Page’s past experiences both in the studio and with the Yardbirds were very influential in contributing to the success of Led Zeppelin in the 1970s. As a producer, composer, and guitarist for the band, he was one of the major driving forces behind the rock sound of that era, with his trademark Gibson Les Paul guitar and Marshall amplification. In the studio however, Page often used a Supro amplifier and a Telecaster guitar. His use of the Roger Mayer-designed ToneBender fuzzbox (“How Many More Times”), slide guitar (“You Shook Me”, “Dancing Days”, “In My Time of Dying”), pedal steel guitar (“Your Time Is Gonna Come”, “Tangerine”, “That’s The Way” and for effect at the very end of “Over the Hills and Far Away”), acoustic guitar (“Gallows Pole”, “Ramble On”) and recording techniques made Led Zeppelin a prototype for many future rock bands. His landmark guitar solo from the song “Heartbreaker” has been credited by Eddie Van Halen as the inspiration for his trademark two-hand tapping technique after he saw Led Zeppelin perform at the Los Angeles Forum in 1972. (Page’s solo contains the hammer on/pull off technique.) Page is famous for playing his guitar with a violin bow, a technique he developed during his session days (though Eddie Phillips of Creation – also produced by Shel Talmy – was the first guitarist to use a violin bow) in songs such as “Dazed and Confused” and “How Many More Times”, and experimented with feedback devices and a theremin. On MTV’s Led Zeppelin Rockumentary, Page said that he got the idea for playing the guitar with a bow from David McCallum’s father who was also a session musician. Other examples of his guitar bowing can be found in the interlude of Whole Lotta Love. Page used his Fender Telecaster and later his Gibson Les Paul for his bow solos. Page used a Wah-wah pedal but not in the traditional way of rocking it back and forth as done by Jimi Hendrix and other contemporaries; instead, he put it fully forward in the treble position to get a sharper tone. His solo in the famous epic “Stairway to Heaven” has been voted by readers of various guitar magazines, including Guitar World and Total Guitar as the greatest guitar solo of all time. Jimmy Page was named ‘Guitarist of the Year’ five years straight during the 1970s by Creem magazine.
Page is also widely credited for the innovations in sound recording he brought to the studio. During the late 1960s, most British music producers placed microphones directly in front of the amplifiers and drums, resulting in the sometimes “tinny” sound of the recordings of the era. Page commented to Guitar World magazine that he felt the drum sounds of the day in particular “sounded like cardboard boxes.”
Page was a fan of 1950’s recording techniques; Sun Studios being a particular favorite. In the same Guitar World interview, Page remarked, “Recording used to be a science,” and “[engineers] used to have a maxim: distance equals depth.” Taking this maxim to heart, Page developed the idea of placing an additional microphone some distance from the amplifier (as much as twenty feet) and then recording the balance between the two. By adopting this technique, Page became one of the first British producers to record a band’s “ambient sound” – the distance of a note’s time-lag from one end of the room to the other. This technique was constantly adapted and developed, to the point where he placed microphones in hallways, which is how he achieved the distinctive drum sound for “When the Levee Breaks”.
Page has stated that, as producer, he deliberately changed the audio engineers on Led Zeppelin albums, from Glyn Johns for the first album, to Eddie Kramer for Led Zeppelin II, to Andy Johns for Led Zeppelin III and later albums. He explained that “I consciously kept changing engineers because I didn’t want people to think that they were responsible for our sound. I wanted people to know it was me.”
Page’s drug use during his time with Led Zeppelin has, over the years, been a controversial subject. Page himself has admitted to heavy use of drugs throughout the 1970s. In an interview he gave with Guitar World magazine in 2003, he stated that:
“I can’t speak for the [other members of the band], but for me drugs were an integral part of the whole thing, right from the beginning, right to the end.”
From 1976, Page was beginning to dabble in heroin, a fact attributed to tour manager Richard Cole, who stated that Page (as well as himself) were taking the drug during the recording sessions of the album Presence in that year, and that Page admitted to him shortly afterwards that he was addicted to the drug.
It is considered by many that, by 1977, Page’s heroin use was beginning to hamper his guitar playing performances, as exhibited on a number of Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings from their 1977 tour of the United States, by which time the guitarist had lost a noticeable amount of weight. During the recording sessions for In Through The Out Door in 1978, Page’s diminished influence on the album (relative to bassist John Paul Jones) is partly attributed to his ongoing heroin addiction, which resulted in his absence from the studio for large periods of time. Page reportedly kicked his heroin habit in the early 1980s. In a 1988 interview with Musician magazine, Page took offense when the interviewer noted that heroin had been associated with his name, and insisted that “I’m not an addict, thank you very much.”