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August 4, 2022

Legends of Tone: Neil Young

Harvest the raw tones of the folk rock hero.

Neil Young is the king of real, raw guitar tone, whether he's tracking an intimate, impromptu record with just a D-28 and harmonica, or dishing out unbridled riffs through a pile of amps onstage with Crazy Horse. Famous for his vintage, custom and often off-the-wall gear, Neil Young can be an intimidating artist to replicate. Nevertheless, we looked to some modern gear to recreate the tones from some of our favorite Neil Young songs.

Learn more about Neil Young's unique tone and techniques on the zZounds Blog!

Check out our gear picks and see how they stack up in our Legends of Tone: Neil Young video!
Explore more legendary artists' tones in our Legends of Tone series »

Martin D-28

Martin D-28
A 1941 Martin D-28, originally owned by Hank Williams is Neil Young's go-to acoustic guitar. Affectionately dubbed "Hank," this D-28, alongside a D-45, is responsible for Neil's timeless, intimate sound. Martin's deep, rich dreadnought shape plays perfectly into the raw tone achieved on songs like "Old Man" and "The Needle and the Damage Done," laying the perfect groundwork for Young's uniquely pitched voice.

While he's also known for slinging his fair share of electric guitars, there's nothing more iconic than Neil Young with a Martin dreadnought and a harmonica. If you can't get your hands on Hank Williams' old D-28, this 2017 Martin D-28 is a worthy substitute thanks to its marriage of pre- and post-WWII design features and beautiful East Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce construction.

Gibson Les Paul

Gibson Les Paul
Neil Young's electric guitar of choice, known as "Old Black," is a 1953 Gibson Les Paul gold top that's been painted black and heavily modified with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, Firebird bridge pickup and several other small tweaks. Acquired by Young in a trade in 1969, Old Black has remained his workhorse guitar for live sets and recording for nearly 50 years.

Fender '57 Custom Deluxe

Fender '57 Custom Deluxe
In our opinion, one of the coolest things about Neil Young's electrified sound is his raucous overdrive tone. His use of overdrive effects pedals is slim-to-none, preferring to let his 1959 Fender Deluxe do the work, with the help of a custom-built effects and channel switcher dubbed "The Whizzer." Essentially, The Whizzer pairs with a unit placed on top of Neil's amp that physically turns the knobs on his Fender Deluxe with the tap of a switch, allowing him to call-up specific amp settings in lieu of using overdrive pedals.

The Fender '57 Custom Deluxe hand-wired guitar combo amplifier is a modern reincarnation of the classic Tweed Deluxe favored by Neil and so many other players. True to the original, this '57 Custom Deluxe dishes-out 12 watts of power through a single 12-inch speaker for tried-and-true vintage rock tone.

Echoplex EP103

Echoplex EP103
Along with his Whizzer-equipped Fender Deluxe, Neil Young employs a pretty modest range of effects to achieve his signature sound. One key element of his signal chain is an original Maestro EP-4 Echoplex unit. Used in tandem with the stock Fender reverb, the Echoplex provides a warbly delay that you can hear Young play against in many of his recordings, creating a thick, ever-shifting tone.

Like most of Neil's gear, an original Echoplex unit is hard to come by and isn't the most practical piece of equipment to lug to a gig. Luckily, Dunlop has created a pedal version in the Echoplex EP103. The size of a standard effects pedal, the EP103 delivers the EP-4's legendary tones with a simple control interface and a hi-fi, all-analog dry signal path, perfect for organic Neil Young tone.

Boss BF-3 Flanger

Boss BF-3 Flanger
Primarily heard during some of his more wild solos, the Boss Flanger is another of Neil Young's effects of choice. The specific unit he's known for using is an impossibly rare 1969 original model, housed in a powder blue enclosure and triggered by his Whizzer effect switching system.

We've found that the readily available Boss BF-3 flanger gives just the right amount of thick, stereo flange to do Neil's sound justice. Building on the features of the original, the BF-3 offers two modes to create incredibly deep stereo flanging, perfect for adding a swirling sensation to to leads and achieving the live vibe of Weld and Rust Never Sleeps-style music of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.