Was Jeff Beck The Inspiration For Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel?
Read Jeff’s thoughts on the uncanny resemblance.
By Nate Todd Jan 12, 2023 • 1:14 pm PST
The late great Jeff Beck, who passed away on Tuesday, will live on in perpetuity as one of the most innovative and influential guitarists of all time. The deluge of tributes from rock stars and fans alike evidence that fact. But the legendary guitarist may be immortalized for another reason: Was Jeff Beck the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel?
For the uninitiated, This Is Spinal Tap is a 1984 “rockumentary” parodying some of the more over-the-top aspects of rock ‘n’ roll. It centers around a band, Spinal Tap, whose core three members were created and played by the famed comedy team of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Guest plays Spinal Tap lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeff Beck, with perhaps the most striking resemblance being the hair.
This has led to widespread speculation that Guest based Tufnel on Beck. “I think the hair was but it ends there,” Beck said in a 2010 interview. Also reportedly of interest to the always-innovating guitarist were the iconic Spinal Tap amps that “go to 11.”
Elsewhere in the film, Nigel uses a wireless guitar setup that hilariously malfunctions when Spinal Tap plays at an airforce base. Furthermore, Tufnel storms off the stage after the wireless rig starts picking up radio signals. Beck was known for his temper in his younger days.
And yet, neither Guest nor Beck have confirmed the comparison. Maybe it did end with the hair. Did Jeff Beck where a shirt with his “actual bone structure” on it? No. Was Jeff as “confused as Nigel”? Certainly not. Another certainty: Jeff Beck was a huge fan of This Is Spinal Tap.
“I loved every minute of that movie,” he said in the 2010 interview. “I was watching it at a cinema in Westwood and I was laughing so loud people were telling me to shut-up. It was the funniest thing. They couldn’t see the funny side of it.”
Jeff loved the movie so much that he collaborated with Guest, McKean and Shearer — who are all musicians and are really playing their instruments — when Tap reunited in 1992 for the album, Break Like The Wind. Beck plays on the title track alongside four guitarists: Joe Satriani, Slash, Steve Lukather … and Nigel Tufnel. A list of axemen who were undoubtedly influenced by Jeff Beck. So while Nigel may not have been based on Beck, he probably nicked a couple of licks off him.
Listen to “Break Like The Wind” below: