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Single-Note Solos
May 1, 2008 10:14 AM   Subscribe

During the Spring of 1996, Neil Young and Crazy Horse were recording a new album at his ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. To prepare for the forthcoming tour, they embarked on what has become known as ‘The Northern California Bar Tour of 1996’. If you want to learn how to sound like Neil Young, you need to study these three photos taken at one of the shows. They provide a glimpse of what Neil calls ‘the whizzer' (PDF interview about his equipment). It's a device that physically turns his amp's knobs via switches on his pedalboard. Of course, you also need to be playing an exact replica of Old Black through vintage amps that are ready to explode. If this all sounds too complicated, you can shell out money for the Crazy Horse pedal by Durham Electronics, which was designed to be 'Neil Young in a box’. Yeah, because that's totally possible.
posted by AdamFlybot (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Doh the geocities link appears to be out of bandwidth!

Cool links though.
posted by smackwich at 10:20 AM on May 1, 2008


They provide a glimpse of what Neil calls ‘the whizzer'

umm...NSFW?

actually that's totally awesome.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:20 AM on May 1, 2008


Neil also uses FRAP pickups which were made in the 70s-80s. I have made a website about it here.
posted by lsd4all at 10:24 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, I didn't think those links would die so quickly... And it looks like some of the other links were linking to that geocities page's images. Let this be a lesson to people stealing bandwidth: You're ruining FPPs
posted by AdamFlybot at 10:32 AM on May 1, 2008


More barn!
posted by Kinbote at 10:37 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool links, somehow it's not surprising that Neil Young gets his trademark sound by playing through old, broken-down equipment that might explode if you look at it wrong.

"Botique pedals" like in the last link are pretty goofy in general, I think. $2-300 for some "hand-wired" "true bypass" one-transistor POS, and only rich weekend musicians in their 50s who obsess over their "tone" can even tell the difference between playing through it and plugging straight into the amp.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:46 AM on May 1, 2008


what three photos?
posted by shmegegge at 10:54 AM on May 1, 2008


I would have expected Young to put his money into boutique equipment that replicates the sound of the originals but with reliability and durability. Instead the money goes to staff employed to keep the unreliable stuff on the right side of failure.
posted by ardgedee at 11:10 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


my favorite: "Neil's got four hundred and fifty-six identical (Fender) Deluxes." (vintage guitar amps).

and true, most botique (sic) pedals are overpriced versions of the same 4 designs- but there's nothing cheaper that compares to zvex, for example. and then theres the voodoo lab stuff, which is as high quality as any of the boutique shit, yet is priced like boss pedals.
posted by tremspeed at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2008


there's other ways to get that sound - technique and attitude have more to do with it than anything else
posted by pyramid termite at 11:16 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


...then again, Neil can afford to tour with a roadie staff keeping his electronics in trim. It's the musicians playing lower-paying gigs who need non-fragile, reliable equipment. A grand up-front for a couple pedals is cheaper than frequent amp maintenance, and you don't lose gigs because of your reputation of technical problems.
posted by ardgedee at 11:24 AM on May 1, 2008


Someone please tell me that this image isn't photoshopped: Jimi, is that really you?

I have a question for any musician: why do you guys suck at anything web-related? (not making fun or trolling)
posted by jsavimbi at 11:24 AM on May 1, 2008


Seems like GeoCities blocks any use of coral cache /the more you know
posted by acro at 11:24 AM on May 1, 2008


Yeah, don't get me wrong, there are some awesome boutique (yeah, I know how to spell it) pedal manufacturers out there that are designing and building shit that you can't buy anything even close to at Guitar Center, such as 4ms, however most of them fall into the "selling endless $300 variations of the one-transistor fuzz pedal to 50 year old Eric Johnson fans" category.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2008


somehow it's not surprising that Neil Young gets his trademark sound by playing through old, broken-down equipment that might explode if you look at it wrong.

Hey that body has served him well.
posted by three blind mice at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I recently bought a Martin D-28 and it sounds like a D-28 but I don't think I'll ever sound like him. You know what I get from Neil Young, though? I get the feeling that it's alright to make music from your guts and to not worry about being technically imperfect. That keeps me going.

This video really sums it up. He's on stage with a cross section of the best of the best - much technically better than him - all acting reserved and slightly formal. Then there's Neil, off to the side, just flopping all over the place and owning them all.

This made me laugh, too:

I have a digital echo that I use because it has a particular gated-echo sound. When I tried it out at the Guitar Center in Hollywood, the salesmen were demo-ing all these sounds like on a Phil Collins record or the background of a Cyndi Lauper record. I said, "Let me try it for a minute," turned everything all the way up except for the mix, and then I started playing the guitar really staccato. I turned the mix up and got whop, whop, whop, whop, like this giant popcorn machine exploding kind of a sound. I like that sound, so I use it as an effect. When I've gone just about as far as I can go, I stick that on it and just hit harmonics and choke them. It splats out all this ridiculous noise all over everything. But I don't use it in a real sense to get a sound that it was meant to get.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:46 AM on May 1, 2008


Which is awesome, right, ardgedee? People benefiting rather than a program?
posted by redsparkler at 11:46 AM on May 1, 2008


I saw Graham Nash give a talk a few years back. He told a few stories, played a few songs, and told a few more stories. The best one by far was the time he went out to Neil Young's place to hear a cut of Young's new album (I don't recall which one). Young lived on a ranch with a big house, a barn, and a lake in between them. They went out on the middle of the lake in a little rowboat, at which point Nash was thinking why are we going to listen to this new record on a tape recorder in the middle of a lake? Young then shouted "OK, hit it!" and sound started blaring. The barn was the left channel and the house was the right...they floated in the middle of the lake in the rowboat and listened to the entire album, at which point Young yelled at the house, "needs more barn!"
posted by zap rowsdower at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2008 [16 favorites]


> Which is awesome, right, ardgedee? People benefiting rather than a program?

I was thinking conventional electronics rather than digital emulators. But somebody's got to program those, too.
posted by ardgedee at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2008


Then there's Neil, off to the side, just flopping all over the place and owning them all.
That's a perfect description of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert I saw 7 or 8 years ago.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:06 PM on May 1, 2008


That Hendrix photo is 100% fake. They're lit completely differently, unless Hendrix actually has lighter skin than Clapton, which I somehow doubt.
posted by JWright at 12:57 PM on May 1, 2008


This one goes to 11.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:02 PM on May 1, 2008


Fascinating stuff. Truly Fascinating.
posted by horseblind at 1:05 PM on May 1, 2008


This video. . .

being a performance of My Back Pages at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary show, seems to come up a lot. The version linked above is the rawest, clearly documenting G.E. Smith's failure to herd these cats, and the fact that Neil Young seemed to be the only one to realize the song needed to end, quite clear, no doubt, somehow.

Later they redubbed some of the more atrocious vocals and put a proper end chorus in after Neil Young's solo. This is the redubbed version.

There's also a third, super-cleaned up version with remixed and redubbed vocals, more bottom, and with video editing that covers up the chaos on stage with a video montage of the entire show during Young's solo.

Thanks G.E. Smith, Paul Schafer you're not. With all those guitar necks and inadequate stage direction, we're all lucky to have this document instead of an embarassing train wreck.

And by the way: there's Neil. . . owning them all.

It wasn't a cutting contest, it was a tribute to Bob Dylan. Dylan, who can play hot licks if he wants to, Petty, and Harrison all play acoustic. McGuinn, whose arrangement this is, is pretty gracious to play next to nothing, GE Smith might as well not be plugged in, and Cropper's holding down the rhythm part with Duck. Clapton played a very nice solo in his signature style that fit perfectly, as did Young. What's to '"own"?
-
posted by Herodios at 1:16 PM on May 1, 2008


Contrast and compare with the sounds he's getting out of one of Trey Anastasio's Languedocs at Farm Aid.
posted by muckster at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2008


I have a question for any musician: why do you guys suck at anything web-related? (not making fun or trolling)

drugs.
posted by waxboy at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2008


I love all of Shakey's work, and I especially love pissing off Neil fans by touting the greatness of Trans every chance I get. Tell me that "Sample and Hold" from the Live in Berlin 1983 DVD isn't fantastic.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:26 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


The barn was the left channel and the house was the right...they floated in the middle of the lake in the rowboat and listened to the entire album, at which point Young yelled at the house, "needs more barn!"

The song was "A Man Needs a Maid" from Harvest.
posted by digaman at 3:35 PM on May 1, 2008


I was having breakfast with David Crosby and his wife Jan before the Portland show on CSNY's Living with War tour, and I asked David why he decided to bring back such great, relatively obscure songs like his own "What Are Their Names?" for the tour.

"Neil wrote the setlists," David told me with a smile. "We finally admitted he's the boss."
posted by digaman at 3:44 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you want to learn how to sound like Neil Young, you need to study these three photos taken at one of the shows.

I always thought if you wanted to hear a sound like Neil Young you could just pull a cat's tail.

Oh, you mean his guitar, not his vocals.

Great story, digaman.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:42 PM on May 1, 2008


This post has sent me to YouTube. A good one-note solo here.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:21 PM on May 1, 2008


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