I CAN’T THINK OF A BETTER
WAY TO INAUGURATE THIS new investigative series than by
spotlighting the world’s foremost master
of the Stratocaster, Jeff Beck. Sir Beck continues to baffle us with the
of impossibly beautiful and borderline evil sounds that has kept
him poised at the top of guitarists’ most-wanted lists for nearly a
But what makes him so unique? Why does Jeff Beck sound so different
from any other guitarist on the planet, and how does he keep getting
It’s certainly not about his gear. While
Beck has long been revered for killer tones,
his chosen axes, amps, and effects have
always been fairly Spartan. We’re talking
Fender Telecasters and Gibson Les Pauls
in the early days, and then Strats, Strats,
and more Strats beginning circa 1972.
Add a vintage, modern, or reissue Marshall
or Fender amp—Beck used a beefed-up
Fender Pro Junior paired with a Klon Centaur
overdrive on his recent Rock ‘n’ Roll
Party tour—plus a Snarling Dog Whine-OWah,
and you’ve got the essentials covered.
So if it’s not the vehicle, it must be the
driver. For instance, Beck essentially stopped
using a pick beginning in the late ’80s,
and his bare-skinned, constantly changing
attack brings out harmonic overtones
that just don’t exist for most of us! In fact,
Beck’s fingerstyle technique is so organically
integrated that he often has three or
four different things going on simultaneously—
perhaps a volume-swelled micro-bend
decorated with a dip of the whammy
bar—which is precisely why we’ve placed
him (play Gmaj7#5/E here) under investigation.
There’s plenty more to uncover, so
let the proceedings begin.
M’Lords and Ladies, I ask the following:
Does Jeff Beck’s guitar playing constitute
a threat to the public at large? Isn’t this
sort of thing dangerous? Should anyone be allowed to get
that good?!? The charges
stand as follows:
LEAVING FINGERPRINTS AT THE SCENE
Hearing a Jeff Beck phrase that doesn’t
feature some sort of manually generated
modulation on almost every note is a rare
occurrence. To properly Beck-ify a lick, you
need to add a generous amount of finger
grease. Ex. 1a sets us up with a garden-variety,
one-bar blues lick in G. There’s really
nothing special going on here besides a
couple of generic bends and releases, but
in Beck’s hands, the same idea is likely to
come out sounding something like Ex. 1b.
Let’s check out the eighth-note play-by-play
(noting that the first five notes are
played staccato): We’ve got a whole-step
pre-bend, a half-step release (played like a
pre-bend), two quarter-step pre-bends in a
row, a repeat of the first two notes, and a
pull-off to a heavily-vibrated, quarter-prebent
b3. Pretty twisted, huh? Almost out-of-
tune, but in a really good way—that’s
the ticket! Ex. 1c offers another set of
this time with a swing-eighth feel
and slight rhythmic alteration. Have at it!
Beck’s infamous faux-slide playing—accomplished
with bare hands and a whammy
bar—has long fooled the keenest of ears.
Ex. 2a shows the unadorned version of an
already Beck-ish descending G Dorian-based
run before the sleight-of-hand ensues in
Ex. 2b with downward whammy-bar bends
between the b7 and 6 (F to E), and
and 2 (Bb and A), all key Dorian
(Tip: Release the bar at the same time
you pull off.) Ex. 2c brings a cool, bar-bent
chromatic passing tone (Eb) to the party.
Try the same technique on different scale
tones and go on a bender!
STALKING FLAT 7S AND
Sections of several early pre-whammy
Beck solos highlight the b 7 of the key
with oblique bends, where two notes are
played, but only one is bent. The bent and
non-bent pitches may or may not be identical,
and it’s the former that is illustrated
in the two bars of G-based moves (culled
from Beck’s pick period) shown in Ex.
Bar 1 emphasizes the b7 (F) with oblique
unison bends played in swing-eighths,
while bar 2 reveals a lovely suspension and
resolution via an oblique-bent 4 (C) to a
half-released and shaken-not-stirred 3 (B).
Also noteworthy is the clever placement of
single notes between bends. Ex. 3b recasts
our b7/F over the IV chord (C9), where it
is paired with its neighboring 6 (E) to temporarily
function as a very groovy string of
4-to-3 suspensions (all played using bends
and pre-bends) and resolutions. Bar 2 ends
with a vibrated, pre-bent 4, plus another
zip up—and this time back down—the B
string, before launching the sixteenth-note
barrage of gnarly, G-blues nirvana in bar
2, one of my favorite J.B. licks of all time.
Don’t forget to swing it, baby!
FAKING TESTIMONIAL BLUES HARP
Like his whammy-induced “slide” work,
Beck’s faux blues-harp honking is to die
for. Again, we’re back to just two hands
and a whammy bar, but OMG! Master the
subtleties of Ex. 4a and you’ll swear
channeling Little Walter. Rake the opening
G triad, flat the 5 with a half-step bar
bend, and then add bar vibrato by rapidly
and repeatedly releasing and re-flatting the
5. (Tip: A low-to-high-to-low-frequency
wah sweep enhances the effect.) Another
trick up Beck’s sleeveless-T is to bang his
fist directly on his floating bridge, completely
bypassing the bar. This typically
results in the kind of half-step bends and
releases notated in Ex. 4b. It’s a less
but equally cool move!
ORGANIZING A GANG OF THREE
Beck’s short-lived power trio and super-group,
Beck, Bogart & Appice, may not
have gained the worldwide notoriety they deserved, but they certainly blew a
crater in the terrain with high-octane, call-and-
response ensemble rhythm figures that
contrasted power chords with low-register
single notes, like the one shown in Ex. 5a.
And dig it: Beck was still using a pick to toss
off gems like Ex. 5b’s snarly,
open-position E blues run. (Tip: Skip
the G#, replace the final E with a
and it makes a twisted country lick in G.)
STEALING FROM THE BEST
Beck’s long-standing admiration for the father
of the electric guitar has spanned most of
his life, culminating in 2010’s Jeff Beck Rock
‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul. The flurry of
Les-approved triplet pull-offs shown in Ex.
6a dates back to Beck’s days with the Yard-birds,
but was initially coined by Paul 30
years earlier. (Becks-ersize: Move the lick to
different fret positions and add palm-muting
to taste.) The same goes for the bulk of Ex.
6b, where a string of chromatically descending
sixteenth-note triplets tributes L.P., but
that final zip up the B-string and quick drop
to a target b3 is pure Beck.
HIJACKING SOME BASIC
…“and having your way with them,” is
how that title should continue. Whether
he’s finessing jazz voicings or gleefully dropping
bombastic power-chord assaults, Beck handles them all with equal panache.
Inspired by one of Beck’s early-’70s soul-jazz
outings, Ex. 7a features a two-bar, Barney
Kessel-style, I-IV-II-V-based chord-melody
in G, before Beck-y puts his unmistakable
stamp on bars 3 and 4, with pulled-off
bass notes, signature Bb/C and Eb/F
and funky single-notes reminiscent
of another famous J.B.
Okay, finesse be damned. One of my
most moving Beck moments occurred
during a performance of a then-untitled
and unrecorded song that began with a
lovely, delicate, and deliciously Scottish-influenced
melody played over a G-based
I-V-IV progression (G-D-Csus2). On the
second round, Beck held the last Csus2,
and then, in a spine-tingling moment,
segued directly to the incredibly powerful
reimagining of the four basic chords
used to create the monument to heaviosity
depicted in Ex. 7b. (Note the triple
forte.) Crank it up and bathe in its magnificence.
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