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Friday, August 28, 2009

Neil Young's Sound: "Like A Jet Plane in a Thunderstorm"

Whizzer Replica (Not Neil Young's actual Whizzer) via
The Guitar Refinishing and Restoration Forum

So one of the questions we see quite a bit from our musician friends is "How the hell does Neil get that sound?!"

Not that we have a clue really but it would seem that this sort of question is quite common amongst musicians about their guitar heros. And while it would seem that Hendrix fans can duplicate Jimi's Stratocaster fuzz, Zeppelin fans can imitate Jimmy Page's wah'wahs, and Clapton fans can improvise Eric's bluesy slide, many Neil aficionados appear stumped by the sound of Ol' Black.

Over the years, we've assembled quite a bit of tips and trivia on the subject of Neil Young's Sound. That page links out to information on Ol' Black, The Whizzer, Magnatone amps, and other assorted gadgets in Neil's arsenal.

Again -- not being a guitarist ourselves - it would seem that a lot of the challenges guitarists face on trying to recreate that special, indescribable, grungy feedback that has been described as "a jet plane in a thunderstorm" is due to the fact that Neil's sound and equipment simply can not be purchased or even replicated by professional engineers.

Much of Neil's equipment has been custom rigged over the years using parts that are long out of stock. Like vacuum tubes. Neil's warm analog sound is simply not where equipment is in these days of cold digital 0's and 1's.

So if you're ever curious about that question "How's Neil get that sound?", than see Neil Young's Sound.

Wail on.

old black guitar
Ol' Black 1953 Les Paul Guitar


At 8/28/2009 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reverb - Fuzz - Volume low - Volume medium - Volume high - repeat

Thank the the Great Spirit for that unique Fender deluxe & Magnatone and those hypersensitive pickups.

-no more

At 8/28/2009 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Neil has this device, I don't know if it's activated by that red stomp box or not, but it connects to his amp, and automatically turns the knobs.

I believe his massive distortion is simply an effect of turning those magnatones up to 10, and nothing more.

When you overdrive the amp using the amp volume alone, that's when you get that immense 1960's / 70's distortion that sounds so beautiful.

If you have a Marshall head from pre-gain days, when all you have is volume knobs and no onboard distortion, you'll find that by turning it up ALL THE WAY, it creates one of the most beautiful, thick overdrive sounds you've ever heard. I use this method when recording.

The cool thing is that Neil's pedal actually turns the knobs on those magnatones for him instead of processing the sound through an electronic distortion unit. So his sound is not processed, it's natural, and... oddly controlled by a robotic knob-turner.

At 8/28/2009 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Correction - it's the Deluxe, not the Magnatone, that provides that incredible overdrive. If you get the same Deluxe and the same guitar, modified the same way, turn the volume up to 11 and bang out a couple chords, you'll get something approximating Neil's sound.

At 8/28/2009 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty awesome rig that dude setup.


At 8/28/2009 05:14:00 PM, Blogger Greg McGarvey said...

True. If you get a clone of the '50s tweed Fender Deluxe (Fender is making a reissue now) and crank it, you will get shockingly close to that sound... especially if you're playing a Les Paul and you have a spring reverb unit plugged into it (at that point, you're up to his Zuma sound... then you're just missing a few modulation pedals from Rust era-to-date).

(VanAmps' SoleMate reverb and Clark Beaufort amp are doing the trick for me REAL well.) (I need to start asking Tim and Michael to pay me...)

And for other players who, like me, have champagne taste on a beer budget, consider using that shitty old distortion pedal (turned all the way down) as a kill switch on the second channel of the amp, so you can have channel switching.

This is getting really technical, so email me if you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about. :)

At 8/28/2009 06:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a BAR band in Sturgis SD at the bike rally back in the 90's. It was at the Glencoe campground and this band, particularly the guitar player/singer, had Old Black down almost pat. I don't know how either of them do it.

At 8/29/2009 02:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to have some corrospondance with the "late" Great Sal Trentino about these very things as I have a Beil Tribute and I did my best to re-create "Old Black" down to the Relic Paint Job I did.
I treasured these e-mails from Sal before his all to soon passing, and now they hold even more importance.
I would like to share a portion of one in particular that I hope Sal wouldn't mind me sharing.
As Follows;
"Neil's big red foot switch has no effects in it. It is the selector which tells the remote controlled patch bay (under his amp in the dolly the Deluxe sits on,) which effects to connect into the signal path. By doing it that way, the signal paths are very short for minimal parasitic cable capacitance."
"old Fender Tweed Deluxe, Narrow panel type 5E6. 6G15 reverb unit, and a Magnatone Stereo 280 amplifier. I made a few changes in Neil's Deluxes, and special box to go between the Deluxe and the Magnatone."
Thank you Sal...a truly kind, big hearted man!

At 8/29/2009 05:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic:


Neil Young Archives Performance Series #12, will be released on or about Nov. 2nd.


At 8/29/2009 08:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wicked cool

old sound man

At 8/29/2009 08:42:00 AM, Anonymous Joerg said...

Jet Plane In A Thunderstorm - this could be a good name for a Neil Young tribute band
Besides, two pieces of equipment responsible for this unique sound were not mentioned - Neil's heart and soul

At 8/31/2009 10:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for pointing out that the red control box has no effects in it - it controls relays in the box (with the Fender Delux logo),where the majority of the effects sit. Lotta people think otherwise (and the 92 interview with Larry Cragg + the recent piece in Guitar World) suggest otherwise, too.

Old Black


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