“I picked up my Fender and thought, ‘How the hell did I ever play this?’”: Jeff Beck once said “there was no turning back” to the Strat – here's why he eventually did just that

Jeff Beck performs at the Concord Pavilion in Concord, California on August 1, 2003
(Image credit: Clayton Call/Redferns)

For the majority of his seven-decade career – particularly in its second half – electric guitar hero Jeff Beck was synonymous with the Fender Stratocaster. Beck's own signature Strat has been in production – in one form or another – for over 30 years, and it's almost impossible to picture the legend in the latter half of his career without one.

Beck's love affair with Leo Fender's most famous creation, however, wasn't without its rough patches. 

Indeed, when Beck sat down for a chat with Guitar Player in 1973 – at the peak of his Les Paul era – the guitarist minced no words about what he saw as the Strat's lesser qualities. 

“Fenders are cheap in feel,” Beck – always a straight shooter – told GP at the time.

“You pick up a Les Paul and it's heavy and it really means something – it means business. The Fender was nice because you could grip it like a weapon and really chunk out the chords, but when you came to the more subtle stuff it wasn't there.

“After a while I got so used to the Les Paul, there was no turning back,” Beck added. “I picked up my Fender and thought, ‘How the hell did I ever play this?’”

Within just a couple of years, however, Beck – never one to creatively and sonically stand still – became disenchanted with the Les Paul.

Around 1980, feeling limited by both the Strat and the Les Paul, Beck began a brief, informal partnership with Ibanez, developing a never-realized signature model that featured the double-cut body of a Strat, the dual-humbucker configuration of a Les Paul, and a mind-boggling control layout.  

At the time, a Guitar World investigation into the partnership revealed, Beck was also being pursued by Fender, which was eager to return Beck to the Strat fold.

Eventually, Fender's wooing succeeded, with the company creating a signature model that (originally) featured a bridge humbucker and the thick U-shaped neck Beck preferred. 

When asked to compare the Strat to a Les Paul in a 2009 interview with Guitar Player, Beck said, “It’s a totally different animal. One is for very subtle and, I would say, more musical things that you can distract and abuse. You can’t do it with a Les Paul. It’s too delicate. It’s got a very delicate tone.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.