Jeff Beck is one of the most innovative guitar players of all time and perhaps the one musician that took the Stratocaster tone to another level. His playing techniques, composition style, and tone stand out so much that he is considered “a guitarist’s guitarist.” Being a massive fan of his records, I will share how to get his tone in this Jeff Beck Bio and Gear list.
If you are a guitar player, surely you know who Jeff Beck is and the massive success of his 1974 album “Blow by Blow.” A purely instrumental Album that reached No. 4 on American Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. Before his solo career, Jeff Beck was part of ‘The Yardbirds’ replacing Eric Clapton and the leader of `The Jeff Beck Group” with none other than Rod Steward on vocals.
Beyond his commercially successful career, he is a legend among guitarists because of how he blended multiple genres and pioneered jazz-rock, fusion, instrumental rock, and part of hard rock. In Jimmy Page’s words, “He’d just keep getting better and better, ad he leaves us-mere mortals.”
5 Things You Need to Know About Jeff Beck
- He has been inducted twice in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a Yardbird member and as a solo artist.
- He is well known for using the tremolo arm of his Stratocaster extensively and making the technique part of his compositions.
- He plays exclusively with his fingers.
- He won 6 Grammy awards for “Best Rock Instrumental Album.”
- He is ranked number 5 on the ‘Greatest guitar players of all time” Rolling Stones list.
Jeff Beck Guitars – The Stratocaster
The main guitar Jeff Beck is known for is his American Stratocaster. His signature model features a thin modern C-neck, rosewood neck, two-point synchronized tremolo, and noiseless Fender pickups. He also uses Telecasters and Les Pauls. However, it’s important to cover more first on his Strat, which he made part of his sound.
Jeff Beck is famous for using all the sonic possibilities a Strat offers and influencing other players to do so. In particular, the whammy bar is built to be overly abused and still keep the guitar in tune flawlessly. All good Strat have impeccable tuning stability; Jeff Beck’s strat or signature models go beyond that. There are live shows where he furiously plays the same guitar for an entire one-hour set and never tunes it!
Some of his guitars have a reverse headstock that puts less tension on the E and B strings, making bending easier.
A unique feature of his Strat is the contoured heel that makes access to higher frets easier. Considering how much use he makes of the guitar’s higher octave, this feature truly helps to make the Strat more prone to shredding. The thinner than standard neck profile makes the guitar very easy to play, especially if you play technical lead parts.
Apart from some unique features, the Strats Jeff Beck uses on stage and recording look and sound like any other premium US-made one. The secret to his tone lies in the unique ways he blended his dynamics playing with the instrument, which is extremely hard to imitate.
Not only playing dynamically with his finger, but he also uses all possible combinations of tone, volume, and pickup positions that work exceptionally well with a Stratocaster.
Jeff Beck’s Stratocaster Pickups
Using high gain on single coils generally leads to noise and feedback. To avoid this and keep the unique snappy sound while playing on high gain, you can use Fender-fitted Hot Noiseless Single-Coil Pickups.
Many players switched to humbuckers because of the “hum” noise and massive feedback of single coils. In the old days, it was hard to avoid noise on stage, and all Strats had some kind of noise in one of the pickup positions. The noiseless pickups by Fender are a great solution to that, but how genuine are they when it comes to the single-coil tone?
Noiseless pickups are essentially humbuckers but sound and look like single coils. They are designed as humbuckers and have a slightly warmer and more sustained tone that is not as snappy as classic single-coils. The snappy attack and bright nuance of single coils are still there, very much present, however not as in a vintage Strat or Tele.
Considering the many genres Jeff Beck blends inside a set or song, it’s expected that he needs flexibility in his tone. A standard single-coil other than making noise might sound “too thin” when you are the band’s only guitarist that needs the power to fill the stage.
Did Jeff Beck use other guitars apart from the Stratocaster?
It’d be hard even to imagine Jeff Beck using anything other than his many Strats or rarely Teles.
Jeff Beck’s Telecasters
While playing with ‘The Yardbirds,” the Esquire Telecaster was his first ‘serious’ electric guitar. Before that, he had to borrow a Telecaster from Eric Clapton while on tour.
Another noticeable in Telecaster named “Dragon” was Jeff’s main guitar for years before gifting it to Jimmy Page in 1958.
This is the actual guitar Jimmi Page used to record “Led Zeppelin” on the “Stairway to Heaven” guitar solo. So in one way or another, Jeff affected how that Iconic solo sounds.
A very special Telecaster that PAFs was used for most of the recordings in “Blow by Blow.” The blend of the Telecaster body with a warm Gibson style tone gave the guitar the name “Tele-Gib.”
The guitar has a unique story being handed to Beck by Seymor Duncan with the Neck that initially belonged to Lonnie Mack’s Flying V.
Jeff Beck’s Les Pauls
The oxblood was Beck’s main guitar for years when he first started his solo career in the 70s. You can recall it as the guitar in the “Blow by Blow” album cover.
It’s safe to say the limited reissue model of the Oxblood is one of the finest Les Pauls ever made, even though one of the most expensive.
The 59 Les Paul is, for many, the holy grail of electric guitars. Its legacy became so notorious that the price of any genuine 59 Les Paul is beyond what a guitar would typically sell for. You can find one for anything from 5000$-300.000.
Why did Jeff Beck switch to a Stratocaster?
As he stated in an interview
“It doesn’t feel like a guitar at all. It’s an implement that is my voice. “A Les Paul feels like a guitar and I play differently on that and I sound too much like someone else. “With the Strat, instantly it becomes mine, so that’s why I’ve welded myself to that.
Jeff Beck’s Amplifiers
Even though his music is very complex and intricate, Jeff Beck’s rig is not that complex. Being part of the British revolution of the 60s, his initial choice of the amp was similar to many of his pears using Vox and Marshall amps.
Through the many amp models he used and still uses, some of the most notable are the following.
Introduced in 1958 to satisfy the need for a louder amplifier in the early days of rock, the AC30 was a stable for guitarists of the time.
This classic tube amp’s many reissues share the vintage clean tone and crunchy overdrive typical of 60s UK guitar heroes. Jeff Beck and most British players used at a point AC30.
The Plexi tone is another staple of the 60s curated by some of the best players of all time. For decades, this amp’s iconic wild crunchy tone and other similar models like the Super Lead 1000 defined rock music.
As rock got bigger, more powerful amps were needed to bring the guitar alive on stage. Needing more power to fit his heavier tunes Jeff Beck naturally oriented to Marshalls, that we’re the best at it.
Later on, in the 90s, he switched to mainly using a JCM2000 DSL50, an overall improved version of the JTM45.
During the period, Beck focused on blues rock and toured with Steve Ray Vaughan; his main amp was the Fender Twin Reverb, which few times is or heard in blues gigs.
This amp has a full clean tone for which Fender amps are well known. This well-balanced amp sounds amazing when used pedals in front and goes from totally clean to wildly overdriven instantly.
A recent addition to Beck’s live gigging rig is the Fender Vibrion-King. This amp can achieve both super clean and “edge of breakup” tones that work exceptionally well in a blues and rock context.
It looks and feels like a vintage amp, but it’s a 1993 release. As with all the amps in the list, Jeff Beck prefers those with a full clean tone that can be shaped into dynamic overdrive. It has a built-in vibrato, reverb, and a fat switch that can be controlled with a pedal.
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Effect Pedals
First and foremost, Jeff Beck is a classic rock guitar hero, so his pedalboard continuously changed as he progressed into new genres of sounds and from record to record.
One thing to notice is that his signal chain was never very complex. Most of his records and live shows are played using relatively few effects. His playing philosophy focuses on what he can do using his hands rather than his feet.
Even though many things changed, some of the most renowned pedals he used are the following.
This overdrive pedal has achieved legendary status among rock guitarists for decades now. It’s a straightforward pedal that saturates the signal just enough to get the edge of breakup tone Jeff Beck uses often.
Unlike a distortion pedal, the Klon Centaur is not that saturated and leaves more space for dynamics. The original ones are rare and expensive; however, there are many reissues you can purchase today.
The Proco Rat 2 is another Classic pedal used extensively by guitarists in the early days of rock.
It’s a unique distortion pedal that Jeff Beck uses to this day to get a fat fuzzy tone for leads and rhythm. The higher you get the filter up, the more it cuts the highs and darkens the tone. You can essentially have the brightest guitar, such as the Tele or Strat, and make them fuzzy and warm.
Other greats, such as David Gilmour, used the RAT for its unique tone.
This MXR distortion pedal often replaces the RAT in Beck’s Pedalboard. It serves the same function as the RAT but sounds slightly more articulate and modern.
It’s more advanced than the RAT as it offers a more detailed EQ and far more valuable gain for heavy rock and metal. It’s very dynamic and genuine, making it a perfect replacement for the RAT.MXR pedals fall into the expensive category but beat the most modern competition in tone and versatility.
The Echoplex is a straightforward delay pedal that emulates the EP-3 tape echo unit with a hi-fi all-analog dry path.
A great feature of this page is the age control which helps make the delay brighter or darker.
MKII is a classic pedal used to emulate the sound of rotating Leslie speakers. In the 60s and 70s, Leslies were very popular, and their tone is still alive today.
It has a fast and slow mode, rotor balance controls, and individual knobs for drive and output’ All it needs to deliver for vintage tone addicts.
According to one of his Guitar Tech, Beck uses this rever pedal when doing his solo tours. Apart from sounding great, this pedal has multiple features that make it useful in every kind of setting.
You can control the decay, damping, and pick between a room, plate, or spring reverb.
What is impressive is that there is no personalized or over-complex ‘special” fx that Beck uses when performing live. All of the pedals and amps he uses are limited to just the main categories most working musicians use in concert.
As a performing guitarist, I am guilty of using more complex gear than Jeff Becks while not getting close to the vast palette of sounds he brings out from his Strat.
All this said, even though the tone is “in the hands,” having similar gear helps to get you close to the nuance of Jeff Beck’s sound.
Question: How to get the Jeff Beck tone on a budget?
Answer: You could achieve a similar feel with a budget clean amp, Squire Stratocaster, and a few pedals. Unlike many guitarist’s tones, achieving the Jeff Beck tone is mainly related to the playing technique.
Question: Does Jeff Beck play in standard tuning?
Answer: Yes, most of his discography is played in standard tuning, apart from some tracks played half-step down.
Question: What kind of slide does Jeff Beck use?
Answer: He plays a regular glass slide.
Final Notes on Jeff Beck Bio and Gear List
Jeck Beck is the personification of the old saying, “the tone is in the hands.” The true essence of his tone is a blend of a not-so-complex rig and all the possible dynamics a player can get out of the guitar.
As a rock pioneer, his gear over the years represents the evolution of the electric guitar tone, from rare gear to a common affordable one.
My main tip for you is to start trying to achieve his tone using the gear you already have and slowly purchase the gear as you get the hand of his playing technique.
In this Jeff Beck bio and gear list, I’ll share everything you need to know to get remotely close to sounding like him and imitate his style.