Posts Tagged ‘jeff beck’

Awhile back, I wrote an article extolling the musical prowess of Jeff Beck, and how he’s the full musical package; how he possesses an insane ability to make his guitar sound like nothing anybody else can duplicate. I know that’s a rather bold statement, but all you need to do is a search on Jeff Beck, and watch videos and you’ll see what I mean.

But aside from Beck’s technique and musical sense, there’s a practical side of him that I also appreciate, and what compelled me to write this second article on him. In the latest issue of Guitar Player magazine (June 2010), Jeff Beck talks about the virtues of using a low wattage amp, not only in the studio, but on stage as well.  In fact, he said that most of his new album was recorded with a 50’s Fender Champ!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken at length of using low wattage amps and attenuators on medium-power amps to get the tubes working. It’s a real affirmation to hear that someone like Jeff Beck is doing the same. Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview:

“Some people can’t do without lots of volume to get their tone, but I think if you can’t get it without four million watts, something’s wrong. Because a mic doesn’t read volume, it reads tone.”

When asked about whether the small-amp/less-volume concept could work for live playing…

“By using the P.A. to act in the way it was designed – which is play at low level and use all the distortion and whatever else you need, but make sure you don’t come out louder than the side-fill monitors or the front wedges – you can blow the house down, and I’ve done it.”

Beck went on to say that when he played with SRV, he used a 20 Watt Fender Twin, while SRV used “a rig that looked like an amp shop” and Stevie asked him, “What the hell are you using? Are your amps under the stage?” “Nope, that’s it right there,” replied Beck.

Then he went on to say in the interview, “Most of the time, though, you can get away with a couple of Champs – one clean, one distorted – and use the clean one to get more definition.”

The statement that really hit me in the interview was the following:

“The louder the stuff is on stage, probably the worse it’s going to end up sounding. Your hearing goes, your pitch goes, and yo ucan’t really hear any depth of field. If you have to question whether it’s too lout, then it is too loud. The power has to be there, but without the level.

This coming from someone who, over his career, has played HUGE arenas! The more I find out about Jeff Beck, the more I appreciate both his musical genius and his wisdom about delivering that music. Simply amazing.

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Pick up one of the major guitar mags, and you might think that to be considered a “good” guitar player nowadays you have to be able to shred it up playing 64th notes up and down the fretboard non-stop. I know, that’s a bit of an exagerration, but the major mags’ focus on shred disenfranchises a very large sector of the guitar-playing population that either can’t play that fast, has no interest in that kind of music, or want to focus on other things rather than speed – like musicality and expressiveness.

Hands-down, Jeff Beck has earned the right to be called a Guitar God. No one sounds like him, and while many people have been able to glean certain Jeff Beck techniques, and can get somewhat close to what he can do with a guitar, duplicating his style of playing is next to impossible. But I’m not here to talk about technique. I’m here to talk about the whole musical package that Jeff Beck delivers in his guitar playing. It’s pure magic. He’s not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but his ability to communicate with his audience through his playing is unrivaled.

Sound like a bunch of hyperbole? Just watch the video below. But don’t just observe what he’s doing with his left hand, which really isn’t all that difficult. Look at what he’s doing with his right hand, manipulating the tremolo bar and volume and tone knobs to achieve different voicings. That’s the magic in the performance of the song! No one does it as well!

Let me be absolutely clear here: The things that Jeff Beck does with his right hand while playing aren’t just parlor tricks to show off. They’re done to ellicit specific responses from his guitar, and make it sing like no one else can. To me, being a good guitar player isn’t just about technique; it’s about getting your message across. As Albert King once said (and I’m paraphrasing Steven Segal here), “The challenge [speaking in reference to the blues, but can be applied to any style of music] is to get your message across in as few notes as possible.” Sometimes that takes a bunch of notes; more often than not though, you can say the same thing with just a few, but express them in a such a way to make your point.

I’m of the school of thought that playing music is having a conversation with your audience. The best conversationalists do it with an economy of language, fully conscious not only of their glossary of terms, but the expression and inflection that goes along with communicating.

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