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Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Comment of the Moment: Neil Young's Solo Guitar Technique

Neil Young 
@ White River Amphitheatre, Auburn, WA - July 20, 2023 
Photo by Alan in Seattle  
  (Click photo to enlarge)

Our Comment of the Moment is from post  Neil Young Solo @ Oxbow River Stage, Napa, CA - July 23, 2023 by lonesome me:

I wonder if anyone has thoughts about Neil's performance these days as an acoustic guitar player?

I am so pleased with his voice now, I think he really hits the notes beautifully this summer. Seems like he got some new fresh strength, like going ten years back. 

Maybe the big pause has been a good thing. 

When it comes to the strings on his acoustic, he hits and strum them not like I like him to do. I think a lot of this subject. 

Maybe its a long journey that had its start many years ago. If you go back to the young Neil, he would mostly sit on a chair while playing his Martin(s). I guess Neil in this position would then have a more natural access to his typical palm muting/damping technicue. This is something that must me done near to the bridge, because of the angle of the arm and wrist, it is almost impossible to do this on the other side of the sound hole into the neck. 

When you stand you can also do it, but its like more inspiring when you sit. You are in more tight control of your instrument, and you get the urge to bang those palm muted bass notes out of the guitar body. When you stand you feel more of letting the instrument to cling out in the air, use the sustain. If its your dog, you like to let it run into the woods. 

Well, if we go a long way back, listen to the early demos of Neil, like the first demo of Sugar Mountain, you can hear that he has not developed the combination of playing whole strumming chords and hit notes on one or two strings. The next version of Sugar Mountain four years later, he does. This time Neil take a step away from Bob and becomes himself on the acoustic.

Years later when you hear Cowgirl.. on 4 way street, its accomplished. He is the only one in the world when Harvest is released that can play with his palm The needle.. like he does, and one million guys like me try to copy it. 

But slowly Neil has left his trademark. I think you even on Harvest Moon from 92, you can hear that he like the strings to more let loose, but he still has the great Neil touch, fantastic on a song like Natural Beauty. 

Jump to this summer great performance, he has overall more sacrificed the «palm hand» to the loose strumming on the other side of the sound hole, up on the neck.

I think he loves how the instrument sounds with this gentle touch on the strings. The playing reminds me much more now back to the demoes from the sixties. 

More like Dylan. But I am afraid I think it gets too loose, sometimes its a little out of the swing, and kind of random if he manage to hit the single notes on the bass strings, the small riffs I like him to give me, is often sloppy delivered. But when he picks up White falcon and gives us Ohio, you know that he is able to do it. It is as cool as ever. 

He sat on the solo tour in 2014. Take a listen to Southern Man from Carnegie Hall. I love it. 

So, I hope he will take interest once more to sit down and use his palm like only Neil is able to. 

But I know, he loves the freedom of singing through the harmonica holder microphones, wander around the stage in all directions. He has not any pledge to a fool like me, who can jump into 100 ours on YouTube to listen any time I want to his live demostration on palm muting. 

So I guess, let love rule.
On earth :)

Thanks much for the comment Lonesome Me.  And thanks for the seminar on Neil's acoustic palm technique for all of our guitar players out there.

More on Neil Young's Guitar Techniques:

Neil Young’s ‘Old Black’ Guitar


Now that the NEIL YOUNG 2023 COASTAL TOUR (see concert reviews) has ended, we look back as we look ahead.

NEIL YOUNG 2023 COASTAL TOUR Concert Reviews

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At 7/25/2023 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Lone Red Rider said...

Even if you compare this tour to his other standing acoustic tour (1989) you will notice a big difference in the strumming. It might be song choice or it might be age or perhaps a bit of both.

At 7/25/2023 11:59:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

good points LRR.

Someone mentioned on the original comment thread that this might be due to the bandage on neil's right wrist. he's never really addressed it, we think, but it is indicative of early arthritis some have observed.

of course, hopefully, neil has many years left of guitar playing -- both plugged and unplugged.

At 7/25/2023 12:43:00 PM, Blogger lonesome me said...

Very correct to include age and painful arm movements as a reason why things are the way they are, if osteoarthritis or other similar ailments are an explanation for it. However, I believe that he has changed his technique with either a conscious or unconscious will. The less accurate approach, is what it is, compared to Young Neil :)

At 7/25/2023 04:30:00 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

This is off topic, but does anyone think Neil might play deep cuts from Tonight's the Night at the Roxy show in Sept? Is he the type to be sentimental about stuff like that? Or will he play a similar show to coastal and use the Roxy as a warmup for Farm-Aid?

At 7/25/2023 11:40:00 PM, Blogger the rider said...

Since Neil's up there in years, it is understandable that his playing and ability to perfectly play the song would change. But it's way cool, because he doesn't fight nature, he just goes with the flow, which has always been his thing anyway. When I saw him play at in Ridgeland WA he performed some of the finest versions he ever played of songs such as My Heart, Birds, Prime Of Life. And as far as his current acoustic playing goes he did some stellar acoustic guitar versions of On The Way Home, and Comes A Time. Playing towards the neck with his hand but not using a pick.

At 7/25/2023 11:47:00 PM, Blogger the rider said...

It seems to me like Neil is going to definitely play at least the song Tonight's The Night at the Roxy. My other guesses as to what type of music set he will play at the Roxy, is he will either play solo with some tonight's the night album tracks sprinkled in, or he could bring out Crazy Horse, which would
really be a trip, 50 years later. 4 of the original guys back there again to play.

At 7/25/2023 11:50:00 PM, Blogger the rider said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7/26/2023 12:18:00 AM, Blogger tomatron said...

At the Greek Theatre in Berkeley I had a pretty good view of Neil’s strumming technique and was taking note of that as well! I love TW for the opportunity we have to all to geek out on these microcosmic elements together. The personal connection for me: I had acoustics on the brain since I recently bought a vintage Epiphone, a late 60s Eldorado. Like many of its ilk, it only has the strap button on the end, none where the neck meets the body. So you have to tie the strap on, which I’d never needed to do with any of my other guitars. I’d proceeded to buy a new strap and go through the steps of tying it on so I could stand up and play if I wanted. Very quickly I discovered that my previously in-tune guitar was all out of whack! Having the strap tied there above the nut pulls on the neck, yanking the whole guitar out of tune once any pressure is applied. I decided to just sit down and play, which was the original plan anyway.

So, having experienced this phenomenon and then seeing Neil Young up there whaling away at Old Hank and the rest as he stalked about the stage, I was very aware of how we hold the guitar, incorporating strumming techniques. I concluded that Bob Rice or whoever tunes Neil’s guitars must do that standing up, so the neck is in the position it will be during the show, with the same tension on it. The tied-on strap also places the guitar at a different angle than a strap on two buttons would, or sitting down with no strap at all. The guitar might hang a little farther back. This position might lend itself to a comfortable strum closer to the guitar’s neck. As far as Neil skipping a string or performing other such “errors,” I always heard that he was known for that imprecise form, going back to at least Zuma era shows. Sometimes he doesn’t fully fret a note and it sounds a little crispy, too.

But at this concert, my conclusion was that he was strumming that way simply because it sounded good to him. You get a nice rich tone hitting the string close to or over the neck, a full and almost chiming sound. He was moving back and forth from the soundhole to the neck and varying the tone subtly for a more expressive performance. There is likely something to the comments regarding his wrapped wrist, which could easily be a carpal tunnel/ tendonitis issue if not arthritis. That, along with the standing position, may be a deterrent to the bridge-position palm muting. I think the standing was a choice. He wants to be up and moving, not stuck on a stool. The variation of soundhole to over-neck picking and strumming definitely added as well as visual dimension to the performance, and it’ll be rewarding to listen and see this again when the Atmos-mixed shows hit NYA.

At 7/30/2023 01:06:00 AM, Blogger Mystic said...

Poncho said he's retired unless Neil wanted to do a fully acoustic tour.

Has Neil ever played live, on stage, with a full acoustic backing band? For a full tour? (Bridge School not fitting this criteria or Unplugged, no, not even Silver And Gold, they were all one offs but weren't they sublime?)

A seated Horse tour? Wow that'd be great, oh hang on....

"The Rockin' Horse Tour". Okay, I see why Neil isn't going to do that!!!!

But a fully acoustic band, it would be the dream deal!

Even Metallica (yes, I know) have done live unplugged sets.

Neil and Potr would be mind blowing, plus Poncho, okay and Ralph. Well, definitely Billy too.

Ahhhh. fantasy Neil groupings!


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