Jeff Beck might have been the perfect guitar player. It’s not due merely to his supreme mastery of the instrument or his unique touch, it’s because he never stopped challenging himself.
He called the guitar “a tool of great inspiration and torture at the same time. It’s forever sitting there, challenging you to find something else in it”.
Beck always pushed his talents to their musical boundaries and in the process, expanding his limits. His pursuit was guitar perfection and his popularity most assuredly suffered because of it.
He is not a household name, but any serious musician knows him, at least by reputation. Sadly, Jeff Beck passed away unexpectedly in January of 2023. He was 78.
Born in 1944 South London, Beck first came to prominence in 1965 when The Yardbirds tapped him to replace original guitarist Eric Clapton.
The Yardbirds experienced their most successful period with Beck, but he left the group after only 20 months. In 1967, Beck formed the trailblazing Jeff Beck Group featuring Ronnie Wood on bass and a young vocalist named Rod Stewart.
That band too came to a premature end, dissolving for good in 1972. Though he would form future collaborations, Jeff is known primarily for session work and his remarkable compositions as a solo artist.
A Crazy Attitude
“But Jeff also had that crazy attitude” says guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. “You knew he was a dangerous rock & roll guitar player. He always made that obvious with every song that he did”.
Jeff is absolutely venerated among pickers, but he has collected his share of accolades as well. Beck earned eight gold albums and collected seven Grammys during his near 60-year career.
In 2016, Rolling Stone Magazine conducted a poll to determine the greatest guitarists of all time. Jeff finished number five behind only Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards.
Per the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: “Jeff Beck’s dynamic, feedback-drenched guitar shaped the sound of rock and roll…His dazzling fretboard technique, mastery of atmospheric effects, and volcanic, expressive musical phrasing were unmatched.
Beck’s unique mix of improvisation, innovation, and continued musical exploration throughout his career made him one of the most beloved and influential musicians of all time”.
Jeff has twice been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. First in 1992 for his work in The Yardbirds and then again as a solo artist in 2009.
During his enshrinement ceremony in 2009, Beck mesmerized the audience alongside pal Jimmy Page. It is still considered one of the best performances in the history of the event.
“The Most Unique Guitar Player”
Clapton refers to Beck as “the most unique guitar player”. Page is even more effusive in his praise saying, “Jeff’s whole guitar style is totally unorthodox to the way that anyone was taught.
He’s developed a whole style of expanding the electric guitar and making it into something with sounds and techniques totally unheard of before”. Jeff was obsessive.
He once stated, “My Strat is another arm, I’ve welded myself to that. Or it’s welded itself to me, one or the other.” The revered axman is referring of course to his weapon of choice, the Fender Stratocaster.
He would use his extra limb to create intense, genre bending solos. Page calls Beck “the most incredible soloist of our time”. Much like fictional guitar legend Nigel Tufnel, on which he is reportedly based, Beck’s solos are his trademark.
Jeff revolutionized the guitar in more ways than one. According to music scholar Jim Farber, “Beck helped either pioneer or amplify important technical innovations on his instrument.
He elaborated the use of distortion and feedback effects intensified the effect of bending notes on the guitar. And widened the range of expression that could be coaxed from devices attached to the guitar”.
Clapton reiterates the sentiment saying, “Jeff has a thing with the guitar that I don’t think anybody else can do. I had never seen anything like it.
He can work all of those elements in a way that defies description. He can use the wang bar and the volume and the tone and if you’re not watching closely, it’s as though he’s pulling the sound”.
Music owes plenty to Jeff Beck
The world of music owes a lot to Jeff Beck. Not only did he Introduce groundbreaking creations such as the fuzz box, he established a standard that is still unsurpassed.
But it is Jeff’s dedication to honing his craft that may be his true legacy. He never stopped improving as a guitar player, a fact that routinely amazed his peers.
Page once remarked, “He just doesn’t stop. He gets better and better and better”. Similar sentiments are felt throughout the elite music community.
Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett proclaimed, “For him to keep continually keep getting better and better over the years is incredible”. Joe Satriani says simply, “Over the decades, Beck just got better and better”.
Jeff Beck was the ultimate guitar gunslinger. He was the guy the other players were afraid of. Unfortunately, Jeff never achieved the fame of his Yardbirds guitar fraternity.
Clapton and Page both went on to become monumental successes with Cream and Led Zeppelin, respectively. Beck flourished in relative anonymity as an exclusive guitar gun for hire. But that was not a problem.
“I’ve never made the big time, mercifully,” Jeff told Rolling Stone in 2018. “When you look around and see who has made it huge, it’s a really rotten place to be”.
Beck never cared about being the biggest rock star, he was more concerned about being the best guitar player. There may not have been anyone better.