Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Jeff Beck. He doesn’t know this, but it’s been a one-way relationship of pure joy. I’ve known for years what a monster player he is and how he pretty much transcends all other electric guitarists in terms of the emotional range he can express on his instrument.
I knew he plays with his fingers, rather than a pick, and uses the volume control, tone control, pickup selector, and whammy bar in a uniquely interactive fashion to create tones reminiscent of the human voice—crying, shouting, and a myriad of others. I knew he uses a Strat, a Marshall, and a handful of effects, which he judiciously applies as required. But it has only been in the last few months that I really started to gain a deeper appreciation of the man and his music. This realization occurred when I decided to attempt to perform a few of his tunes with a new trio here in New Zealand.
The idea of providing an in-depth dissection of all the components that go into Jeff Beck’s sound would require an essay that extends far beyond the space available in a State of the Stomp page. Then there’s that pesky genius factor too—it’s tricky to try and break that one down. (If anyone knows how, be sure to let me know!)
For this column, I’m just going to look at one facet of Beck’s sound: gain and how he manipulates it with his guitar’s volume knob. Let’s look at this with particular attention to Beck’s tone on the Live at Ronnie Scott’s DVD and album that came out a few years ago.