Maybe it’s the half-dozen margaritas I consumed this evening, but for me this passage is bursting with poetry. If Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and W.S. Merwin got together to write a poem, they could hardly come up with something so filled with beauty and potential that it strains the skin of the air touching my eardrums:
The Bigsby vibrato added to Neil Young’s Les Paul (also occasionally available as a factory extra on a Les Paul) makes a very real contribution to his tone. Used to give lead lines anything from a jagged, angular irregularity to a bouncing, wobbly vibe, Young’s Bigsby also functions as a trigger into feedback, and is used to bend decaying notes to nail down the howl zone.
Of course, truly effective use of feedback is enabled by the right amp and the right amp settings. The first part of the equation is achieved by a surprisingly simple, petite piece of gear: a late-1950s tweed Fender Deluxe. This little beastie, with just two volume controls and a single, shared tone control, puts out a mere 15 watts from two 6V6GT output tubes, and carries just a single 12” speaker, but has powered Neil Young’s rock sound in stadiums and arenas around the world since he acquired it in 1967 (although the sound is fed through other, larger amps and its own monitoring system in order to be heard on large stages). A raw, hot little amp, the tweed Deluxe breaks up early, with a lot of tube-induced compression at most volume levels. Up past around 11 o’clock on the dial these amps really don’t get much louder, they just saturate more, issuing increasing levels of distortion tone. (Young’s Deluxe is reported as being rebiased to use larger 6L6 output tubes; the change wouldn’t increase its volume all that much, but would most likely fatten up the lows some and give the sound more body.)
The Deluxe’s hot, hotter, and hottest gain structure brings us to the second part of Young’s lead/feedback tone equation: the settings. In order to access the Deluxe’s varying degrees of overdrive, Young uses a custom-made amp-control switching device known simply as “the Whizzer.” Consisting of two parts, the foot controller and the mechanical automated switching device that physically turns the amps knobs, the Whizzer allows Young to stomp a footswitch on the floor to command the unit to twist the Deluxe’s volume and tone controls to any of a number of carefully determined preset positions. As such, and rather incredibly—if you’re familiar with the Neil Young overdrive sound—he uses no booster, overdrive, or distortion pedals to achieve his unhinged tone; just the little 50-year-old tweed Deluxe, and the Whizzer.
It may help you to understand if I explain that one of the happiest moments of my life was holding an Epiphone Les Paul Standard in my hands and knowing it was mine to take home. Years of cruising pawn shops had finally paid off, and after a setup at a reputable guitar shop, I had a beautiful ebony electric to take home and keep alongside my Epiphone Dot. I love it dearly.
My pledge to you, good people, is that if I ever score a serious book deal, one of my first acts will be to order a genuine Gibson Les Paul with a Bigsby tailpiece. I will make ungodly noises with it at inappropriate times of the day and night, and I will be glad to do so in honor of anyone who clicks on my Web site.