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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Why Neil Young Is Intentionally Out Of Tune | Thoughts by Kenny Vaughan

Otis Gibbs & Kenny Vaughan

A great little short video on why Neil Young is intentionally out of tune.
Here is an interview with Kenny ”Nashville’s Secret Weapon” Vaughan -- long-time member of Marty Stuart’s supporting band, The Fabulous Superlatives -- by Otis Gibbs. (Thanks Bob G.!)



More on Neil Young's unique style and Neil Young's musical influences.

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At 8/10/2022 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Kenny's favorite song is "Barstool Blues" which contain my favorite lines in any Neil Young song:

"his life was filled with parasites and countless idle threats"

This sums up a large portion of human reality

At 8/10/2022 03:57:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

yep, Barstool Blues is another favorite Abner.

very interested to hear what other's think of Vaughan's point about out of tune Neil.

maybe you have to be a musician to truly understand his point?

At 8/10/2022 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Kenny definitely gets it. He understands that mystical thing that separates great from transcendent. Not everyone can hear what he’s talking about, but most people can definitely feel the difference. His reference to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Velvet Underground says it best, those artists knew how to manipulate the sound in order to achieve something that can’t really be dissected, but can be felt. And Neil Young is a master at finding that elusive playground in both the studio and in concert. He’s a true master of weaving in and out of what is, and what is possible.

Thanks for sharing this video, he knows what he’s talking about.

Peace 🙏

At 8/11/2022 07:41:00 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Interesting watch and thoughts.

I am no musician so others may be better able to comment, but how is 'in tune' or 'out of tune' defined? If it's deliberate is it really 'out of tune'?

Also when Kenny Vaughn refers to Neil or Velvet Underground deliberately tuning 'out of tune' is this different from drop D tuning that I have read Neil talk about a number of his songs being in before?

At the end of the day what matters most to me is what my ears think, and with Neil it's very much mostly positive.

At 8/11/2022 09:07:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dan - agree about Kenny and musicians "getting Neil".

seriously. not too many list off folks like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Velvet Underground w/ Neil. Now that's quite a group to be lumped in with. an honor for sure.

@ Ron - good point about what does 'out of tune' really mean? intentional or unintentional?

we recall back in the early days, Neil was quite notorious for taking a minute or 2 between songs to tune. He would say "we tune because we care."

eventually neil was successful enough to surround himself with different guitars and different tunings to move between instruments and songs. In addition, he's had folks like Larry Cragg to run instruments back and forth.

like you say, the music has never really struck as out of tune, esp acoustic.

now Ol Black feedback is an entirely different subject, what with shredded strings and body bumps and amp jamming, how is OB ever expected to remain in tune?!

At 8/11/2022 09:43:00 AM, Blogger Sedan Delivery said...

Tuning is a whole artform unto itself. It can be endlessly precise. Each guitar string needs to be tuned to pitch, but then the whole guitar needs to be intonated to make sure that a D played at the 3rd fret is the same pitch as a D played at the 15th fret. Then you need to make sure your chords are in tune with themselves as multiple strings are played, etc. You can never get everything perfect. Something will always be off somewhere. Try to play in tune with a piano and it's a whole other thing. Then add that Neil relies heavily on the Bigsby which deliberately changes the pitch of every string and you'll be in and out of tune all over the place. (Although I don't think he uses it on TTN).

I think what Kenny is getting at when he says "out of tune" is that they didn't do the pain-staking tweaks to get everything perfect. Small dissonances between notes in a chord or between instruments help create the uneasy vibe that TTN carries. Anything played truly out of tune would be unbearable to listen to. I just watched Rick Beato interview Matt Cameron where they discussed re-tuning his snare head between every take in the studio. Contrast that with the beginning of Mirrorball where Neil says "No tuning...nothing" and you can see the difference. Obviously the guitars are in tune, but they didn't all sit together for 10 mins to make sure everything was "perfect".

I would suspect in most settings, especially acoustic, Neil is maniacal about his tuning. The guitar tech and specific guitars for each songs as Thrasher mentioned being a good example of this.

@Ron, no, Dropped D is just a different type of tuning, it doesn't mean out of tune. The strings are just tuned to a different combo of pitches.

At 8/11/2022 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Richie Cruz said...

To me, this whole "Neil's out of tune" stuff is pretty overblown. I play guitar, and I love to play along with Neil albums (a great way to practice, btw), and except for a couple of wobbly ones on TTN, Neil most definitely is in tune all of the time. Now he does use different tunings on some songs, but that's different than being out of tune.

Now playing along with some live bootlegs, you can sometimes hear that some tuning up is needed here and there, but I don't think Neil and his bands have ever been deliberately out of tune.

At 8/11/2022 08:20:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Neil didn’t want to give us Cinnamon Girl from Fillmore ‘69 because it was out of tune, he said.

Neil has said that he sings off key all the time, right? But if he is off key, give me more of that!

Old Black sounds like a Bear to keep in tune, as Larry Cragg tells it. “As soon as Neil touches it, it goes crazy.”

“Blue” notes are the best. Thanks to music from Africa, originally, the whole world’s music got way better.

The Germans invented the Harmonica and tuned it to a train whistle.

The African Americans then showed how to play it! Thanks Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, & Little Walter.

Schrodinger’s Cat tuning: A guitar can be both in tune AND out of tune.

Glad I could sew that up for ya.

Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 8/12/2022 02:11:00 PM, Blogger Tomatron said...

Yeah, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are not playing deliberately out of tune. They’re almost always in tune. Early performances in D modal tuning (notably Down By The River) were out of tune, probably due to his utilizing an alternate tuning the guitar was not set up for. He’s definitely making sure everything is tuned up, and he is working hard to hit the notes with his voice. I think what Kenny Vaughn is responding to is how expressive the performances can be. One thing we love about the guitar is that notes can be bent up or down by bending the strings, manipulating the whammy bar, or flexing the neck. The infinite possibilities introduced by these techniques add up to a personalized sound that rings true for the listener. That is akin to what he was talking about with Miles Davis bending the trumpet note, but a different strategy from defining the instruments like he said the Velvets did. Tuning an entire instrument up or down slightly is a technique that is effective for creating harmonic space (a great feature analog synth players use often), but I don’t hear that with the Horse. Neil gets annoyed if things are out of tune.

At 8/12/2022 03:27:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Sedan Delivery + @ Richie + @ our Brother Alan + @ Tomatron: all really great comments and points on tunings.

we learn so much from you folks everyday.

and we're grateful you're all here to help us make it thru the day ...

so. is it really all just one tune???

At 8/16/2022 03:55:00 AM, Blogger Bradle said...

yeah agree would hardly ever find him playing out of tune let alone on purpose.

something to consider when listening to bootlegs or even pro tapes is that tape speeds (rec AND playback and sometimes both) may be a teeny bit faster or slower depending on the source, playback machine etc which can cause a slight change in pitch - and even in & out during the same song

At 1/17/2024 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Bill said...

What Kenny is talking about is playing a note that's not in the scale, what some would consider a "wrong" note or deliberately playing a note flat or sharp to create tension in the music.


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