I came across the Ellis stompbox while surfing on the Palm Guitars website, a rare instrument shop in Amsterdam. The Ellis stompbox is made of wood in Australia, has a pickup inside and has an output jack to be plugged either into a PA or a Bass amp. The idea is that when you tap on it, the sound gets amplified which turns your tapping foot into a booming percussion instrument.
It is used by a lot of acoustic guitarists, but not only, here is a video of pianist Jamie Cullum using it:
Check it out on the Ellis guitars website (lots of demos and online shop included). There are different woods to choose from and they are all gorgeous!
I don’t think Jeff Beck needs any introduction, he is one of the inventors of rock guitar, has traded licks with everybody and, more importantly, is one of the most original rock guitarists out there.
We will see in this post how we can emulate his tone using simple effect pedals and talk about his style. If you are unfamiliar with Jeff Beck, I advise you to start with his “Live at Ronnie Scotts” released in 2008, this is Jeff Beck on stage at his best, truly amazing music.
Jeff Beck to me is the perfect example of the fact that the tone is in “your fingers”. Granted, you need a bit more than your fingers to create a guitar tone but let’s say that in the case of Jeff Beck, the gear is really not more than half of his tone. Some people say he is a walking multi-effect unit and there is some truth in that. However, we will see that his choice of gear allows him to use all his sound tricks and amazing technique.
Although he has used a lot of different guitars over the years including Les Pauls and Telecasters, Jeff Beck has been associated with the Fender Stratocaster for a good 30 years now. He exploits all of the tonal capacities of the Stratocaster: use and abuse of the tremolo arm, brightness of the bridge pickup, mellowness of the neck pickup, swells using the volume knob, slapping, etc.
It is also interesting to see that like his fellow brit Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck has had his own Stratocaster signature model since the 80s and this signature model has changed over the years. I remember drooling over first Jeff Beck models equipped with lace sensor pickups, including a curious humbucker in the bridge position. Nowadays, the Jeff Beck Stratocaster model features Fender noiseless pickups and a modern LSR roller nut tremolo system.
Jeff Beck is quite partial to good old Marshall amps. I had the chance to see him live in Paris in 2001 and he was using JCM 2000 DSL 100 stack amps. It is a configuration he used for most of the last decade. The gear heads have noticed that for his “Live at Ronnie Scotts” in 2008 and subsequent live appearances, he seems to have been using a Marshall JTM-45 head and a Vintage Modern one. Jeff Beck’s overdriven tone has definitely a Marshall quality to it. Check out this video of Jeff Beck’s guitar tech for more information about his amp settings. According to him, most of the tone heard on the “Live at Ronnie Scotts” comes from the JTM-45, with the bass totally rolled off and a lot of the EQing is done right from the guitar, using the tone control. On this topic, normal stratocasters do not have a tone control for the bridge pickup but the Jeff Beck model has a general tone control and a TBX control.
Jeff Beck, throughout his career, has been using very few effects between his guitar and his amp. He was famous for using the Proco Rat distortion in the 80s and also a flanger at some stage during that period. When I saw him in Paris in 2001, I only saw a wah pedal between his guitar and his amps. For the live at Ronnie Scotts and subsequent live appearances he has been spotted using a quite rare and expensive Klon Centaur overdrive pedal to get more overdrive (or maybe to make up for the fact that the JTM-45 has less distortion than a more recent Marshall amp).
Now where it gets tricky is that it is not because he does not have many pedals between his guitar and amps that he does not use any effect. Actually if you listen to any of his studio recordings, there is clearly quite some reverb added to the guitar sound and often some delay too, making it very spacious. When I saw him live, I could clearly hear quite some delay and/or reverb added at the mixing console. On a side note, the amount of reverb one would require in a live situation depends on the venue – no need for a reverb if you play in a church for instance.
During the “Live at Ronnie Scotts” show, you can see from the DVD footage that a Lexicon ALEX reverb unit is stacked on one of his amps and people have clearly witnessed Jeff Beck manipulating it during the show. It is speculated that Ronnie Scott’s being a small-ish venue, Jeff Beck brought his own reverb to create the spacious tone he is known for. Now did this reverb unit fit exactly in the chain, it is a mystery to me although we can suppose it was either in the loop of the Vintage Modern head or between the overdrive and the JTM-45, or perhaps it was connected to the console and was affecting the sound of the miked amps.
Let’s recreate Jeff Beck’s tone
To recreate Jeff Beck’s tone, I have deliberately decided to use one of the most common and cheapest overdrives on the market, the BOSS SD-1, plugged into a clean amp. I want to show that you don’t need a monster Marshall amp to create an impression of Jeff Beck’s tone, just a good overdrive or distortion pedal. An SD-1 will be closer to the tone of his earlier works, I have the feeling he uses more gain these days.
I have also decided to add a BOSS RV-3 reverb to give quite some spaciousness to the tone and that’s it. One overdrive, one reverb… and a Fender Stratocaster of course. My Stratocaster is an American Classics Custom Shop model equipped with noiseless pickups from Kinman. It features a “normal” tremolo system and I must say it was difficult to remain in tune while abusing it.
To sound more like Jeff Beck, it is not really the gear that does it, the hardest is to emulate his numerous techniques right on the guitar (check out my video):
first and foremost use of the fingers instead of a plectrum
slapping: Jeff Beck often pulls the string the same way a bass player does when slapping, it is very effective on a strat to create a percussive kind of tone
volume swells: use of the volume control on the guitar to suppress the attack of the notes and thus create a “violin” like sound
use of the volume knob to control the amount of dirt in the tone
tremolo arm: either for gentle vibrato or more drastic effects, Jeff Beck is one of the top masters at using the tremolo arm
use of different pickups: the bridge pickup for brightness, the neck pickup for mellowness
This is just to name a few. I have created a video to show some of the different techniques (this is a rather bad piece of music in itself I realize it, but this is not the point 😉 ):
The settings were as follows:
On the Champ: Volume 2.5, Bass 10 Treble 2
On the SD-1 : Gain on full, tone at 9 o’clock and level at 1 o’clock
On the RV-3: Mode Hall, Balance at 1 o’clock, tone at 10 o’clock, Time at 1 o’clock
It was recorded with a Boss Micro-BR, miked with a shure SM-57 and mixed in Cubase 5, bits of compression were added to the guitar and the overall mix.
Finally, here is a short sample showing the basic clean sound I have used augmented first by the BOSS SD-1 and then the RV-3 Reverb:
[audio:http://www.guitartoneoverload.com/audioHIDDENZZZZ/JeffBeckFX.mp3|titles=Jeff Beck FX Before and After]
BOSS US have some very interesting goodies on their website. First, the excellent Paul Hanson is giving tone recipes every month. He basically shows you how to reproduce the guitar tone(s) of a famous song using a small set of BOSS pedals. It is really cool, click on the image to go to the index:
Secondly, Paul Hanson has been hosting a podcast (available here) for a few years now. There is a new edition more or less every two months and it usually features one guitarist or bassist. There is a lot to be learned, most of the interviewees are session musicians and I wish they would all stop reminding me that I should always practice with a metronome. Anyway, check it out!
Back in the 90s (circa 1993), I had been playing for a few years and had spent all my summer job money on a vintage Vox AC-30. It is truly an amazing amp and still is today but being a one channel non master volume amp, the only way to get some overdrive out of it was to crank it. And believe me, a cranked AC-30 is pretty loud – as in bandmates covering their ears the fist time I did it.
Anyway, I decided to buy a distortion pedal and back in those days there was not the choice we have today, especially in a pre-internet smallish student town in Eastern France. So I went to the local store and the guy said: “we have these new Marshall pedals, pretty cool to get a Marshall tone out of a clean amp”. So I bought a Marshall Shredmaster and it was my main distortion pedal for a good 10 years.
The Shredmaster was not the first pedal Marshall had released. In the 80s, they had one pedal on offering, the “guv’nor” which is still coveted by some players today. In the early 90s, they released three pedals aimed at different publics: the Bluesbreaker, the Drivemaster and the Shredmaster.
The Bluesbreaker was a pretty light overdrive, the Drivemaster was supposed to sound like a Marshall JCM-800 (think classic rock) and the Shredmaster was a high gain pedal. It would not qualify as very high gain nowadays but at the time it was. The Shredmaster has been replaced in the Marshall pedal lineup by a much higher gain model: the jackhammer. As its name indicates, it was aimed at the shredding audience but the most famous guitarists to have used it are not exactly known for shredding, I am talking about Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Actually, once it was known they were users of the Shredmaster, the prices for the pedal on the second hand market rose considerably.
The Shredmaster has a lot of fans but also a lot of detractors, I know that a lot of guitarists who have tried it or owned it think it does not live up to its reputation. Quite frankly, I think the Shredmaster was truly one of the first “Marshall in a box” pedal: properly setup and plugged in a good tube amp, it really does wonders. Mind you, as I have mentioned earlier, it does not have that much gain depending on your perspective and this is where people get disappointed if they expect a “death metal” kind of tone, although it can probably do it with the right type of guitar and/or a boost. That said I think it does cover everything from blues to classic rock and 80s shredding alike while retaining a true Marshall color. Moreover, the equalisation section featuring bass, treble and a contour knob to scoop frequency is pretty efficient. It is completed by the classical gain and volume knobs. I find the gain most efficient between 2 o’clock and the maximum setting, the first half is frankly a bit useless. The volume will give you a nice boost but nothing over the top.
I have recorded several videos of the Shredmaster plugged into a little 5 Watt all tube Fender Silverface Champ. It is a fairly bright amp so I had the following settings:
On the Champ: Volume 2.5, Bass 10 Treble 2
On the Shredmaster : Gain 3 o’clock, bass 1 o’clock, contour 8 o’clock (minimum), treble 9 o’clock, volume 2 o’clock
The Shredmaster is plugged directly into the Champ which was miked by a Shure SM-57. The reverb was added in Cubase 5 afterwards and I used the Reverence 3s Plate Reverb setting.
With a Gibson SG 61 Reissue, here is how it sounds:
And with a 1978 Telecaster equipped with stock pickups:
And a last one with the SG that shows a more “classic rock sound”:
I have improvised in these videos so pardon the mistakes.
The Shredmaster is not made anymore so you will have to look on the second hand market to find one. You might also want to check the Hellrazor from Pure Analog Effects which is a very reasonably priced Shredmaster clone. There is also word that the distortion side of the Jekyll and Hyde from Visual Sound has a circuit close to the Shredmaster but I must say that the samples on the vendor’s website sound a lot heavier than a Shredmaster so I am not too sure about that.
Whether you find a real one or get a clone, happy shredding!