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(Credit: Mandy Hall)

Music

Jeff Beck names his favourite guitarists and early inspirations

For such a prominent and well-respected guitarist, it could be argued that Jeff Beck somewhat went under the radar, especially compared to his contemporaries, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Beck is certainly a more than well known name in the world of rock, but up next to the other big names, he is maybe not the first that springs to mind when the question of ‘who is the best guitarist of the 20th Century’ is raised.

Beck made a name for himself when he replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in 1965. He was only in the band for a short while, though they recorded some of their biggest hits with Beck in the group, including ‘Heart Full of Soul’. After leaving The Yardbirds, Beck went on to form his own band, The Jeff Beck Group, before turning his back on rock and pop altogether and experimenting in the mid-1970s with jazz and funk elements.

Beck was a guitar pioneer, sometimes referred to as the ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ and was one of the first musicians to experiment with feedback, fuzz and distortion using the six-string. He went on to collaborate with the likes of Stevie Wonder and never stuck to one method of playing, consistently evolving his style throughout the decades.

Discussing some of his favourite guitarists in an interview on BBC Radio 2, Beck said, “There was Scotty Moore from Elvis’ band. ‘Hound Dog.’ ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ there is an amazing solo in that. Bill Haley & His Comets. Gene Vincent, you know. They were all amazingly individual and had their own sound and style. Buddy Holly.”

Commenting on the role that the guitar would go on to play in popular music, Beck added, “It was rocket-propelled from 1954 to today. I never thought that guitar would sustain for so long, and everybody knows what a Stratocaster is, which is quite amazing.”

Beck also said that the Fender Stratocaster is his favourite guitar, saying, “It does what I want. It’s infinitely variable in its tone and capabilities with the spring-loaded bridge and all that. Thanks very much Leo [Fender, who designed the guitar]!”

Beck has recently been on tour with Johnny Depp in the UK, while Depp was celebrating the outcome of his highly publicised defamation trial against his former wife, Amber Heard.

Beck also revealed in the interview that his pioneering use of distortion was something of an accident. He said, “We played larger venues, around about ’64, ’65, and the PA was inadequate so we cranked up the level and found out that the feedback would happen. Pete Townshend had found it, discovered it, and has it on ‘My Generation’, and then I started using it, and because it was controllable, you could play tunes with it.”

Beck’s use of distortion amazed audiences, and he revealed that after playing Staines Town Hall with The Yardbirds one night, someone came up to him and said, “you know that funny noise that wasn’t meant to be in there? I’d keep that in if I were you.” Beck replied, “It was deliberate mate, go away.” Fortunately, Beck has kept the ‘accidental’ sound that he would be acclaimed for in his tone ever since.