Neil Young needs no real introduction as a musician. He’s ‘The Godfather of Grunge’, the man who made emotionally driven guitar playing cool, and the artist who rewrote the handbook for all the budding guitarists who were listening to his introspective and often bleak cuts in Generation X.
In a lot of ways, he was way ahead of his time, and many of Young’s best guitar-playing moments, from 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere to 1975’s Zuma, remain as captivating and refreshing as they were back then.
On one hand, a genius songwriter, and on the other, a bonafide guitar hero, rock music today would look completely different without Neil Young. Without him, there’d be no Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Radiohead or Oasis, and thus would be without all of the subsequent acts who have followed. If we wiped Young’s work from existence, we could say goodbye to Olivia Rodrigo and Arctic Monkeys in one fell swoop in what is a modern testament to his work.
Although we could spend hours discussing Young’s poetic propensity, you cannot ignore his status as a guitar hero, and one would argue that this is by far the most crucial facet of his musicianship. Able to be noisy and abrasive but also delicate and romantic in the space of a single song, Young understands the guitar for what it is: a piece of wood that can be utilised as a mouthpiece for the heart and soul.
Well, luckily for those wanting to emulate Young’s iconic guitar-playing style, in 2005, he sat down with The Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, Tennesse for an interview. He provided insight into all the gear he uses and delivered some revealing anecdotes. If you’ve been chasing Young’s tones for years, look no further, this is the video for you.
At the start of the interview, Young discusses his experiences while cutting his teeth as a musician, going right back to the beginning and the ukelele that his father bought him. After briefly discussing the nature of trying to make it as a musician in ’60s Canada, he then reveals that the first guitar he ever owned was a Gibson Les Paul Jr. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to Neil Young fans, as he’s well known to have used Gibson’s across his career. Need we mention his primary axe, ‘Old Black’?
Young then talks about the host of amps he’s used over the years, ranging from an early Ampeg to the screaming feedback of the $75 amp that he bought in 1967 and still uses today. Elsewhere, there are many brilliant nuggets of information. Young tells the story of his Gretsch White Falcon from the Buffalo Springfield days, which he says that he still has today.
The Canadian troubadour also reveals that “the first thing” he does to a guitar is bend the tremolo arm to be parallel to the strings so he can play it “tucked in” his hand. This is a significant point. Everybody credits Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine with creating the “glide guitar” technique, but per this account, it was actually Young that did it first. If you go back through his records, you can hear it loud and clear, years before the shoegaze pioneers broke onto the scene.
It’s an incredible interview that shines an illuminating light on Neil Young as a guitarist and is a must-watch for all Neil Young fans. He comes across as a true iconoclast, personally and musically, and from understanding his guitar playing, we come to understand him as a person a lot better.
Watch the interview below.