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A Look At Jeff Beck’s Guitar Style
Legends in the guitar world are the players that transcend the normal realm of playing to push beyond the standard, creating new & exciting changes.
These players are more interested in pushing the boundaries of their sound, style, music and technique than staying still in their playing, despite how virtuoso they may be.
The Loss Of A Legend
January 10, 2023, the start of the new year, experience the loss of an icon.
Jeff Beck passed from a bacterial meningitis infection at age 78, and the music/guitar world will miss him dearly.
Beck was motivated by change, evolving from his early blues-rock roots to innovating an instrumental sound of Jazz-rock, funk & fusion.
This is the second post on Jeff Beck for us, for we could not cover everything in one post alone.
So to read more about Becks’ signature Guitars, follow the link below…
His first exposure to a guitar was on a 3 strung acoustic hanging in a room while spending time with a friend.
While visiting, the young Jeff would pick up the instrument and tinker; following the show of interest, his friend offered to borrow the guitar, and Beck managed to get the instrument strung with 6 strings and started his journey, with his friend never asking for it back.
Before hearing Les Paul on the radio playing with echo, high treble and speedy licks, the instrument was used more for background smooth-sounding jazz guitar sounds and not like the lead machine it would eventually evolve to be.
“I was interested in the electric guitar even before I knew the difference between electric and acoustic. The electric guitar seemed to be a totally fascinating plank of wood with knobs and switches on it. I just had to have one.”
The Start Of The Journey
Beck started his guitar journey in the 60s, playing and recording with numerous projects, building on his sound, and earning a reputation as a session player.
He was recruited in March of 1965 as a member of the Yardbirds on the recommendation of fellow session musician/friend Jimmy Page who had been their initial choice. Replacing another younger guitarist Eric Clapton. (Page later did join the Yardbirds as second lead guitar.)
Beck Stayed with the Yardbirds for 20 months and recorded 1 album in 1966. (See Image)
Jeff went on to create a legacy and had a career that lasted over 5 decades with Numerous artists and projects.
Jeff & Jimmy
While attending the Wimbledon College of Art and through his sister, Jeff Beck met Jimmy Page.
Bonded by their shared interest in the instrument, they would get together regularly, listen to music, and talk about guitars indefinitely.
It was a quest to discover who recorded what, and how to make those new noises they were exposed to and no one had ever heard before, with their friendship continuing throughout their careers. (See image)
Jeff Beck Sound
Looking to reinvent himself and his playing continually, he would pay attention to other styles of music and musicians for inspiration, like John McLaughlin’s work with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra which featured keyboardist Jan Hammer, who Jeff later would go on to record several albums with.
Beck said on John McLaughlin.
“He has given us so many different facets of the guitar and introduced thousands of us to world music by blending Indian music with jazz and classical.”
“I’d say he was the best guitarist alive.”
The Jeff Beck Guitar Technique
The release of Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989) was the first album to feature Beck’s dynamic fingerstyle guitar technique by leaving the plectrum, along with his Electronica style of music, that would dominate the new genre. (See Image)
Electronica is a term to describe an electronic-based music style intended for listening as opposed to dance, with a music scene that started in the early 90s.
A Look At His Playing Style
Because Beck stopped using a pick, his hands were freer to approach his new style of playing, using all his fingers and hands to accommodate the different guitar phrases he heard in his ear.
Beck’s style, technique and overall approach to the guitar are original and unique to him.
But what made him so different?
Let’s look at Beck’s multiple subtle and not-so-subtle techniques that gave him his sound.
Right Hand & Finger Picking
Fingerpicking is not new, especially in guitar, but one of Beck’s versions of this was when not using the Tremolo bar, he would use his index finger to pick on the high E, B & G Strings, and his thumb on the D. A & Low E strings. (See image)
Tremolo & Volume Control
Jeff relied on using the guitar’s Floating Bridge and Volume Control as a cornerstone to create exciting and different musical phrasing, using these techniques simultaneously and seamlessly in “Combination.”
He would do this by picking the strings with his thumb while controlling the whammy bar with his index finger and the volume/tone control with his pinky or ring finger, so he could fade in and out and combine volume swells with string bends creating unique sounds. (See image)
How To Create Volume Swells
This technique is done by rolling back the volume to the zero position, then picking a note and gradually increasing the volume level creating a “violin” effect.
This was done effectively by guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, and depending on the style of the guitar and the position of the volume knob itself determines how easily this effect can be achieved.
Tremolo Bar Note Targeting
Jeff’s approach to using the tremolo bar was different than just creating dive bombs or whammy sounds; He would incorporate the tremolo bar to perform string bends, use the bar to begin on a lower note and resolve it, or start on a fretted note and bend to a targeted higher tone.
He used the whammy bar in his natural playing approach instead of occasionally for special effects and operating it with total control.
Tremolo “Slide” Emulation & Actual Slide Playing With Tapping
This subtle approach is central to Jeff’s playing. The idea is to use the whammy bar to change smoothly from note to note, much like you would if you were using a Slide.
What Is Slide Guitar Playing?
Slide guitar is a style of playing where you use a “Slide” typically made out of Glass, Metal or Ceramic with it wrapping around your left hand’s 2nd, 3rd or 4th fingers and Slides over the Fretboard, creating a steel guitar effect.
Jeff’s Slide playing is not only what you would expect, with the Slide being on the 2nd finger of his left hand. (See Image)
He also worked with the Slide using it to play above or off the neck to create notes in the high registers above the pickups; using a slight “Tapping” instead of Sliding; This technique required precision and a well-set-up guitar with good intonation. (See Image)
Two Finger Tapping
Unlike guitarists like Steve Vai, Jeff’s approach to this technique was more sparingly, and he would use “Two Finger Tapping” to accent the same note repeatedly instead of creating entire melodic lines.
His sense of pitch was so accurate that he could play entire melodies with harmonics and the tremolo bar.
Other Right Hand Non-Pick Techniques…
- Speed Picking- with his thumb and forefinger together, like if you would be holding a pick
- Chicken Pickin – with his thumb and first 2 fingers used to play short runs or fast licks
- Thumb-only aggressive string attacks
- Heel Jars -by pressing on the floating bridge with the palm of his hand instead of using the bar he was able to “whammy up”
- Slap & Pull off with the Vibrato arm &
- Bar flutters
- Chord tone targeting-Useing chords that sit under the song and play targeted notes or runs to suit the chord progression
- Hammer-ons and Legato techniques
Jimmy Page On Jeff Becks Guitar Style
“Because Jeff’s whole guitar style is just unorthodox to the way anyone was taught”
“He has developed a whole style of expanding the electric guitar and making it into something which was just sounds and techniques unheard of before, and that is an amazing feat, believe me.”
Jeffs Different Techniques In 2 Videos
Becks’ genius was not in his ability to be a left-handed virtuoso like Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen but in his right-hand work as well as the use of his ear for dynamics and emotion.
It’s hard to imagine this guitar great is gone, for he has been a fixture and never seemed to age, along with his playing just getting better.
I will always be a loyal fan of Beck and his playing and will miss him tremendously.
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As always, stay the course and keep playing.
The featured image of Jeff Beck, courtesy of Wikimedia, imported by the Archive Team, is licensed under the CC Attribution 3.0 Unported.
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