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This article was originally published in issue #50
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Angus Young’s guitar style is firmly rooted in Blues and Rock and Roll, his main influence being Chuck Berry. As well as imitating Berry’s famous 'duck walk' Angus blends his “Johnny B Goode” style string bends with high-octane pentatonic runs and licks.
To celebrate our 50th issue we have a very special Tech Session looking at the guitar style of the master of pure Rock and Roll - AC/DC’s Angus Young. We wired Jamie Humphries up to the mains and let him rip....
Formed in Australia in 1973 by Scottish born guitar duo brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, AC/DC are without a doubt one of the world's most successful and influential hard Rock bands. Known for their tight “four on the floor” grooves AC/DC have sold over 200 million records world wide, and are responsible for such classic rock albums as “High Voltage”, “TNT”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, “Highway to Hell”, “Let there be Rock”, “Back in Black” and “For Those About To Rock We Salute You”, to name but a few.
Undoubtedly the most iconic and best loved figure in the band is lead guitarist Angus Young, whose slight frame clad in a school uniform brandishing a Gibson SG is a legendary image in Rock and popular culture. The band's outrageous on stage antics were matched by their hard drinking, hard living off stage life style, a life style that tragically claimed the life of singer Bon Scott in 1980. The position of lead vocals was filled by English vocalist Brian Johnson, who recently (and controversially) was replaced by Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose.
Angus Young’s guitar style is firmly rooted in Blues and Rock and Roll, his main influence being Chuck Berry. As well as imitating Berry’s famous 'duck walk' Angus blends his “Johnny B Goode” style string bends with high-octane pentatonic runs and licks. Angus also includes arpeggio licks that make use of the open strings. Sometimes criticised for their simplistic songs structures (not that the band's audiences could care less!), often based around a handful of chords, AC/DC have penned countless classic rock riffs, that feature the brothers' (Malcolm and Angus's) tight driving rhythm riffs, a hard edged vocal style as well as Angus’ electrifying lead playing.
For our Tech Session, I have borrowed ideas from such classic tracks as “Let There Be Rock”, “Highway to Hell” and “Thunder Struck”, although there are countless other tracks in AC/DC’s vast catalogue that you could relate this track to. In classic AC/DC style, although not transcribed, the left hand channel features a Malcolm Young style rhythm part, which sonically is a slightly thinner and cleaner tone.
Bars 1-9 kick off our piece with a stylistic opening intro riff based around the chords of G major, E5 and A5. The rhythm makes use of “pushes” with the chord accent falling on the offbeat. The riff also features the note of G played on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, performed with a quartertone bend for a bluesy sound. The riff concludes with the chords of G major, D/F#, resolving to A5.
Bars 10-17 include the first half of our verse riff, and are based around tight chords performed against a static driving E note on the bass guitar. The verse concludes with an additional rhythm figure, with the A5 chord performed on the up beat.
Bars 18-27 include the second half of the verse riff, but with a slightly different conclusion before leading to our chorus progression. Bars 26 -27 includes more up beat accenting based around the chords of D major and G/D, with the bass guitar remaining on the D root note.
Bars 28-35 includes our chorus riff based around the chords of A5, G/D, and D major. Once again the harmony provided by the guitars moves against the static bass note performed underneath. The chorus concludes with the chords of C major, A5 and D major.
Bars 36-49 include our break down which is inspired by “For Those About to Rock We Salute You”, and features a melodic figure performed with the picking hand fingers. This figure use minor 6th shapes, (inverted major 3rd), and a major 6ht shape, (inverted minor 3rd), on the 3rd and 1st strings, whilst the open 2nd string is used through out all of the changes. Pay attention to the accents, as they really affect the dynamic of this section.
Bars 40-43 kick off our guitar solo, and see us modulation to a B Mixolydian key signature. This section features a Blues-based lick mainly around the B minor pentatonic with an added major 3rd. This section concludes with the start of a new phrase based around B major pentatonic.
Bars 44-47 continue with our B major pentatonic phrase, that shifts up and repeats a minor 3rd higher, resulting in B minor pentatonic. This section concludes with some higher register string bends and rapid vibrato.
Bars 48-51 see us modulate back to an E Mixolydian key signature, with the second half of our solo performed over our verse progression. Bars 48-49 include a cycling E minor pentatonic string-bending lick, which is quite tricky on the picking hand, so start off at a slightly slower tempo and build it up to speed. Bars 50-51 include some fast pattern based E Blues scale licks, similar to something Angus might play when achieving speed.
Bars 52-53 references a lick seen in the open section of the solo, with the licks shifting between both E major and E minor pentatonic scales by shifting in a minor 3rd interval.
Bars 54-57 conclude our solo with a descending E minor pentatonic lick that uses the open 1st string as a pedal tone. The track concludes with some free time 6th based Blues licks.
Angus Young’s choice of guitar is as iconic as the man himself, and favours a variety of Gibson SG guitars, although his main SG is a 1968 standard. This guitar was used as the inspiration behind his signature “Thunder Struck” Gibson SG guitar. His choice of amplifier is the Marshall 100 watt Super leads from the early '70s, some of which feature a variety of modifications including extra valve in the pre-amp stage, and a master volume. Although Angus doesn’t use effects, part of his sound was achieved by an early wireless system - the Shaffer Vega Diversity System. Due to signal loss in these early systems a pre-amp was used, which added a little extra gain and body to the tone. The company Solo Dallas now produces the Schaffer Replica unit, which is basically the pre-amp part of the old wireless system, which Angus uses to add boost and compression.
For this Tech Session I used an original 1974 Gibson SG plugged into my Mesa TC50 head, on the green channel. This head uses EL34 valves so it has a very British sound when in the normal mode. I ran the speaker output into a Two Notes Torpedo Studio digital load box, and used an impulse responses by Celestion (see our review in this issue's Making Tracks - Ed), two V30 cabs, with both ribbon and dynamic mics, blended together in the mixing stage. The reverb on the guitars, more apparent in the break down, was courtesy of the UAD Ocean Way studio plugin, which provides an impulse response of the famous studio live rooms, and a variety of mics. This is a fantastic plug in for adding a really live vibe and depth to your recorded guitar tone!
Before signing off I would like to thank my good friend Michel Santunione at DLX Music in Stockholm for the loan of the beautiful SG guitar for this session; I couldn’t play Angus-style on anything else!