• Understand the key elements
of Jeff Beck’s unique style.
• Learn how to use rhythmic
motifs to create interesting
• Create vocal-sounding melodies
using the vibrato bar.
Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.
In my previous column, [October 2012,“Beck’s Blues: The Early Years”], we took
a look at some licks that Beck used in the
first decade or so of his career. Here, we
could see shades of what was to come. Not
that he wasn’t amazing back then, but he
really hit his stride in the mid ’70s with the
must-have trio of Blow by Blow, Wired, and
There and Back. These recordings are essential
for any guitarist and the blueprint for
players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
It was on these recordings that Beck
really came into his own as an artist and
developed his signature sound. Around
this point, he became strictly a Fender
player—most notably with the Stratocaster.
Bending with both the vibrato bar and
fingers became a hallmark of his sound, as
did his use of harmonics. It’s important to
note that Beck has his vibrato bar set to
“float”—so much so that he can pull up a
major third on the 3rd string. This is the
key to much of what he does, and if you
really want to dive fully into his style, you’ll
need to have a floating trem. Also during
this time, Beck abandoned his flatpick,
choosing instead to attack the strings with
his bare fingers—yet another hallmark of
A great intro to Beck’s use of bends
is shown in Fig. 1. This is similar to
something you’d hear in his version of
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the Charles
Mingus classic he included on Wired. In
this lick, we’re bending a low C to D and
then releasing it back down. This subtle
way of sounding these notes makes them so
much more interesting. This nuance is what
makes Beck such an expressive musician.
We stick with the Mingus tune for the
phrase in Fig. 2. It’s a very cool ascending
D major pentatonic (D–E–F#–A–B)
lick that uses motivic development. In plain
terms, Beck is playing a melodic statement
up the scale using a similar rhythmic pattern.
Just for fun, as he does, I kick on a
ring modulator on the last note!
The next phrase isn’t too difficult, once
you get it under your fingers. Fig.3 is a
speedy lick that Beck uses quite a bit and
is based out of a B minor pentatonic scale
(B–D–E–F#–A). Here, I am using a pickand-
fingers attack because it makes the lick
a little easier to play, and the sound of the
fingers is a bit warmer than that of the pick.
If you want to get into how Beck uses
his vibrato bar to add inflections to a
melody, Fig. 4 is a good place to start. This
technique takes some time to develop and
is much easier with a floating vibrato system.
Beck holds the bar in his hand while
picking and lets the springs do a lot of the
work. So push down on the bar and let it
come back into place on it’s own. This will
guarantee that it will return to pitch.
Another certified Beck staple is shown
in Fig. 5. This is a fantastic use of natural
harmonics on each string. Over each chord,
Beck plays a dominant 7 arpeggio using
just the harmonics between the 5th and
2nd frets. It takes some time to find them
and perfect this technique, so I suggest
using the bridge pickup and also picking
close to the bridge to get the notes to really
pop out. On the last note, I am pulling up
on the bar to raise the pitch a whole-step
and sound the root—G. If you don’t have
a trem and your guitar allows it, you can
push the string down behind the nut to
raise the note and get the same effect.
I hope this lesson has helped shed some
light on one of the greatest and most original
musicians of our time.
Jeff McErlain is a New York City-based guitar
player, producer, songwriter, and educator. He
performs regularly in NYC and abroad with
his trio and blues band. Jeff has a number of
instructional DVDs available at TrueFire.com,
and he is a featured instructor for the National
Guitar Workshop. Jeff's latest CD I'm Tired is
available on iTunes or at jeffmcerlain.com