The story of Jeff Buckley's life and death is one of the most enduring in music. Born in 1966 to famed folk-rock artist Tim Buckley, Jeff rose to prominence as a solo artist in 1994 with the release of his debut LP, Grace. Featuring an eclectic mix of jazz, folk, alternative rock and blues paired with Buckley's poetic lyrics and huge vocal range, his debut offering captivated audiences around the world, with the album eventually going 7x platinum in Australia. However, Buckley's career was tragically cut short when he drowned in 1997 whilst recording his second album, leaving a limited but much loved legacy of work behind him. While predominantly known as a talented singer, Buckley was also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, adopting unique chord voicings and open tunings in conjunction with an alternating fingerpicking style to accompany himself onstage, laying down the blueprint of alternative rock for bands such as Radiohead and Coldplay in the second half of the '90s. Following the 20 year anniversary of Buckley's death, we take a look at the gear used throughout Jeff Buckley's too-short career.
1983 FENDER TELECASTER
Buckley's main guitar for the majority of his career, this 1983 US Telecaster was actually borrowed from Janine Nicholls, a director at a local arts institution in New York while Buckley was still playing cafe shows in 1991, and can be heard extensively on Grace. Essentially a 1952 reissue model, the Butterscotch Telecaster features distinctive modifications, including the addition of a chrome pick guard and a Seymour Duncan Hot Stack pickup in the bridge position. Following Buckley’s death in 1997, it was returned to its original owner who eventually sold it on auction in 2011, selling for over $50,000.
Buckley bought this 12 string Rickenbacker 360 with the money from his first advance after getting signed with Sony. Popularised by The Beatles' George Harrison, he tended to keep his Rickenbacker in Open G tuning, which was used in his live show for the resonant strummed textures of ‘Last Goodbye’ and ‘Vancouver’. This guitar was actually gifted to the late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell after Buckley’s death by his mother after contributing to the posthumous release Sketches For (My Sweetheart The Drunk).
1976 GIBSON LES PAUL CUSTOM
This black Les Paul Custom was Buckley’s first electric guitar, which he received as his 13th birthday gift before retiring it from use while attending the Hollywood Musicians Institute in 1986. However, Buckley began using the Les Paul again while touring Grace, where it can be seen throughout his performance at Glastonbury in 1995.
UNKNOWN CUSTOM ELECTRIC GUITAR
While details on the manufacturer or specifics of this instrument are scarce, Buckley used this guitar while studying music in Los Angeles, with the Floyd Rose Tremolo and dual humbuckers suiting the jazz-fusion styles he was exploring at the time. According to bass teacher John Humphries, Buckley used this guitar while playing in a short-lived band with him and Tool drummer Danny Carey - a combination which simply sounds too good to be true.
GUILD F-50 ACOUSTIC GUITAR
Similar to a twelve string model played by his father, Buckley used his Guild F-50 as his main acoustic throughout the recording and touring of Grace. He often covered the sound hole with duct-tape when playing the acoustic live to prevent feedback issues, as seen in this performance of ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’.
GIBSON L-1 ACOUSTIC GUITAR
Famously used by the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson throughout his short career, Buckley acquired a flat-bodied Gibson L-1 sometime around 1994, frequently using it for demo recordings and smaller performances. The smaller scale and fatter bottom of the L-1 attributes for its mellow tone, perfectly suited for Buckley’s intuitive use of fingerstyle playing.
Throughout his career, Buckley toured and recorded with two separate amps for clean and overdriven tones respectively, tending to rely on the natural characteristics of his amp as opposed to effects pedals. For clean tones, Buckley used a blackface Fender Vibrolux tube combo, and often used a Mesa/Boogie Tremoverb for more saturated overdriven songs.
It also looks like Buckley used both of his combos in conjunction with a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 speaker cabinet each, which is visible throughout his performance of ‘So Real’ at Chicago in 1995.
The distinctive reverb soaked tone garnered by Buckley on ‘Hallelujah’ is a result of the Alesis Quadraverb rack unit effects unit, with Buckley using a modified version of the ‘Taj Mahal’ preset. While the Quadravervb is now discontinued, it can still be found on the used market and in studios around the world, proving to be one of the most widely available rack modelling units of the '90s.
Other than the Quadraverb, Buckley rarely used other effects live, with his sound tending to be based around chord voicings rather than tonal variation. However, his website states that throughout his career, Buckley used a Digitech Whammy II, BOSS Hyper Fuzz, TC Electronics Stereo Chorus, and a Boss Chromatic Tuner Pedal, as well as a Morley A/B Switch Box to swap between his two amps onstage.
NEUMANN 87 CONDENSOR MICROPHONE
A high quality studio condenser microphone, Buckley used the Neumann 87 frequently while recording Grace, with one being visible throughout the video of his cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.