Jeff Beck Discusses Gear, Technique and Hendrix in 1985 Guitar World Interview, Part 2
More from our 1985 interview with Jeff Beck, plus some input from Beck's friends and admirers, including Seymour Duncan, Stanley Clarke and his fellow Yardbirds.
It was always unpredictable what he'd do, because maybe if he didn't like the sound of his amp he'd just kick it offstage. His playing is still unpredictable: it's never what you 'd expect. If you ask him to play a solo, he'll play something just off the top of his head, and you'll think, what's he doing, playing a different song? Then when you hear it back a few times you realize it really is a great solo. That's what happened again with Box of Frogs. He just seems to be so far ahead all the time.
The problem for Jeff is that he always has to think in terms of what he's going to do next: he has to live up to the name. I still think he's the greatest rock guitarist there is, and he's still got a lot of very far-reaching ideas. But he's a complex character, isn't he? I mean, he plays from his heart all the time, and it takes quite a lot out of him. I know that he's spent periods where he hasn't even gotten out of bed because he's been so low. But he's come back, and he's playing rock and roll again, which I think is great.
SEYMOUR DUNCAN on His Favorite Rock and Roll Player
Seymour Duncan, who manufactures pickups and amplifiers, has worked closely with Beck on his equipment.
I had met Beck earlier but I really got working with him personally in about 1973. He was recording at CBS, doing his second album with BBA. One day his crew manager, Ralph Baker, invited me over because he knew how much of a Beck freak I was. I had this guitar neck, a Telecaster neck that I took the rose of Singapore off and put maple Singapore on with large Gibson frets, and so I took that over to Jeff, and he said, Oh, this is great.
So a few days later I brought back this Telecaster, which I put two humbuckers in and cut the tailpiece so I could get the humbuckers closer to the bridge, and I put a new type of maple neck with Gibson frets on it. Well, he just fell in love with the guitar, and I found out that he recorded "Cause We Ended as Lovers" with it. He could do the volume and tone control thing on it so well, where on the Les Paul he couldn't. To this day he still uses that guitar for sessions, and I was pretty proud of it.
As far as what Jeff looks for in a pickup for his sound, he needs something that will keep up with him, that will respond when he hits a note a certain way, because he relies on his picking technique to make contrasts in his music. So he doesn't want to hit a note soft and have the same sound as when he's hitting it hard. Really, he's looking for a medium output, not a high.
That's why I designed the J.B. Humbucker. I know he doesn't endorse anything, but it was just my appreciation of him. It's a pickup that when you play it, you get out of it what you put into it. So when Jeff plays soft and subtle, and then when he goes crazy on the fingerboard, it'll respond to all that-to the sensitivity of the playing, to the harshness and everything. It's like you're talking with the guitar. Before this, he'd used a whole variety of pickups, from catalog Strats to standard humbuckers to Alnico Twos. The Alnicos are what he's been using for some time: I had them in the old Steve Marriott sunburst Strat he used on There and Back.
Jeff's an amazing player. At the ARMS show we were trying out new pickups and stuff, and he started playing things I never knew he could play, free jazz and things like that. It's another side of him you never see. But he has to have things right for him-the right sound and the right guitar. He's been in a real happy part of his life for the past six to eight months, doing a lot of great things, recording with a lot of people and having a great time. I've listened to him over the years going through all the different changes, the different types of playing, and he's still my favorite rock and roll guitar player.
CHRIS DREJA on Jeff’s Emotional Quality
Chris Dreja played rhythm guitar, and later bass, in The Yardbirds, did background vocals and co-wrote the music. He, too, plays on Box of Frogs.
I'll tell you, in those days Jeff spoke very much through his guitar-it was as if when he started to play he became this amazing multiple personality. It was just incredible. We all feel, I think, that the period Jeff spent with the band was the most creative. Bear in mind that we played with three guitar players, none of them slouches; but if you asked me who I still liked to listen to, I'd definitely say Jeff. His scope of inventiveness was probably the widest of the three, and coupled with his emotional quality it made him my favorite to play with. See, Jeff can play very aggressive stuff that's not like brain damage because there's an emotional quality about it that's extremely pleasant even when it's high-powered. That's something that's in the soul, and it gives his playing a durable quality.
It was a very memorable occasion getting back together with him for Box of Frogs. The thing about Jeff is that we always found he was well able to come in and wrap himself around anything we had written; he'd come in and put the melon on top - know what I mean? Quite honestly, in the fifteen-year gap since we last worked together that hasn't changed at all. There is a sort of chemical thing there, so much so that after all these years it still works.
He's so original, he just thinks from a totally different perspective: you never know quite where you're going with Jeff. He doesn't string notes together in the obvious ways; even if he has to play in a style that needs to be identifiable, he'll play it on the fretboard in such a way that it becomes totally original. For example, he has an ability to go from a low note to a high note like I've never seen anybody else do: you wonder how he's done it, you figure that there has to be an overdub, but he's doing it all at once. The quality of the notes and that actual sound that he gets is very identifiable, such a positive, rock-solid sound. And it just flows out of him.
JAN HAMMER on Working With a Guitar Manhandler
Keyboardist Jan Hammer played with Beck at the height of his fusion period, furnished Beck with tunes and mixed many of their joint efforts.
I would say Jeff's method of working is always pretty much the same: all very spontaneous and very natural, which is what makes him so special. There's very little thought involved, which always makes the best music. His sound is him, it's the hands, it's how he handles- or manhandles- a guitar. The tone doesn't live alone, it's not separated from the notes that he's playing. The distinctive quality comes partly from inspiration, obviously, and partly from the tone, but really from a combination of these elements as shaped by his hands.
I'm not a guitar player-I'm a very very amateur picker-but I can tell l one thing: he gets away with things that are totally illegal as far as how you should play. There are certain things that are not fast in a classical sense, where you say, Oh, this guy studied, he's got technique-like an AI DiMeola or a John McLaughlin, that kind of speed. But this guy gets by on such short cuts; it's astounding, you know, because he's obviously cheating, from a classical point of view. But I don't consider that cheating because I do the same thing- we're on the same wavelength. If there's a way to do something you see, why not do it that way?
That's what makes Beck so astounding, to the point where people will think he's playing two parts. I remember he played me some stuff once where there were two rhythm parts, some old Motown things. He played them for me himself. See, when he first heard them he didn't know that there were two rhythm guitarists doing two parts, so he just figured it out himself and learned to play both parts at once.
People talk about his ego, but I never really saw his ego at work: whenever there were troubles it was more because he wanted so much to be validated and accepted by his peers. Somehow, at certain times in his career, he didn't believe that he was making it, he felt he wanted to be good enough to impress any musician and he didn’t 't realize he was doing it. So he went through these introspective periods where he felt he had to pull back, even though it meant cancelling forty cities and blowing millions of dollars.
STANLEY CLARKE on Working With a True Artist
Stanley Clarke knows how to bend a few strings himself, and he 's had the chance to play with Beck on several studio dates as well as during a world tour.
The thing that I liked most about Jeff was that his music is very much like the way he is as a person, very exciting, pumped-up. When you 're around Jeff at his house, he's into his cars, kinda laidback; but once you get close to him and really know him well you can see that all that is a front-inside he's wild. But only on certain occasions, like when you're on tour, do you get to see that, the real Jeff. For me it was great to play with him, because I love people who have an overabundance of energy: sometimes when you play with musicians you get a feeling like you're wearing them down, and it makes you play less. But Jeff's got a well of energy. It's a shame the band we had never got to play the States.
The real genius of Jeff Beck is that he plays on the fact that he's not a schooled musician, and I think he's one of the few artists that has it really working for him the things he comes up with are truly spontaneous. If you sit with Jeff and try to talk with him about music, like if I was talking to somebody I went to school with, he'd say, Wait a minute, man, this guy here, are you sure he can play?
So you don't talk to about music. Any of the music we did together we never talked about, we just put it together, and the nice thing is that it's put together with the same care that a classical musician would take-the guy knows exactly what he wants to do. I remember one of my albums that he played on. He came into the studio at about one a.m., and I was blown out because I'd worked from twelve in the afternoon. So I said, Jeff, you've gotta get this thing in an hour, man, and he just said, No, mate. So they got the coffee up and I passed out, woke up at seven a.m. and the shit was there, it was burning. He just took the time, and you'll wait for him because you know that you 're gonna have something that you're gonna be listening to and digging as a fan. A true artist.
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