10 Things You Gotta Do to Play like Jeff Beck

By Gress, Jess | Guitar Player, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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10 Things You Gotta Do to Play like Jeff Beck


Gress, Jess, Guitar Player


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WHEN ROCK POETRESS PATTI SMITH INTRODUCED JEFF BECK AS "THE JEWEL in our crown" at London's 2005 Meltdown Festival, she wasn't just whistling "Hail Britannia." An international treasure whose wizardly way with the guitar has defined the state of the ax for over four decades, Geoffrey Arnold Beck was not only present and accounted for at the launch of the great Brit-rock guitar revolution of the mid '60s, he kicked its ass.

Beck's timing couldn't have been better. Already a fearless musical renegade and always one step ahead of the pack, Beck answered Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend's clarion call to arms with a feedback-laden fuzztone roar heard 'round the world--first with the Yardbirds, then with a string of his own groups whose lineage continues to this day. As Clapton himself once pointed out, "There's something about Becky that beats everyone else." E.C.'s right--Beck has always sounded downright dangerous.

With their landmark Truth album, the first Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart on vocals) created the lead-singer-plus-guitar/bass/ drums-trio template that Led Zeppelin and myriad acts would follow, but never received the credit they were due. Despite this lack of recognition, Beck has remained innovative, musically adventurous, and at the top of his game throughout his entire career, earning the respect and admiration of peers and collaborators from John McLaughlin and B.B. King to Tina Turner and Luciano Pavarotti, and garnering a few Grammys along the way. (Beck even backed Kelly Clarkson on American Idol last April.) The reasons for his longevity are no mystery, though. A strict vegetarian diet, a love of gardening, and a penchant for building classic hot rods have kept the 63-year-old Strat master healthier and more balanced than most of his contemporaries. Seriously, the guy looks half his age.

Beck's constantly evolving style, which began as an unlikely amalgamation of Cliff Gallup, Les Paul, Otis Rush, and the Tamla-Motown sound, and currently incorporates elements of Southeast Asian, Eastern European, and Indian music, as well as techno and drum-and-bass. How does he do it? It's time for you, dear readers, to reap the benefits of an obsessive-compulsive disorder I've harbored for years. (Yes, I'm a Beck-oholic.) This healthy cross-section of musical Beck-cerpts--most of which were inspired by the Guv'nor's spellbinding 2007 performance at Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival held in Chicago last July--doesn't skimp on the details, so read through each phrase carefully and don't skip a single squiggle. More on the music in a minute. First, you've gotta ...

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1 BUILD A MODEL "B"

Beck built his reputation first with Fender Esquire/Telecaster guitars, Vox amps, and a Colorsound fuzz pedal. Later, he used a Gibson Les Paul, Marshall stacks, and a Vox wah. It was in the early '70s that Beck found his soul mate in the Fender Stratocaster. He vacillated between all three models for a few more years, but finally settled on the Strat as his main squeeze in 1976. Nearly 15 years later, Fender introduced the Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster, which sported a huge neck, Lace Sensor pickups, a Wilkinson roller nut, and a floating tremolo bridge set up to raise the open G string a Beck-approved range of three semi-tones (a full minor third).

The current model has a slightly smaller neck profile and is fitted with Fender's Vintage Noiseless pickups, though, on his personal guitar, Beck has installed custom pickups made by luthier John Suhr. Presently, the Guy's only mandatory pedal seems to be a Snarling Dogs Super Bawl Whine-O-Wah, a key component in Beck's spot-on blues harp emulation. Secondary effects spied on Beck's 'board include a ring modulator of indeterminate origin, a Boss flanger, and a Hughes & Kettner Tube Rotosphere. Beck's elusive sound is warm and gainy, yet crystal clear with rich mids and a chest-pounding bass thump that can only come from one or more 4x12 cabinets (Marshalls, in Beck's case).

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