Jeff Beck vividly remembers the first time he saw a Strat. ‘I saw one hanging in the window of a music shop in Charing Cross Road. I was with a guy from the Deltones – we’d skipped off school and got the bus up to Victoria. We didn’t really care where we went – we just wanted to look around guitar shops. From the top of the bus I said, “I have seen the light!” and went bowling down the stairs knocking the conductor out of the way, jumped off the bus and ran across the road. There was a sunburst Strat in the window and a blond Tele with an ebony fingerboard. I thought, “This is it!”
‘We went in and the guy in the shop asked if we were interested in buying it. We said, “Y-y-y-yes!” We were fourteen and he knew we didn’t have the money but he let us play on it and it was like being on a cloud – we didn’t come down for ages after.’
Jeff has played both Strats and Les Pauls during his career, his preference being initially determined by the type of music. ‘I saw Eric playing at the Marquee with Cream and he had a loud, basic set-up and I was very impressed by the low end of his Les Paul. It was so fat it was like an orchestra, and in a three-piece you really needed that. A Strat just would not have worked with that kind of music. The mid-range was fat, even the high notes were fat – just a glorious, thick, rich sound. I planned to get a three-piece as well so I thought I would have to get that sound. It was such a nice sound you could listen in to the guitar and here it clearly and hear the drums clearly as well. So, I did kind of rip that off although I developed my own style with it – I wasn’t using the same amplification set-up as Eric.’
The Jeff Beck Signature Strat is renowned – or rather, notorious – for the thickness of the neck. ‘Yeah, it has a colossal, heavy neck in the sense of size, especially at the nut end. I was finding that the necks of most Strats were too thin and because of the way my hand is it was aching a hell of a lot. After an hour the pain would go right up my arm. As soon as I got hold of a fat Les Paul neck it was like a breeze so I thought why can’t they make a fatter neck on the Strat? The Fender guys approached me, offered me a guitar and I said, “No, no, no! Just double it! Get a log, smooth it off a bit and stick it on the end there!” So they did and it was too fat. They took it down a little bit and it was OK. I think the signature model they’ve got out now has got the fattest neck you can have without being arrested – heh, heh, heh! The kids who were going to the outlets or the NAMM show were complaining about it – “If Beck doesn’t turn up and show us he plays it we ain’t not going to buy it!”.’
An edited version of this feature was published in ‘The Electric Guitar’ (ed Paul Trynka, Virgin books, 1993).