The 112 guitars make up a fraction of Neal's encyclopedic personal collection, but they represent a significant portion of the history of modern music and Neal's own musical legacy with Journey, Santana and beyond.
Included in the lot by Heritage Auctions are guitars that would be collector's dreams before being tied to a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Many of the instruments Neal is selling were used by him for years, either on tour or in the studio.
The headlining items are guitars used to write and record Journey classics, like "Don't Stop Believin'," "Wheel in the Sky," "Patiently" and many others. While the guitars headed to the auction block have a special place in Neal's heart, he tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A that he's enjoyed his time with them and it's time to give them new homes. Besides, he needs to make room for more!
"I’m really not that [sentimental] guy," he said. "We have cases and boxes of platinum records in our house and none of them are up on the wall. The memories and the things that were special about those times with these guitars, were actually with me.
"But it is the instrument to someone else that I played on a certain song or on a certain record. I just prefer to move forward. I like creating guitars. I like ordering guitars custom from all the people I’m working with, whether it’s at Fender or Gibson or Paul Reed Smith."
Read Neal's QN'A conversation below!
At some point you considered opening a guitar museum. Is that still a consideration?
I did consider it. There’s still plenty of guitars left — I mean, there’s 112 in this book, here that Heritage has put together. These are some of the finest instruments that I’ve ever collected. I probably have about 785 guitars still left. So many guitars, mean, so many years. And I continue to collect. You have to move some out to make room for new ones that are coming in.
What prompted you to start collecting guitars?
I get a lot of inspiration from playing new guitars. It’s not always that special old guitar that you played way back then. Sometimes those guitars have had their time, and it’s kind of like voodoo to me. They’re beautiful instruments; they sound amazing, but they’ve kind of had their time with me, and I like moving on and moving forward.
To tell you the truth: Fender, for instance, is making some of the best relic’d instruments ever made. And I’d put some of the best custom shop relic necks next to a 1950 Tele or ’52 or ’53. Some people that are purists will say I’m crazy, but I’ve listened to both of them, and I’ve played both of them and my go-to is the relic from the Custom Shop. The pickups are newly wound, they’re wound old school by people who’ve been working at Fender forever. It’s the same type of winding, it’s all hand-winding, but the magnets are new. They’ve really got it down to a science.
I’m glad you mentioned Fender. I got my first USA Strat earlier this year and the first song I played on it was “Lights.” It's one of my favorite Journey songs and probably my favorite solo of yours. Is the “Lights” guitar in this Heritage Auction collection?
No, it isn’t, actually. I sold it some years back to a collector that really wanted it. I wish I still had it. I tried to buy it back from him so I could put it in the auction (laughs), but he was like, ‘No go!’ I offered to trade him two vintage Strats for it. He was like, ‘No, no, no.’
That was a ’63 Strat that I pretty much did what I wanted to it. It had a ’63 body and a ’65 neck on it and an old Floyd Rose that I stuck on it. I had met Eddie Van Halen and Floyd Rose and saw the whole [tremolo] system and how it would stay in tune. To a lot of people that’s a ’63 butchered guitar. To me, it was a great touring guitar — many, many tours on that guitar. But you know I have some new relic’d ’63 Strats that are setup the same way.
You seem really excited about the auction. Were any of these guitars hard for you to part with?
I thought about it a lot. Some of them, I was like, ‘Maybe I’m going to keep this forever for remembrance…’ but I’m really not that [sentimental] guy. We have cases and boxes of platinum records in our house and none of them are up on the wall. The memories and the things that were special about those times with these guitars, were actually with me.
But it is the instrument to someone else that I played on a certain song or on a certain record. I just prefer to move forward. I like creating guitars. I like ordering guitars custom from all the people I’m working with, whether it’s at Fender or Gibson or Paul Reed Smith. I like ordering to my new specs of what is comfortable for me and what I’m trying to get out of the guitar.
Is there a place where people can go see the collection in person?
[Heritage Auctions] have really been so great to work with. The displays that they’re showing me everyday that are in Dallas right now — I never imagined that they would go this extreme to promote and show the guitars. They’re in glass cases like it is a museum.
You need to have an appointment to go in to see them. It’s for serious buyers. There are a lot of serious guitars here and collector’s items. I was so blown away by how new a lot of them were. They were like untouched, pretty much virgin guitars. No scratches, it’s hard to believe they aren’t brand new or hadn’t been refinished.
Is it true that you condition your fretboards with salami grease?
(Laughs) Yeah! It’s absolutely true. I happened to do it by accident while I was working on an album once at [Jonathan Cain’s] house. I was doing a solo album of mine, [1995's] Beyond the Thunder, writing with him and recording. I got hungry and we went to the deli. I was eating a salami sandwich and the salami got on my fingers. I picked up the axe and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really greasy, but in a good way.’ So it became something that I did.
Funny, in Guitar Player magazine I was reading and one of my favorite jazz guitar players … Wes Montgomery … did the same thing. I imagine he fell into it by the same kind of accident.
I just imagine your tech has a little refrigerator by his work station packed with meat!
Yes, he does. He brings it out. A lot of people don’t believe it. They go, ‘Doesn’t it get smelly?’
I’m like, ‘I don’t sit there and smell the neck,’ you know. They wipe it down, but it really does work. I don’t know if I would put it on a maple neck, but on a rosewood fingerboard it soaks right into the wood.
In the old days when I was in Santana, like in 1971 – ’72, I used ... oil, like salad dressing oil. I’d soak a rag in the oil and then put it in the case. Then I’d pull it out and swipe it up and down the strings. It really works and it gets you like flying around the neck.
So any of the rosewood fretboard guitars in The Neal Schon Collection are NOT vegan!
Most of them don’t have salami on them (laughs). The ones that I play live do.
What are you looking forward to after the auction?
But we’re going to be playing the iHeartFestival, too, on September 18th. There are a lot of great bands we’re playing with that night and it’s going to be really fun. I’m really excited about just getting back onstage and playing in front of live audiences after all this downtime.
We only played a few shows in Vegas, like a year-and-a-half ago, but the year before we took off. So it’s been a while. Luckily enough I’ve been doing this a while, so I didn’t have to go back in and relearn what I had played.
I’ve been in a writing mode and really tripping out by myself at our house, playing sort of outside stuff compared to what I play normally … testing the waters in different areas. Digging on Miles Davis … I got into playing more keyboards…
When is the new Journey album coming out?
We don’t have a release date yet. I’m thinking it will probably either come out at the end of this year or [early] next year.