By now, you should be well aware of what I’m doing. If you’re not, then maybe this link will help you out. That’s the complete list, so far, of guitarists who are better than Hendrix.
The short version is that Hendrix receives many accolades and much praise that, frankly, he doesn’t deserve. It is my believe that “best guitarist” should be based on technical prowess, above all else.
The best guitarist isn’t about who liked who and what was popular. It’s not even about who had more influence. It’s about the technical mastery of their instrument, knowledge of music theory, ability to compose, and consistency in quality.
In fact, there are guitarists on this list that I really don’t prefer to listen to. However, they are on this list because they’re fantastic. They have mastered their instrument and bent the sound to their will. They have understood the instrument better than the rest. They have used the instrument to create works that are legendary.
Our next artist is no different.
#10 Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck hails from the United Kingdom and, frankly, he’s old. Man, he’s straight up ancient. He was born during WWII – he’s that old. He was born in 1944 in Wallington, England. He was born on the 24th of June, just 18 days after D-Day in Normandy France.
I’d like to make a witty connection between the two, but I can’t think of one. So, pretend I said something witty and laugh.
That’s one Mr. Jeff Beck and do you see that guitar? Well, for those of you who don’t play, that’s a Gibson Les Paul. That picture required some effort to find as he’s often seen playing a Fender Strat.
What can I say? He likes what he likes and he plays it well.
When Beck was was just six, he heard a fella by the name of Les Paul on the radio. The song he heard was “How High The Moon.” His mother told him that it was an electric guitar and all tricks. I’d like to assume he gave her the finger and said, “Fuck you, that’s for me.” However, I can’t find a citation for that.
The dimwitted, tone-deaf, pack of petulant children at Rolling Stone Magazine placed him at #5 on their list of greatest guitarists. Here’s a link if you want to read the mindless drivel they post as journalism and expect us to believe is insightful. If you don’t want to patronize their site, let me just say the only useful quote out of that keyboard smashing gibberish is quoted as follows:
It’s like he’s saying, “I’m Jeff Beck. I’m right here. And you can’t ignore me.”
The rest of the article is mostly pointless. But, that’s Rolling Stone for you. I’m kind of surprised they could even spell his name.
I’d like to list all the people Jeff Beck has played with, but that’d take too much time and I’m really not that energetic. Beck has played with everyone. Yes, he’s played with them too. I kind of suspect Beck will play with anyone, and I mean anyone. I’m half-tempted to see if I can get his phone number and see if he’ll come jam with me.
I’m not kidding. He’s played with Cyndi Lauper, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Susan Tedeschi, and pretty much everyone else. I figure you just call him up, insert a few tokens, wind him up, and he’ll play with you. That’d be pretty awesome, because he’s like a guitar playing machine.
When Beck was just a little tyke, he sang in a church choir and first learned to play guitar on a borrowed guitar. He actually tried to build his own guitars and they were miserable failures. Once, he tried to use the measurements from a bass guitar and another attempt saw him drawing frets on the neck. (I sometimes wonder if maybe he ate lead paint chips? Either way, he’s a brilliant guitarist – just probably not someone you’re going to want to invite over to help with your linear algebra homework.)
(Alright, after that last line, I’m going to guess that Jeff is never going to come jam with me. Don’t take it to heart, Beck – I still love your guitar work.)
Fine… Okay, so I will add that, unlike many other guitars so far on this list, Beck actually finished school and he went on to attend college. Granted, it was an art school – but at least he went to school. Of course, this qualified him to spray-paint cars, decorate homes, and work as a landscaper at a golf course.
A certain cynical someone, someone old and probably farts a lot (that’s not a fart joke, trust me) is probable best suited to dig into the very strange happenings that came next. I am not even going to attempt to do it justice.
So, we have a Beck and he’s finished art school. Somewhere prior to this, his sister had introduced him to one Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame. (I shouldn’t have to explain that, but I’m trying to be sort of complete.)
During his time in art school, he played for a succession of bands that I’ve never actually heard of and don’t seem like they are of great importance. Seem…
Looks can be deceiving, my dear readers! Oh, how they can be.
What if I told you he played for a band named Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages?
Well, you’d probably call me an idiot and say that there was no such thing. And my, how very, very wrong you’d be. See for yourself!
Go on… I’m not kidding. Click that link. I’ll wait…
Done? Yeah, everyone from the aforementioned Jimmy Page to Ritchie Blackmore. You might not know those names by sight – but you may very well be familiar with some of their work.
When I said Beck has played with everyone, I wasn’t kidding. He’s played with Tina Turner, for fuck’s sake.
It gets better.
That Jimmy Page fella? Yeah, he was in a band called The Yardbirds and you might remember a previous entry about a guy named Eric Clapton? (You can read what I said about the third greatest guitarist here.) Well, Slowhand left The Yardbirds and Page recommended that they enlist the help of Jeff Beck.
Side note: Beck, Page, and Clapton all were in the top 5 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. I don’t give their list much weight, but that’s actually one of their bits of drivel that kind of makes sense if you eat a lot of acid and snort too much cocaine. They are all phenomenal guitarists and Page will absolutely be on this list – assuming the list lasts that long.
I gotta be frank and tell you that I’m not actually a huge fan of a lot of Beck’s music. He tries to innovate and tries to make a wide variety of sounds. I like what I like and a good portion of his work is not stuff that I like.
I respect him as a musician and an artist. I also recognize his talent and complete understanding of the instrument, as well as his ability to compose, and his understanding of music theory. He truly puts together works that I can’t fault – but I just can’t like them.
This is not saying that I dislike them – it’s saying that they aren’t my preference. I can’t remember the last time I sought out a Beck song on my playlist. I have some. I have quite a bit. I don’t skip them. I just don’t seek them out.
I hope that makes sense? It makes sense in my head, but I’m told that’s not actually a very good measurement.
Now, I haven’t taken the time to do this with other entries, but I want to do so with Beck – because it’s interesting. You readers who actually play guitar may want to pay a little bit of attention.
Beck, like a few others, doesn’t use a pick. (We’ll get back to that. Lesson time.)
Brief Lesson: Many guitarists haven’t had any formal training. A pick is more properly known as a plectrum (pl. plectra). That’s a fancy Latin word meaning, “tool with which to make a bitchin’ solo.” Nah, it just means a tool used to pick or strum a stringed instrument. Even a harpsichord has plectra. They’re on the spinning thingy (technical term) that turn and pluck strings.
Anyhow, as many guitarists haven’t had formal training they’re unlikely to have learned that it’s a plectrum.
They’re also prone to calling the whammy bar the ‘tremolo bar.’ I’ve mentioned it before, but the whammy bar is not tremolo. It’s vibrato. Tremolo is a cyclic fluctuation in volume and vibrato is a cyclic fluctuation in pitch. They’re not even remotely the same things.
It’s not a “trem block.” There’s no tremolo system on your guitar. If you want tremolo on your guitar, strike a chord and then turn the volume up and down, over and over again, and that’s tremolo.
And, back to our story…
Beck makes great use of his fingers and the vibrato system. He also makes use of a wah-wah pedal. For the most part, that and his gear are pretty much what he relies on. He gets all those tones, all that variation, all those sounds by just using some very basic gear.
Sometimes, you’ll catch him using a fuzz box, echo, and distortion. Eric Clapton said, “With Jeff, it’s all in his hands.” And, as far as guitarists go, that’s a pretty small list of effects. My performance pedal station may have upwards of two dozen pedals on it, and sometimes more. Though, I suppose there’s a reason you know Jeff’s name and not mine.
He is typically seen playing a Fender Strat, but he sometimes plays a Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul. He’s been known to play his trusty old Fender Esquire and has even played a Gretsch. His usual amplification gear is Fender or Marshall amps. He will frequently use Fender amps but then push them through Marshall stacks. That’s pretty bog standard and a fairly generic setup.
I say it’s a generic setup for a reason. If you’re unfamiliar with Beck, then you’ll want to click some of the videos I link to. He does all that – with pretty standard stuff. He truly is a master of his instrument and there’s absolutely a number of valid reasons to place him on this list and to place him this high on the list.
Oh, man… Awards? Yeah, he’s won a few. He’s been recognized in all the unimportant ‘greatest guitarist’ lists. Now, he’s being recognized on my list, which I’m 100% positive will make him happier about his life’s work.
That’s right, Beck. You’re tenth on my list of the greatest guitarists. You walk with legends and guitar gods. You are anointed and placed upon a pedestal, to reign over guitarists. If ever anyone doubts your credentials as a guitarist, you can point them to this very site and say, “TheBuddha put me in 10th place. Take that, fuck face!”
And I’m pretty sure that wins all arguments. All of them!
On a more serious note, I mentioned that Rolling Stone put him in 5th – which is a fine place. He’s truly great. He’s also won 8 Grammy Awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not once, but twice. Importantly, I’m distinctly not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (I’m pretty popular at the bingo hall, however!)
By the way, even before Beck played for The Yardbirds, one Ian Stewart (you know, from the Rolling Stones – not to be mistaken for the idiots with the magazine) introduced him to Rhythm And Blues and he played that even before he played with the Yardbirds. I am not shitting you when I say that Beck’s played with everyone.
All this is well and good, but why is he really on this list? I’d like to show you – but I have to ask you to do me a favor. I’d like you to listen to all of the three songs (and I’ll include one for the road that’s optional) and it will take you for a walk through his musical ability. There’s a reason for the order (for once) and a madness to my method! (Or is that a method to my madness?)
This first song is a song called Pork Pie Hat and is a cover of a song originally done by a fella named Charles Mingus. I want to introduce you to this as the starting point. This is from the album Wired which was recorded in 1976 – when he was still using a pick. Give it a listen:
I don’t really like this next song – but my liking it is distinctly not a requirement. Note that he’s lost his pick somewhere and seemingly decided to just give up trying to find a new one.
Now, I want you to suffer through the first three minutes of this song. It might be hard but it’s worth it. You can cheat and skip to about 2:45, but that’s taking away half the fun. This song is called Guitar Shop and is from an album by the same name.
By now, you’re probably mortified and are wondering how the fuck did he end up on my list and why does everyone rate him so highly? Well, believe it or not, that’s actually not easy to replicate. No, that’s on the list of songs I’m not going to put in a set list.
No, I’m not kidding. He really belongs on this list – and could have even been higher on this list.
Alright, I’ll stop fucking with you. Let’s show you why he’s really on this list. I don’t think I need to introduce this piece.
You should probably listen to this one, as well. Just trust me – I know it’s more than my usual three.
Ready for the kicker? He was like 70 years old in that video. Yeah, he’s 70 and still playing like that. Well, he’s older now.
And, this is the one for the road. It’ll take you a while to listen to it, but it’s worth it. Beck (and some more folks) will join in playing as it progresses.
If you have a guitarist you’d like to have me review, add their name as a comment. When my list starts to run low, I’ll give them a listen and write about them, assuming they make the grade.
I enjoy writing these and I’m a little surprised that I am enjoying this as much as I am. I expected to get bored of this but I’m still enjoying this series. I’m happy to see the comments and the number of folks who visit. I learn stuff as I research the artists. Some of this stuff is stuff that I already know, but much of it is new.
It takes a few hours of research and another couple to write them, I’d guess. I do a rough draft and then work my way out. Some articles are longer than other articles and I’m not really sure about what formats I prefer. So, they’re not really consistent in their formatting – though they appear to be settling down.
Remember, the guitar gives you back what you put into it. The more you practice, the better you become. That music doesn’t come from the soul, it comes from years of learning to master your craft. The artists I’ve featured are all masters of their instrument. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!