Angus Young of AC/DC Opens Up in His First Guitar World Interview from 1984
Here's Guitar World's first interview with AC/DC's Angus Young from the March 1984 issue.
"Just over the years and fooling around with them you find something that sounds right. I've found with Marshalls if you're using a fair bit of volume, you should put the bass and treble at half because they're working at that point."
Angus makes special visits to the Marshall factory outside of London to play through a series of amps before selecting the proper one(s). He says the units are then doctored to resemble the old-style amps which were very clean and had no master or preamp settings.
Young's live sound is a blistering combination of awesome volume tempered with the cut of treble and made full by the wash of bass. The quartet of stacks is engaged more for the spread of sound than for the sheer loudness. Angus runs about the stage like some schoolboy on meth (His costume is the Little Lord Fauntleroy white frilled shirt and matching jacket and shorts) and he must be able to hear his guitar at any position on the stage.
Except for the arena shows where it is mandatory for the PA to disperse the sound, AC/DC will dispense the music strictly through stage volume, thus assuring that what they hear is exactly what the audience is listening to.
"That way, it's your sound coming out," explains Young. "A lot of times you'll hear bands and it's a different sound coming out than what's on stage. Because you can clean it up through a PA and make it sound completely different than what they really sound like. We've always been wary of that and that's why we always tended to have a lot of amps on stage. And also it has a lot better feel to it especially when you're playing hard rock music."
Angus' style is indeed a hard rock approach. He "bashes" his Gibson strings (gauges .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, and .042) with a Fender heavy pick, his crunching right hand technique originating from his early use of the barbed wire-like Black Diamond strings. Like train tracks, they required Young to develop a heavy right hand to derive any sound whatsoever from them.
He does employ up/down strokes as well as the middle, ring and small fingers of his right hand to create a more stringy effect. On a given night, he has been known to use his teeth as substitute dental digits though seven of them are now false from when he failed to execute a Superman leap one evening on stage.
It is a true test for Young to recall the types of picks and strings he uses. While he does know more than he owns up to, his description of himsef as a guitar "illiterate" is not far wrong. He learned to solo mainly from watching his elder brother Malcolm play and the idea of scales and figures is as foreign to him as American beer. Most of his solos are approached by "feel" and even his recorded work is for the most part live solos with little overdubbing.
"I don't regard myself as a soloist. It's a color, I put it in for excitement. It's not great loss if a solo has to go. We've made songs without solos."
Uncertain about scales and note names, he has never had difficulty in resisting the lure of the pedal. His sound is uncluttered and pure and one of the true milestones of rock guitar (Def Leppard owes more than a passing glance to Young's sound). Early on in his career he did fumble with a fuzzwah but found that his foot "kept going right through it." The only accoutrement engaged is a Schaeffer wireless system he obtained in 1977 and has been using ever since.
"I found that pedals were too much to fool around with. You'd be halfway through a solo and the batteries would go dead and conk out. And if you tread on the lead going to the pedal, something would always go wrong. Or some crazy kid would pull the lead out just at the moment when you're about to do your big number on it."
Similarly, Young hooks up no pedals in the studio though he does trade in the four Marshall stacks for an old style fifty-watt model. His guitar is basically flat, an approach used from the beginning, and even on the newest album (Flick of the Switch) he went for a very natural sound.
His sound on Flick of the Switch embodies that cleanliness and yet there is an edge and atavistic grace rumbling from below. As on past records, the bulk of his solos are recorded with the track, owing to his lack of interest in working out overdubbed parts (he is more than capable of it but has an aversion to it) and his inability to see himself as a solo-playing musician.
"We wanted this one as raw as possible. We wanted a natural, but big, sound for the guitars. We didn't want echoes and reverb going everywhere and noise eliminators and noise extractors. Getting the sound has always been the easiest part of the guitar.
"Also, if you're playing it right, it's going to sound right somehow. I mean you gladly turn down if it's going to sound good. I mean it's not like, 'I have to have a wall of amps and a candelabra on top.' If you hit a chord and it's distorted, you clean it up. It's all what you hear. You fiddle around until you get a good sound. For me, I prefer the sound to be clean if I can get it clean. If you can get that natural distortion, fine, because I don't believe in boxes that sustain. And I don't believe in pushing the hell out of the amps because they become muddy and whooshy.
"I tend to look at the music as a song; it sounds a bit funny talking about it as someplace to play a solo. My brother would beat me up. People tend to see me as a soloist. Poor people. You'd think they'd have something better to do. I mean there's a lot of comedy on TV worth watching.
Yeah, people see that but I don't. I look at it as a band. I think Pete Townshend is rotten without Roger Daltrey and The Who.
He's quite boring actually. Or the same with Zeppelin without John Bonham. To me it's not the same. I mean there are solo people who just do that sort of thing. I like it as a band, as a unit. You should hear me on my own. It's horrendous."
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