'” The instrument in question was a battered 1965 maple necked Fender Stratocaster with a rosewood fingerboard and original pickups. Although it had begun life as a three color sunburst model, it had been inexpertly refinished with dark naturan finish and an elaborate inlay behind the bridge. A purist would have been put off by the unprofessional custom work, but Stevie saw pas that. The guitar resonated with him deeply and immediately.
Unfortunately, money was tight in those pre stadom days, and neither Stevie nor Lenora had the $350 asking price. But with his birthday around the corner, she devised a perfect solution. “I went out and found seven people with $50,” Lenora recounts, “and they all put in their money.”
The guitar was presented to Stevie during a birthday celebration at the Austin nightclub Steamboat Springs, on 6th street. He was thrilled with his new guitar and eager to play it when he and Lenora arrived home. Sometime that night, as his wife slept, Stevie wrote a new song on his Fender Stratocaster. In the morning, she remembers, “He was sitting in the edge of the bed with the guitar and said,’Listen to this'” He played her the song he had written that night:”‘Lenny,’ it was beautiful,” she says. “How can you stop loving anything like that? I’ve never once in my life listened to that song without crying.”
Soon after, Vaughan received a new Charvel guitar neck with a maple fingerboard as a gift from ZZ top guitarist Billy F. Gibbons. Vaughan installed the neck on Lenny, as he now called his Fender Stratocaster. He also etched his name into the guitar’s neck plate as a point of pride.
The song “Lenny” was included on Texas Flood, the 1983 debut album by Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble. Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV) performed the song on his namesake instrument studio sesion; and whenever he played “Lenny” in concert, the guitarist would set aside his beloved “number one” Stratocaster and strap on the 1965 Stratocaster his wife and friends had bought for his 26th birthday.
“It tore me up,” Lenora says of her husband’s poignant act. “Its so emotional for me. Overwhelming. That’s a lot of love.”
Among SRV’s many notable live performances with the guitar was a live rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” took place at the Houston Astro’s opening session games against L.A. Dodgers, which took place in Houston Astrodom, on April 10,1985. The Vaughan were quickly flown to Houston. On the way, He confessed to his wife that he didnt know how to play “The Star Spangled Banner.” In a touching example of their partnership, Lenora hummed the song as he duly noted its intricate melody. At the game, Lenora happened to be sitting next to baseball great Mickey Mantle. She introduced SRV to mantle and, honoring the couple’s request an autograph, Mantle signed Lenora’s namesake guitar, adding substantially to its collectability and market value.
Despite their love, Stevie and Lenora divorced in 1988, unable to sustain the pressure of fame and the damage from his years of drug and alcohol abuse. Vaughan, as always, continued to play Lenny, selectively and with great passion. He featured it on its namesake song. of course, and was later fond of playing it on “Riviera Paradise” from 1989’s In step, the album that celebrated his newfound sobriety.
Years after Stevie’s Death in August 1990 helicopter crash, and at the behest of his older brother, Jimmie, Lenny became the only guitar from Stevie’s estate to be made available to the public. The $623,500 Guitar Center paid for the guitar was hefty but ultimately a reflection of the effect Stevie Ray Vaughan(SRV) and his music had on the people on his life and all over the world.