Out of all the great blues rockers that transcended the popular Humbucker sounds of the 60s towards more nuanced sounds and styles, Jeff Beck may be the most adroit of them all. While many talented musicians optimized their instruments, Beck held the Fender Stratocaster’s flexible vibrato bar as if it were an instrument of its own. Thanks to Beck, this guitar took the fusion of rock and jazz to another level.
The UK–based guitarist debuted with a bang. He stepped in as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the band “The Yardbirds” before forming a band of his own – the Jeff Beck Group - in 1967 with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. This was all before he turned 25 years old! After he became part of the Yardbirds, Beck inherited a Fender Telecaster in red with a rosewood fingerboard, something that Clapton himself had often played. The instrument was known as a “band guitar.” Beck soon developed a fondness for another guitar – the infamous Blonde Esquire. It featured a forearm contour that was sanded down and a black pickguard replacement. In the 70s, Beck was synonymous with the Telecaster, which was loaded-up with a humbucker, followed by a 1954/1955 Les Paul refinished in an oxblood color with a dark tone. Humbuckers replaced the P-90s this guitar came with. While the sustaining tones on the Les Paul seem to define Beck for a while - especially when you listen to the song “Blow-By-Blow,” - the artist was always trying to find deeper ways to express himself. Beck was able to articulate his emotions perfectly in Leo Fender’s “Synchronized Tremolo Action.”
Jeff Beck conveyed his Strat influence on the album “Wired,” released in 1976. The album was laced with an all-new aptitude that would eventually become the musician's trademark. Beck can be seen on the album cover holding an Olympic white model of his latest passion. This picture seems out of character, though, as Beck wasn’t someone who showed off his biceps. For a number of fans, the Stratocaster is best performed by Beck on the song “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” where bursts of frenetic vibrato can be heard. As a Lester Young tribute, this song – written by Charles Mingus - serves as a catchall for his instrument technique. Throughout the 80s, Beck refined his style further by replacing the guitar pick with his right hand’s fingers. By attacking the strings in this matter, the artist added a distinctive aspect to his inventory of quivering denouements and snarling eruptions. After the release of his commercial album, “Flash,” – which Beck has often rejected as being record label content - he put out another record (“Jeff Beck Guitar Shop”) full of his now-familiar Strat outings. The album’s cover displayed his passion for guitars and hot rods with an illustration of a character that resembled him working under a colossal Stratocaster’s “chassis” (perched up on a garage lift).
Instead of fawning over old-school models, Beck has always had a preference for traditional Fender Stratocasters, especially ones with steel saddles and two-post vibratos. The signature Jeff Beck Fender Stratocaster has been through a number of manifestations over the years. Today, it features a soundless one-coil-size ceramic pickup, as well as roller nuts that the musician favored.
Next player: Ritchie Blackmore