Neil Young's Ragged Glory Sound - Guitar World, October 2009
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Amongst musicians, many often wonder how Neil Young achieves his unique sound that has been described as like "a jet plane in a thunderstorm".
From Neil Young: Ragged Glory - Guitar World (Guitar World, October 2009) by Richard Bienstock:
At the center of it all is the volatile 1953 Gibson Les Paul goldtop Young calls Old Black. A brutal and battered beast, the guitar is responsible for the legendary gritty tones heard on countless Young classics, including “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down By the River” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
The Les Paul, which features a Bigsby tremolo and a P90 pickup in the neck position, received the black paint job that inspired its nickname prior to being acquired by Young. Since then, it’s undergone several further modifications, including the addition of a “chrome-on-brass” pickguard and back plates, a bridge-position Firebird pickup and a toggle switch, installed between the two volume and two tone knobs, that acts as a bypass. “You flip that,” says Cragg, “and the Firebird goes straight to the amp.”
Cragg installed the Firebird pickup back in 1973. “Originally there was a P90 in there,” he explains. “But in the early Seventies the guitar was lost, and when Neil recovered it a few years later the bridge pickup was gone. He put a Gretsch DeArmond in there for a while, but when I came onboard I replaced that with the Firebird, which has been there ever since. Everyone calls it a mini humbucker, but it’s not. It’s a humbucker, and it’s very microphonic—you can speak into it. It’s really piercing and high and a big part of his sound.”
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