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RIP: Guitar legend Jeff Beck, taken by meningitis at age 78. Was he the greatest guitar hero of all time?

One of the longest-running debates in rock’n’roll is who is the best guitarist?

For decades, arguments centered around three people: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck (let’s leave Jimi, Eddie, and Prince out of this for now). Many guitarists I know don’t even hesitate: “Jeff Beck. Easy. Hands down. End of debate.”

Beck seemed incapable of hitting a bad note. His soloing was sublime and his sense of timing and rhythm exquisite. Many will point to The ARMS Concert, a benefit to raise money for multiple sclerosis. Beck, Page, and Clapton were on the same stage together. Beck ran circles around them.

Page and Clapton are far more famous than Beck, thanks to Led Zeppelin and the latter’s long string of solo hits. Beck had only a few songs that crept onto the radio, but if you were a guitarist, you knew about him. You aspired to play like him.

It wasn’t about speed. It was his technique and taste: restrained, never over-playing, yet technically masterful. His fingers and thumbs were once insured for US$8.5 million. He wasn’t afraid to experiment with fuzz, distortion, odd amplifier set-ups, reverb, and feedback.

Beck first came to our attention as a guitarist The Yardbirds, a group that also featured Page and Clapton. And while the two of them went on to greater things, Beck remained less well-known, although he was “the guitarist’s guitarist.”

Here are a few more essential Beck songs.

There were many, many collaborations (including this odd one; you’ll hear it): David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Ozzy, Bon Jovi. His last project was an album with Johnny Depp called 18.

Beck died yesterday (January 11) after contracting bacterial meningitis. He’d been sick throughout the holidays. Beck was 78.

Read more here and here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “RIP: Guitar legend Jeff Beck, taken by meningitis at age 78. Was he the greatest guitar hero of all time?

  • Best “rock” guitarist. Beck would never say that he was better than Andres Segovia, Charlie Christian or Chet Atkins.


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