I’ve interviewed Jeff Beck a number of times, and we did this one in 2005 for my first book about Telecasters (Six Decades of the Fender Telecaster). Naturally enough, we concentrated on Jeff’s use of Teles and Esquires, which predated his later moves to Les Pauls and, later still, to Strats.
We settled down in the kitchen of his 16th century Sussex pile for a cup of tea and a good chat about Yardbirds guitars, Jimmy Page‘s birthday present, and Seymour Duncan’s Tele-Gib, among quite a few other things.
Jeff, you told me once that your first Fender was a Strat you bought in 1961, when you were about 16, on HP [credit]. And I think you sold that to buy a car?
I think I did, yeah [laughs]. I think I got a phone call saying there’s a Strat in London, and I’d get on the train, which is something I never would have dreamed of doing—I’d never even get a bus—so I found my way to Charing Cross Road, all on my own, looked at this guitar, and dreams floated off into the distance [laughs]. I actually saw it, touched it, and that was enough.
I had a catalogue way before then, which I used to look at, an American from Fender when it was in Fullerton. I always remember it was on a ritzy looking paper, and I always thought these guitars have got to be about a thousand quid, and then I found out they were only £147—and even then I thought well, I can see myself being able to get hold of the money, if I sold everything I had.
In the end, I got it on HP. It was a 1960 sunburst, didn’t have a vibrato arm, and I painted it pink, or lavender. I sold it back to the… I remember it was split in two, this big split appeared along the back of it. I’d whacked something with it. So on the train as I went to sell it, I touched it up with my girlfriend’s nail varnish. It matched perfectly. Fantastic story, eh? And they never spotted it.
All the [Gene] Vincent Blue Caps guys had matching white Strats, so I had to have one of those—I had to have a Strat. My rhythm guitarist [John Owen, in Beck’s first proper band, The Deltones] actually had the first Fender. He had a Telecaster, a few months before I could even afford a down payment to put on a Strat.
So I would ogle this thing. I spent more time playing it than he did! He put everything in motion to try and get me to get the Strat so I wouldn’t keep nicking his guitar all the time. And eventually I ended up with that Tele.
Talking about the Strat for a moment—I can’t imagine what that guitar must have looked like to people when it first appeared in the mid-’50s.
Well, you know, the reason I left school was because of that [laughs]. I mean that is brain damage when you’re a kid of 14 and you see that—it’s just a piece of equipment that you dream about touching, nevermind owning.
The first day I stood in Lew Davis or one of them shops [in central London] I just went into a trance. I got the wrong bus home, just dreaming about it, you know? It just blew my brains apart, and it’s never been any different since. The Futurama never even was a threat. Even when I was 15, I used to look at the Futurama with great disgust—it was like the Woolworth’s version of the Strat.