No-one wrings more pure emotion from an electric guitar than the inimitable Jeff Beck. Douglas Noble dissects his licks, scales, whammy and harmonics techniques and more
Though Jeff Beck has never enjoyed as high a profile as his ex-Yardbirds cohorts Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, he wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘I was determined not to devote my entire life to my career,’ he once explained. ‘In the last 22 or 24 years, I’ve stolen at least half of that for myself.
‘I don’t think I want to practise too much – it depresses me. I get good speed, but then I start playing nonsense because I’m not thinking. A good layoff makes me think a lot. It helps me get the creativity and the speed together.’ A major turning point in Beck‘s playing came when he abandoned his pick around the time of 1980’s There And Back. ‘I kept dropping it from being drunk a bit – a lot! – and in the end I just carried on with my thumb and fingers. One night I realised I’d done half an hour without it. The whole audience was waiting for me to pick it up, and I thought, ‘Sod ‘em!”‘ Beck frequently makes use of harmonics in his playing, an early example being the breaks on Jeff’s Boogie, an instrumental recorded with the Yardbirds and based on Chuck Berry‘s Guitar Boogie. ‘I had heard Merle Travis and Chet Atkins using harmonics. They would slip in an extra octave harmonic, which would sound great. On Guitar Shop I took harmonics even further on Where Were You and played whole phrases in harmonics with the bar.’