Yes…I know. Even more Jeff Beck. But it`s just an extra – so don`t complain. There will be lots of other artists to read about later. And this article may be fun to read for all you guitarists out there.
By the way, I saw someone posting this on a message forum recently: “Listening to Jeff Beck makes you wanna look at your fingers and say, “fuck you”. LOL! I found it quite funny, as I know that feeling first-hand…!
OK – enough of me babbling away. Have fun!
JUST DON`T TAKE ANY NOTICE OF PEOPLE WHO CAN PLAY PROPERLY…
…and you`ve got it! The secret of JEFF BECK`S technique, that is. When Mr. B. spoke to CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY he modestly declined to offer any further information on his guitar style…but when it came to guitars themselves the memories flowed free, right back to the time when he gave Jimmy Page an old Telecaster to help the kid out…
It is more than a trifle disconcerting to talk guitars with Jeff Beck. Compliment him on a solo and he`ll turn on the leer and mumble about how it`s “all bluff” or “tricks”. Ask him to let the world in on the tricks and he`ll look sulky and expostulate, “Give away my secrets? You must be jokin`!”
Ol` J.B.`s actually convinced that if he owns up to how he does all those legendary stunts, then everybody`ll be doing them and he`ll be on the skids.
Such modesty is quite charming, but unfortunately none too helpful. However, he`s more than willing to recount his progress from band to band and axe to axe, so pull up your chairs and listen eagerly (but respectfully) as Mr. Beck lopes down memory lane, going waaaaaay back to His First Guitar.
“I had one made – for five quid. It was `orrible. I saw a Fender on an album sleeve – Buddy Holly`s or something – and all I could remember was that it had a really funny shape and the neck was about three feet long.
“I drew out what I thought was a scale version, and this bloke made me a guitar that looked like half a pine tree. It had about four hundred frets and about four-foot cutaways, but it looked great.
“Also I used to borrow a guitar from a kid at school – he had this horrible cowboy-type guitar with black paint all over it. He painted the strings black as well, so I had to buy new ones.
“The first thing I learned to play was `Twenty Flight Rock`.”
When did you achieve some basic level of proficiency?
“Oh I never did that.” We`re talking about 15 years ago and nobody could play a note, so I was classed as a hero. I had no training, couldn`t tell a middle C from a B flat. That guitar of mine was diabolical. It was in tune around the E register, when you got up the fretboard to A it was recognisable as an A, but when you reached C it was way out of tune.
“It was really good therapy, because you`d ping around and you`d know that the 12th fret was supposed to be the same as the open string, only an octave higher, and I`d pull notes to bring it into tune – and that`s how I got into bending strings.
“The next guitar I had was a Japanese Guyatone – birdseye curly maple. It cost £25, and I chopped it in and got a Burns. I`ll always remember that Guyatone because it had a big toggle switch – and that was the business. It looked like it`d be more at home at a railway station.
“I made a case for the guitar, but I didn`t allow for the switch. I was about 1/8 of an inch out. I put the guitar in the case, slammed the lid down and pressed the switch right through the plastic. Broke the thing to pieces.
“So I stuck it back together with Araldite and went off to a gig. Stood at the bus stop and the guitar case fell over and did it again. Did the gig and it was all right, went home, plugged in and it just buzzed. So I stuck it back together again, painted it black and swapped it for something else.
“Oh yes – about that time my mate bought a Telecaster.”
Hey, things are getting interesting. Keep talking, Jeff.
“£107 it cost him. It was a beauty, and I was stuck with this bloody Burns thing. So while I was in the group he played the Burns and I played the Tele. The Burns wasn`t one of those filthy things with the long horns, it was kinda stubby – a Trisonic, with three pick-ups.
“It really bellowed. It had all these switches and knobs, and then I realised that a guitar like a Fender didn`t need all that crap. So I blagged him and borrowed the Fender, and he swapped in the Burns and got a Hofner Futurama. By that time there was no way he was ever gonna get his Tele back. That was MY GUITAR.
By this time, an early version of present-day Beckerama was indeed on the drawing board. “I was playing James Burton-y sort of solos. He was the guv`nor for that kind of sloppy, plunky chicken-bending stuff…”
“I used to idolise that guy. Used to slow down the records and listen to the way he played phrases.
“Actually I bought the Tele off my mate eventually – it`s the one that I gave to Jimmy Page. I used that Tele all through The Tridents” (the group he was in before the Yardbirds) “and I bought a Fender Esquire off John Walker of the Walker Brothers for £70.”
An Esquire, incidentally, is exactly like a Telecaster except that it only has one pick-up instead of two; the bridge (or treble) pick-up, which is by far the stronger and more responsive of the two pick-ups anyway.
“I liked that so much that I never used the Tele any more, and so when Jim joined the Yardbirds I gave it to him. I used the Esquire for the solo on “Shapes Of Things`. On that record I played rhythm guitar first and then did the solo. That great hangin`-out D chord at the end of the solo was on the rhythm track, which is why the tone`s so different. There`s no way you could switch from a slack-string set-up to that kind of power, so I had to re-string it.”
Apart from his early predilection for Telecasters and Esquires, Beck was probably the first guitarist I ever saw using a Les Paul – on Top Of The Pops, miming to “Shapes Of Things”.
“I had a Les Paul that I bought from a bloke in a guitar shop in Charing Cross Road. I can`t remember what I paid…£175 or £185. Whatever it was, it was a giveaway. It was brand new, so I think he must have stolen it or something.
“I used a fuzz-box in the Yardbirds – it was homemade by this bloke called Roger Mayer, who used to make `em for a lot of people. He made one for Jimi – one for Page. I think he works for the Isley Brothers now.”
Whenever you got a new guitar, did you trade `em off on different numbers or stick to the same one?
“I had two guitars, basically but it was a question of wanting to get used to a guitar and wanting to use nothing else. There was only a short period of time when I used to trade one for the other to get certain sounds. I used to like to get all the different sounds out of one guitar. As I was saying, Pagey joined in the last part of the Yardbirds, and I gave the Tele to him. He had a Dalectro which he`s sprayed pink or something. He also had a black Les Paul Custom, and I didn`t think it sounded very good, which is why I gave him the Fender.”
Beck used a Les Paul all the way through the group he had with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, but when he formed the “Rough and Ready” band, he was back on Fender – this time a Stratocaster.
“I`ve always liked the tremolo arm on the Strat, because when the guitar is destrung, you can depress a note nearly as much as an octave, especially the G string. If you know what you`re doing you can play a phrase up high, then push it down and it`ll still be in tune.”
By “De-strung,” Mr. Beck means using a 1st string for a 2nd, a 2nd for a 3rd and so on, substituting a banjo string for a first. What you lose in raunch, you gain in flexibility. To a certain extent, this method has been rendered obsolete by the advent of Ernie Ball`s superlight strings.
“God bless Ernie Ball. They`re all right, those strings, but they used to break a helluva lot. Banjo strings never break. This sloppy-string bit has got to go, because the sound of the guitar deteriorates appreciably. The body drops right out of the note. B.B. King uses stock strings,” (on a Gibson 335) “and the sound he gets is – for the volume and power, a Fender Strat just wouldn`t look at it. You get the level, but you don`t get the roundness and the push. That`s why I feel that I`ve missed out a bit on the semi-acoustic bit, because they`re so much more gutty.
So why not use one?
“They`re too cumbersome. I just can`t get on with them on stage. They`re just not comfortable. I like a guitar to sink right into my waist so I don`t even notice it. If I`ve jammed anywhere and used a borrowed guitar, it`s always been like wrestling with a tea-chest or something. Or a suitcase. They used to feed back terribly if you got too close to the amp, and it wouldn`t be controllable – whereas with a solid guitar it is.”
It was at this point that I decided to prise some of Beck`s secrets out of him, and get him to pass on his pet bluffs.
“I don`t want to show anybody how to bluff. Let `em learn the proper way. I don`t want a trail of people after me learning the wrong way. You want me to give away my secrets? There aren`t any. Just don`t take any notice of anybody who can play properly and you got it.”
SPECIAL EDITORIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: He`s only kidding folks…at least we THINK he`s only kidding.
“The best way to play is the easiest way. That way, you`re not cheating anybody, because you can overcome what may be cheating by just PLAYING. If it`s coming out of you, what the hell.
“I don`t like to use speed just because I can play fast. I mean, McLaughlin plays faster than I`ll ever play, and I can tell by listening to him that he can play a scale with about four flats in it and they say `drop out one of those flats and put a sharp in` and he could just do it, straight off without even practising it. I couldn`t do that. I can play my own stuff fast enough, but…
“I`m influenced by lazy guitarists like Steve Cropper, and by fast guitarists like Les Paul, so I`m right in the middle. I don`t want to become either too speedy or too laid-back. I just want to stay where I am.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Stacia (Hawkwind), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull, Pilot, David Essex, Queen, Deke Leonard (Man), Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Jimmy Savile, Herbie Hancock, Kevin Coyne.
This edition is sold!