Neil Young is one of those electric guitar players whose tone is instantly identifiable. Dark, aggressive, and always in or near the red, it's a sound that helped launch grunge, and inspired countless guitarists who came after him.
In this clip from Young's recent Apple Music 1 interview – premiered today exclusively at Guitar World – the rock icon discusses the inner workings of that one-of-a-kind guitar sound, and how some trusty friends – guitar tech Larry Cragg and former amp tech Sal Trentino – helped him dial it in.
The clip is part of a rare Young video interview with host Zane Lowe – the rest of which is due to air later today – ahead of the release of Young's new album, Barn.
“It’s the sound,” says Young. “It’s what's happening. When I play my sound, it's just me with an instrument that was set up by Larry Cragg, who's a genius. Through amplifiers that were set up by Larry Cragg, and Sal Trentino, who is another genius who is not with us anymore, but truly a genius. He was a tube guru.”
While Young is known for his off-the-cuff playing style, he displays a surprisingly forensic approach to crafting his tones with the pair of techs, at one point discussing the lengths they’d go to in order to locate the right tubes for his beloved Fender Tweed Deluxe.
“Between Larry and Sal, we would get the Deluxe out and we have a pile of tubes that are contenders for the Deluxe,” says Young. “There'd be like 600 tubes. And we just go through them, try a couple of 6L6s, try another couple. Be like, ‘Okay, these are pretty good’ [and we’ll] categorize all the tubes… Pretty soon you've got three sets of tubes that sound like God, out of 80 tubes.
“So Larry and Sal were great at that. And when I did Barn, Larry was back with me. There's so much involved and so many people to make the sound. That the sound is really the life of all the music and all the people that I've known.”
Young’s new album with Crazy Horse, Barn, is due for release this Friday, December 10.
Head to Apple Music 1 (opens in new tab) from 1 p.m EST/ 10 a.m PST today (December 8) to check out Lowe’s full interview with Neil Young.