Virtuoso Guitarist Oz Noy on Inspiration, Celestion, and the Importance of Playing Live

DiMeola. Holdsworth. McLaughlin. Metheny. Scofield. If you were to describe what these great guitarists have in common, it would be that they fused deep jazz scholarship with rock and soul rhythms as well as a borderless appreciation of world music. If you were to name the heir apparent to this legacy, it could only be Oz Noy. Beginning his career in his native Israel, he became a top studio and touring musician in his teens. Arriving in New York City in 1996, he quickly rose to the highest echelon of U.S. musos. His tenth studio album Snapdragon features such luminaries as Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, and Zappa alum Vinnie Colaiuta on drums; Will Lee and John Pattituci on bass; and the late Wallace Rooney on trumpet. Through it all, Celestion guitar loudspeakers have been a vital component of Noy’s equipment.

What was your early path to becoming the accomplished musician you are today?

I grew up in Israel and started playing guitar when I was about ten years old. I originally wanted to play drums. A friend who played guitar invited me to see his teacher, and I think the main thing that kept me interested in guitar was The Beatles, whom I really loved when I was a kid. I also liked a lot of Israeli pop. My parents bought me a crappy nylon-string guitar, and my dad bought me this little pickup you glued onto the guitar. Once I realized you could make noises through an amp, I was hooked on the idea of the guitar being electric.

But when realized I wanted to play professionally as a lifetime thing was in the mid-1980s. I was maybe 15 when Pat Metheny came to Israel on the Still Life Talking tour. I went to see Pat play, and after that I basically stopped going to school! [Laughs.]

Who were your formative influences as you were coming up?

When I started to get into jazz, it was mostly John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and maybe George Benson. Then I discovered Scott Henderson and Allan Holdsworth. Of course, Pat Metheny and John Scofield. After that, I started to study jazz more deeply and got into Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and Grant Green — the bebop guys. At the same time, I started appreciating more blues, so Stevie Ray Vaughan was huge in my book. These days, I feel like I’m influenced by everybody!

When were you first aware of Celestion as a “thing” apart from your guitars and amps?

When I was growing up, Celestion speakers were always around. I had a Marshall with a 4×12 [cabinet] that had Celestion G12T-75s in it. I used that cabinet a lot. That and a Fender Twin Reverb were pretty much my main amps in Israel. But the Marshall with the 4×12 was always the main thing.

When I moved here, before I had much money to buy gear, I had several mediocre combo amps at first. Once I was able to afford better equipment, I had a couple of Fenders with Celestion Vintage 30s in the cabinets. That speaker sounds great inside pretty much everything.

After that I had a little Suhr amp, and it always had Celestion — mostly Vintage 30s but I had one cabinet with Greenbacks. You kind of can’t get away from those speakers and that sound. For me, they work in any context.

How has your rig evolved since then?

What I’m using now are Two Rock amps, which I started playing about ten or 12 years ago. They’re a high-end amp on the order of Dumble and things like that. The speakers I mainly use with those are Celestion G12-65s in both 2×12 and 4×12 cabinets. I also still have a cabinet with Greenbacks in it. When I play through my Marshall head, the Greenback is the one speaker that really does it for me.

I also bought an old DeLuxe amp, and I just put a brand new speaker into it, the G12 Ruby. It’s the one with the red chassis and it’s simply fantastic in that amp. Then there’s a recording cabinet I have at home with a G12-65 in it, and sometimes I swap that out for a Vintage 30 depending on the sound I’m after.

What’s your most recent Celestion acquisition and do you like it?

There’s this new speaker that looks like the Alnico Blue but it’s gold and handles a higher wattage. I believe it’s just called the Celestion Gold, and I think it’s excellent. I installed it in my Princeton. The thing about Celestion is, it’s such an iconic sound. If you want that sound, there’s only one way to get it.

Let’s say you got a call for a recording session with a major artist, and it was in an hour. Which setup out of everything you’ve mentioned would you bring into the studio?

To be honest, these days I do most of that kind of work from home, because I have everything all hooked up here and technology makes it possible to, you know, record my track and send it back out. Let’s say I did get that call, though. If it was a quick one-off, I’d probably bring my DeLuxe or my Princeton. If it was a bigger deal, I’d also bring one of my Two Rocks.

Do you have any suggestions or wish list items for Celestion?

Yes. More 4-ohm speakers! [Editor’s note: Celestion currently offers three speaker models with a 4-ohm impedance option: the Eight 15, the Copperback, and the Hot 100.]

It’s difficult to pin you down genre-wise, and we mean that as a compliment. How do you identify as a guitarist?

Thank you. I see myself basically as a jazz player, but I’ve played rock and done all kinds of studio work since I was 15. I guess what I did was, I mixed my jazz chops with modern guitar sounds as well as some of the approach of rock, blues, and R&B. So, I guess it’s a mix of things. Some people call it fusion, but that’s kind of a loaded word these days.

Yes, the F-word! Let’s talk about fusion. Has the style and the word gotten a bad rap in your opinion?

I think the problem was that at a certain point in the ’80s, some fusion started being executed in a way that was synthetic and sterile. The soul got sucked out of it. When you think about it, fusion is Miles, it’s McLaughlin, it’s Weather Report, it’s Return to Forever, all those bands — really soulful stuff.

One of the places where fusion is making a comeback is on social media, where a lot of young players are posting what we might call “shred” videos. Many of them share influences with you and some are probably influenced by you. What advice might you give to these players?

My main advice is, you’ve got to get out of the house and play live with other musicians. I recognize that the pandemic has made that hard for everybody. But I’m familiar with this phenomenon of people at home, learning on YouTube, then making their own videos and posting them there or on Instagram or wherever. And some of them blow my mind — they’re very talented and technically skilled.

But it all only exists within those platforms, and I see that as kind of real and not real at the same time. Yes, there’s an audience for it and if you’re good, you will get followers. But it seems like kind of a lonely existence, you know? I’ve been impressed by quite a few of these players and so I tried to look up where they were actually playing a gig so I could go see them — and most of the time I couldn’t find anything.

Recording guitar videos in your room all day is all well and good, and getting likes is all well and good. But what will really make you a better player isn’t staying at home and shredding over existing tracks. It’s being creative on the spot with other human beings. So, get out there and play with a band!