Neal Joseph Schon (born , 1954, on Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) is an American guitarist best known for his work with the band Journey. He is the only member to play on all of their recordings.
The son of a jazz saxophonist, Schon first picked up the guitar at the age of 5. A quick learner, he joined Santana as a teenage prodigy at the age of 15. He went to Aragon High School in San Mateo, but dropped out (with his parents' blessing) before graduating. Schon had famously been asked by Eric Clapton to join Derek and the Dominos, but since Santana called him first, he decided to join Santana for the album Santana III. Schon also played in Azteca before moving on in 1973 to form Journey, a group he continues to lead today.
Schon's guitar style has been described as soulful, taking inspiration from 1960s-era soul singers such as Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, and blending it with blues runs similar to B. B. King.
In addition to his five solo albums and 14 studio albums with Journey, his work also includes: a pair of albums with keyboardist Jan Hammer, short-term collaborations with Sammy Hagar (HSAS and Planet Us) and Paul Rodgers, stints with Bad English (a supergroup that featured Journey?s Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain's former Babys bandmates John Waite and Ricky Phillips) and Hardline (which also featured Deen Castronovo). Even as Journey?s latest lineup plays to a still-faithful body of fans, Schon has immersed himself in side projects such as Piranha Blues (1999) and "Black Soup Cracker" a funk outfit that features former Prince associates Rosie Gaines and Michael Bland, and more recently Soul SirkUS with Jeff Scott Soto.
Schon can be heard on other albums including three tracks on Michael Bolton's The Hunger, with the Schon sound most recognizable on "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". He also joined Larry Graham to play in an all-star band for cult funk artist and ex-wife of Miles Davis, Betty Davis.
Schon's first guitar was an acoustic Stella, followed two years later by a Gibson ES-335 which was subsequently stolen and replaced with a '56 Les Paul Goldtop reissue that he used for many years. Schon currently endorses Gibson guitars, and has a limited edition signature Les Paul model entitled the "Neal Schon Signature Model Custom Les Paul", of which only 35 were made according to the Gibson Custom website. He has previously employed Godin guitars on his 1995 solo album Beyond the Thunder, and more recently uses Paul Reed Smith guitars. In the late 1980s, Schon manufactured (through Jackson Guitars and later Larrivee) and played his own line of guitars. Simply named Schon, about 200 of the Jackson-produced models were made. A white Schon guitar can be clearly seen in the music video for the Journey song "Girl Can't Help It", as well as a gold version in the Journey videos for "I'll Be Alright Without You" and "Be Good to Yourself". A Gibson Les Paul Super Custom can be seen in the video for the journey song "Anyway You Want It."
As of 2008, Schon currently prefers guitar pedals from Xotic, a Vox Satriani model and occasionally uses a Buddy Guy wah pedal.
Schon has five children: Miles, Elizabeth, Sarah, Aja and Sophia. His son Miles plays guitar in a band. In a 2007 interview, Neal confirmed that he has had tinnitus for years stemming from excessive loud playing. Neal Schon's father, the late Matthew Schon, was a jazz musician and composer who provided the arrangements on the Journey song "Mother, Father."