Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #9
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
From sessions with Bob Dylan to multi-platinum success with Winger, plus stints in Dokken and with Alice Cooper, Reb Beach is now half of the guitar duo in Whitesnake.
From sessions with Bob Dylan to multi-platinum success with Winger, plus stints in Dokken and with Alice Cooper, Reb Beach is now half of the guitar duo in Whitesnake. When we heard Reb was delivering a Suhr Guitars clinic for our friends Tone World in Manchester recently, we sent Tom Quayle hot-foot for an interview. Levi Clay, meanwhile, considers an extraordinary career.
Reb Beach (born Richard Earl Beach) has a story that reads like a fairytale. From his beginnings in Pennsylvania to the musical metropolis that is New York (via a couple of semesters at Boston's Berklee College of music) it's a story that just kept growing. After becoming one of America's most sought-after session players (working with the likes of Bob Dylan and Roger Daltrey, no less!) he formed the band Winger and went on to write multiple platinum albums. When that venture seemed spent, Beach popped up once again, this time in high profile bands like Alice Cooper, and Dokken. He now tours the world with Whitesnake.
It's worth pointing out that Reb isn't what you would call a “schooled” musician; although he attended Berklee for a short period, it just wasn't for him. Reb spent his youth, learning from the great bands of the '70s like Zeppelin, the Who and Aerosmith. This all came to a head when the young Beach came across Steve Morse's Dixie Dregs (who just happens to be on our cover this issue), of whom Reb has said “The complexity and the speed of the Dregs was a challenge compared to the Blues based playing of most musicians of that era”. Although Reb used this to push him to the next level, he always leaned toward the band setting, great tunes polished-off with great guitar as opposed to the guitar being the main focus of an ensemble, in fact Reb still describes himself as a songwriter first.
This can often result in Reb being forgotten as one of the great innovators of the late '80s shred scene, but Reb really is no slouch when it comes to lead work. I would say that one of Reb's unique traits in his playing is his approach to two handed tapping - very much moving away from the Van Halen clichés and more towards the Greg Howe style, Reb utilizes two-handed technique to execute smooth scale runs spanning a great range on the instrument. His unique approach here is that, unlike Greg who “hammers on from nowhere” with the fretting hand, Reb frets the note with the left hand and then uses the ring finger to pluck the string for a more solid note - it really needs to be seen to be believed! Aside from this Reb is an absolute master of harmonics and whammy bar manipulation, actually doing most of the things modern innovators like Mattias Eklundh are doing. If you want to look into this more, Reb released an instructional video called Cutting Loose, which is well worth a look if you can find it.
When it comes to guitars, Reb knows what he likes and as such, has had various signature models released over the years. His chosen specifications read like a what's what of exotic tonewoods, choosing a body made from Koa, (a tree native to Hawaii) and a neck and fingerboard made from Pau Ferro (more commonly known as Bolivian rosewood despite the fact that it isn't actually part of the rosewood family). These are definitely not common options, so you are unlikely to nail Reb's exact sound on a cheaper production-made guitar. That said, Ibanez released the RBM Voyager signature model in 1991, which featured a huge cutaway behind the Floyd, a trademark of his look in Winger. This model was discontinued in 1995. Reb now has a signature model available from Suhr guitars (which puts him in great company here at iGuitar, Suhr being the axes of choice for myself, Tom Quayle and Rick Graham! (No advertising - Ed!)) which matches the specs of his Ibanez Voyager very closely, using Koa, Pau Ferro, gold hardware, EMG pickups and a floating trem. The only major difference on this model is that it is a lot more traditional in look having dropped the voyager cutaway.
Reb has been a big user of Marshall amps over the years (often modified by John Suhr) mainly using two 50 Watt mk2s. In 2005 Reb made the switch to the John Suhr designed Custom Audio Amplifiers OD100 as, in Reb's own words, when comparing them to his Marshalls “The tone was similar (…) just much bigger all the way around. I don't think I've ever plugged into an amp and had it sound that huge without messing with it.”.
On smaller shows Reb is currently opting for Blackstar amplification (namely the HT-5). To augment this Reb has an ever changing array of pedals, but the mainstays seem to be a Crybaby wah, an old Digitech Whammy II, a Digitech delay and a Fulltone Fat Boost. If you're chasing that Reb tone, you should be fine with similar effects and a high gain Marshall style amp.
Reb will always be synonymous with the band Winger, though unfortunately (due to the band always being poked fun at on Beavis and Butthead) this often goes against Reb when talking to hardened Rock fans. This is really unfair as Winger aren't a bad group by any stretch of the imagination, they're a great hair metal band with elements of Motley Crue, Extreme and Poison. The self titled album contains some great tunes like Seventeen and Madeleine. This album (and follow-up, In the Heart of the Young) was quickly certified platinum - but success will always make you an easy target. That aside, it's a great showcase of what Reb can do as he plays some cool riffs in the band and some really ripping solos, definitely worth a pee
For the past nine years Reb has been playing at the side of Doug Aldrich in Whitesnake. There really is no better introduction to Reb's playing than 2008's Good To Be Bad and 2011's Forevermore - in fact go and check out the title track now to see the band doing what they do best (not to mention David Coverdale showing he still has it at age 60!). Once this assignment has been completed, the DVD Live.... In The Still of the Night is also an essential purchase as it contains the band playing all of their greatest tunes with Reb often filling the boots of Steve Vai on the Slip Of The Tongue era tunes!