Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew
One Two listens to Stratists Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew and Richard Thompson. Plus a Hendrix compilation.
A Fabulous Foursome open up about the pros and cons of the Strat. In fresh interviews, carried out this month, Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew and Richard Thompson reveal why they are addicted to a certain 30 year old. And we take a retrospective look at comments from the man who influenced them — Jimi Hendrix.
Why a Strat originally? "When I was a kid with me first Fender I thought I'd fry something up electronically by lodging the switch in between pickups. But I learnt it was just straddling the pickup switching. Nobody had that sound, and then I heard Gene Vincent's records: Johnny Meeks must have had that between pick-ups combination, it was just so wildly modulated. He turned me on to the Strat in the first place — those records are supreme. All the solos are still great, they're all rounded off, they all tell a story, they all fit the mood of the song perfectly. Beats me how they ever got guys to play like that. I always remember the early Fender catalogue I had sent. It was on a ritzy, embossed sort of paper, and I thought these guitars must cost a thousand quid. I found out they were only £147 — I couldn't see myself being able to get hold of the money, even if I sold everything I had. In the end I got it on HP."
Transition Early Yardbirds, used Clapton's cast-off red Tele. Bought Esquire from John Walker (Walker Bros) used till last few months in Yardbirds. Then Les Paul (used again later on "Blow By Blow" and "Wired"). From "Beck-Ola" onwards used Stratocaster.
Stratocasters "I've got an original '54 that's been stripped down to bare wood, that's the one I used with (Rod) Stewart. It's been changed a bit — it's not too important. But the one I really cherish is a '54 which has the serial number 0062 on the back. That's the one I look after — I don't even take it on the road, which is why I've got the Grover Jackson Strat to cover. But if I had to burn one of the guitars it would be that, not the Strat."
Others Grover Jackson Strat.
Selector Toggle "The half-way between 1 and 2 is a needly sort of sound but still has the throw, like Buddy Guy, he used that a lot. I like that, or the front pickup. If you go the other way and use the centre and bridge one you end up sounding like Dire Straits. Which is great."
Amp "Always Marshall, I would think, depends on what you want to do. If you want a really super-clean rhythm sound with loads of punch and no distortion you use a Fender, like Buddy Holly did. He didn't sound half-bad, did he? In fact I've never heard another sound like it — he must have been some kind of electrician or something."
Tremolo "It's like the gear-stick on a car, you have to have it. I jammed with Eric (Clapton) once and, unbeknownst to me, he handed the black Strat to me that he uses and I think he'd glued down the arm! He never dreamt of using it. To me the tonal flexibility of that arm is the whole point."
Showcase "We had a really shitty version of 'Goin' Down' in '71 with the Bobby Tench outfit, Cozy and that. That wasn't a half bad concept as a solo, a lot of arm. I wouldn't really want to tell you that was my favourite, it's just one where I started to get back into my stride with the Strat again."
Why a Strat originally? "I decided I wanted a Fender in '68 or '69. I tried a Tele and I didn't really get on with it. The Strat was much more what I wanted. I used to like the sound that Buddy Holly used to get. I think I saw Peter Green playing a Strat and I was very impressed with the sound he got, although I'm not really a blues player. Just the tone he got seemed really tremendous. I think Fenders are generally very clean guitars, the Strat's more an electric guitar than Gibson ever was, a clean break. It was a matter of looking at a solid guitar from scratch without necessarily referring to guitar-making traditions."
Stratocaster Hybrid 1955 neck/1957 body. "I've had it about 10 years. In those days it was £200. I was moving on from another Stratocaster I had, a '62. I wanted another one as a spare, but the new one seemed a lot better than the one I was using, so I ended up getting rid of the other one. I haven't changed anything on it, except removing the volume knob. And I wanted to have a tone over-ride on the treble pickup position, to take that little bit of treble off, so I slightly rewired it. The wiring? It's a trade secret, I'm not allowed to say. I wouldn't change that guitar, as such. I might change guitars if a better one came out. But my Strat has nothing wrong with it."
Others "Thinking" about a custom-built electric.
Selector Toggle "I've a three-way, but I tend to jam it between 2 and 3. I've never got round to actually getting a five-way. It stays more or less there — it's hard to find in the middle of playing. I think I only use two positions as a rule — between 2 and 3, and number three alone. The treble pickup has that real hard Fender treble; between 2 and 3 is that hollow sound which is tonally balanced without a predominance of bass or treble — very useful. As long as I've used a Fender I've mostly used that sound."
Amp "It seems to work best with a good valve amp — I use an old Fender mostly. Touring, sometimes I use a Music Man which works well with it."
Trem "Mine works pretty well on two springs, remarkably in tune. I've had some terrible ones. Obviously the tremolo unit leaves a lot to be desired; better ones definitely are made, especially in the last five years. At an exorbitant price!"
For/Against "I like the simplicity of the controls — I personally like a lack of tone control. I think if the guitar has the right sound, that's all it needs. It's like amps: I don't like a lot of circuitry to it. On original Fenders the bridges leave a lot to be desired — Fender have since improved them, because other companies have pushed them in that direction by marketing separate hardware. The bridges can be tricky to adjust on the originals, with that dinky little Allen key.
Showcase "Probably something live — the half-live album on Island ("guitar, vocal") has a couple of tracks where the Strat opens up. I'd point to 'Calvary Cross'.
Why a Strat originally? "Oh well, probably Jimi Hendrix I'd say. There are some things you can do with Stratocasters that I find you can't do with other guitars. I always liked the balance of them, the way they felt, the placement of the volume knob, the tremolo, and also the interesting pickup configuration, where you can get the middle sounds between two pickups which you couldn't really get on any other guitar."
Stratocasters 1967 ("as far as I can trace from the serial number") with some mods, primarily Seymour Duncan "Stack" pickups and Kahler tremolo added. "I got it in 1977 after the first Frank Zappa American tour, someone stole my Strat. That wasn't so bad because it was a regular, factory, stock Stratocaster. It was a blessing in disguise — I got this one which has been my love ever since. Seymour Duncan has replaced the entire guts with something where the pickup configuration is obviously older than the body.
Others Pair of Duncan-customised Fender Mustangs (with Roland guitar synth electronics).
Selector Toggle "I vary it quite often. With the old Stratocaster I have, the bass pickup is losing its windings but I haven't had it fixed because it's such an interesting sound. It's a very weedy sound, about half the volume, but I use it for different rhythmic things, it's very metallic sounding. I also use it for the solo on 'Ideal Woman' from the 'Twang Bar King' album, a very bluesy-type solo which sounds extremely high-end. I use that mainly as an effect; often I go for the middle pickup.
Amp "With these Seymour Duncan pickups, which I suppose are humbucking pickups, you only get the sound of one side, so it still sounds essentially like a single-coil. There's a little bit of high-end loss, but it doesn't affect me too much because I use Roland Jazz Chorus amps which are pretty bright to begin with.
Twang Bar "Well, I had lots of trouble for years and years with Strat tremolos. The most common breakage was the arm into the trem unit which meant a reverse drill to get it out. It got ridiculous on the very first King Crimson British tour; I suddenly discovered a man named Dave Storey, an English fella who now lives here, and he'd designed the Kahler tremolo arm. I love 'em — no problem. A very high recommendation!"
Feedback "It just seems so natural coming out of a Strat: I can almost feel the wood of the guitar vibrate in sympathy to the note. The key to it is gain, first, with a fuzz or something, and then eq — otherwise you just get noise and grunge. So I use a graphic, say an MXR 10-band, and boost the mids around 500 Hz and some of the bass. Plus compression, of course. Then there's bending the actual neck; the wood against wood tension somehow really gets the guitar going like crazy."
Showcase Between-pickup rhythm sound: "Naive Guitar" on his "Rhino" LP, and "Heartbeat". Feedback: "Indiscipline" from King Crimson "Discipline" LP.
Originally: "Before I can remember anything I can remember music and stars and planets. I could go to sleep and write 15 symphonies. I had very strange feelings that I was here for something and I was going to get a chance to be heard. I got the guitar together 'cos that was all I had. I used to be really lonely." ("Life" October 1969)
Stratocasters: Initially, mainly new 1967 or 1968 models. By spring 1967 had already been through six Strats — two stolen, two others "fogged up on him", leaving two for gigs. One report has him explaining that left-handed Strats would be no good for him: they can't be as good, he figured, because there aren't as many made ("Beat Instrumental" May 1967). "I play a Fender Stratocaster with fender light-gauge strings, using a regular E-string for a B, and sometimes a tenor A for a little E, to get my kind of sound on the Stratocaster. Put the strings on slightly harder so they can ring louder." ("Disc" 1968?)
Others: Pre-Strat: Danelectro (bought for him by his father, Al Hendrix); Epiphone (15th birthday replacement). Post-Strat: also toyed with Gibson Flying V, Gibson Les Paul (eg "House Burning Down"), Fender Telecaster, a few Rickenbackers, and a Hofner six-string (eg "Red House").
Influence: "Well I don't like to get hung up on one guitarist because I always feel kinda unfaithful when I move on to someone else. I should say that my influences were B B King and Elmore James." ("Beat Instrumental" March 1967)
Amp: "On-stage I use two Marshall and two Sound City 100 watt amplifiers... each amplifier has four 4x12 cabinets. But the secret of my sound is largely the electronic genius of our tame boffin, who is known as Roger 'The Valve'. He has rewired my guitars in a special way to produce an individual sound..." ("Music Maker" February 1968)
Burn: "I think of people who say that setting your guitar on fire has nothing to do with music, as cellophane, bags and bags of cellophane... Have you ever thought of lighting cellophane on fire? There's no need to." ("Rolling Stone" March 1968)
Showcase: Between-pickups sounds: "Little Wing". Tremolo: theme and solo on "Third Stone From The Sun". Feedback: "Star Spangled Banner" ("Woodstock" live version). And most other things he played.
Interview by Tony Bacon
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