Dialing In Angus Young’s Tone
Angus Young’s tone originates from a simple signal path. However, to achieve the AC DC guitar tone, there are some particular essentials needed. Hence, in this article we will be discussing all the things necessary to nail Angus’ tone.
It is paramount to know that the AC DC guitar tone is a combination of Angus and his brother Malcolm playing in tandem. There is a significant difference in tone between the two guitars. The rhythm guitar played by Malcolm Young is a clean, “power amp” type of distortion, with a fat tone and more bottom end than Angus’ tone. Angus covers the brighter and more distorted tones and frequencies. Together the brethren have created some of the most sought after guitar tones in rock history.
The tone naturally starts with the guitar. Angus has aways used Gibson SG guitars, primarily because of the SG’s thin body size. Angus is a little guy, all of 4 feet nine inches and 115 pounds. The Gibson SG was essentially the best fit ergonomically for him, which turned out to be a great sounding axe for the band. The SG has a brighter tone than the Les Paul, however the pickups are humbucking, same as the Les Paul. The humbucking pickups “front end” his amp with plenty of kick.
The first SG guitars Angus played were of course what we now think of as vintage. AC DC began in the early 70’s, as his instruments were mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. Often he uses his 1967 black SG with Seymour Duncan pick ups at 7.8 volts and 500K pots. He uses Ernie Ball .009 gauge strings and Fender extra heavy picks.
For your purpose, any Gibson SG with humbucking pickups would be fine as a starting point, in regards to dialing in Angus’ tone. Note that some SGs have P90 pickups rather than the humbucking style. Angus has always been know for using humbucking pickups.
AC DC folklore has it that Angus once plugged in a wah wah pedal. Unfortunately the Wah pedal did not have a battery in it, which cut the signal when he stepped on it. It is said that Angus never plugged into another stomp box since his Wah Wah experience.
Although he does not use delays, reverbs, or modulation effects in his signal path, there has been added reverb and slap back in the mix. For example, on the “Back In Black” album we can hear reverb and a bit of slap back delay in the mix for processing. This inserted in post production, essentially not part of his signal chain.
There is however a secret weapon to Angus’ tone. this would be his Schaffer wireless system. He began using wireless before the “Back In Black” album, but not very early in his career. This wireless system from the 70’s would actually add some gain and sustain to his amp. He used this wireless in the studio, for tone, to cut the “Back In Black” album.
To emulate this tone, a simple overdrive, such as an “Ibanez Tube Screamer” could do the trick. The amps he plays are not extreme high gain. Setting the Overdrive to a low gain but high output, can pinch the front of the amp, giving that bit extra, he gets from his wireless.
Angus has used many vintage type Marshalls. Over the years his rig has consisted of Marshall Plexi Super Leads, Marshall JTM45s and JTM50s. Typically he prefers a non master volume amp. He runs nine or more heads at once in big concert halls and the amps are not all identical. The main concern is to get a massive crunch, but not fuzzy high gain distortion.
If you do not have the vintage or reissue Marshalls, you can still achieve a close Angus tone. Setting your amp think blues tone with more gain and louder. It should certainly be an all tube amp to get the girth of the power tube distortion and the warm of a tube preamps section.
How to Dial in His Tone
Angus sets his Marshall’s tone stack different than most of us would assume. Angus’ settings are Presence on one, Bass, Middle and Treble all set to three and his volume is set to six.
If you do not have vintage style Marshalls, you can still get the proper AC DC tone, by being mindful to not run too much distortion. We want the cleaner power amp distortion rather than a fuzzy high gain sound. You will certainly want an all tube amp to get the power tube girth, with the warm pre amp tubes in the signal path.
For master volume amps, set your gain less than half way up and crank the master volume. Begin by setting your tone controls to 12 O’clock. This will be a good starting point, keeping in mind crunch tone not fuzz.
Think more blues tone than metal. A blues tone with added volume and gain is more true to an AC DC’s tone than a high gain setting. In fact, I have witnessed many bands that played AC DC songs with way too much gain. I’m sure I was guilty of this myself.
Upon studying the tone of Angus Young, I dug deep into his influences. The research aided me in dialing in his tone. I suggest learning about a players influences and then you understand where the ideas and licks originally came from. This adds authenticity to the process of coping someones style.
Angus Young’s influences are many of toehold blues players, Certainly B.B. King, Bo Diddley. Also, Chuck Berry, Kieth Richards, Paul Kossoff, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and possibly Jimmy Page, were all influential to Angus Young.