Angus Young

Groupology

  • AC/DC

Jurassic

Watch Angus Young in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: Wearing a schoolboy uniform — shorts, shirt, tie, jacket, and cap, as his stage outfit. Shedding everything but the shorts by about two songs into the concert. Dropping the shorts and mooning the audience at least once per show. A spastic version of Chuck Berry's duck walk. Running around like a lunatic on stage and sweating profusely. Being dwarfed by an SG. He's a small guy, and on stage with his shorts and spindly legs, Angus kind of resembles Butt-Head.

Infamous for: While it wasn't so much Angus specifically, AC/DC fell pray to all the classic, Behind the Music fodder. They were a hard-drinking band, though Angus steered clear of booze. They had their own Who concert-like tragedy where fans got killed at a show. Their lyrics and aggressive sound got them labeled as Satanic by the Reagan-era religious right. They became indirectly entangled in a manhunt when an AC/DC hat — possibly belonging to a serial killer — was found at a crime scene. The obvious conclusion for some was that AC/DC's music was driving the killer to kill. As I said, your typical episode of Behind the Music.

Influences

Obvious: Chuck Berry. Angus' write-the-same-song-over-and-over-again songwriting approach, and his lead style owes a lot to Chuck Berry. Angus is sort of a mutated heavy metal version of Chuck Berry.


Not so obvious: Angus has mentioned Eric Clapton and his brother Malcolm Young as influences.

Strengths

Simple but incredibly effective riffs. Angus Young is a riff dispensing machine. But the difference between Angus and say, Tony Iommi or Wolf Hoffmann, is that Angus doesn't vary the formula even slightly. He gets unbelievable mileage out of the same bald tires he's been riding on his whole career. It's amazing really. AC/DC has been essentially writing the same few songs over and over again for almost 30 years. Most of them are so similar in their composition that you'd think: this can't possibly work — every song will sound the same. And there is some truth to that — it becomes obvious if you've ever jammed along with an AC/DC album. For, example, consider how similar the following songs are to each other: Highway to Hell, Girl's Got Rhythm, Walk All over You, and Touch Too Much. Then realize that these are the first four songs on the same album, Highway to Hell. But they all work, and they're all great. And that's not easy to do.

Consistency. AC/DC is doggedly relentless in cranking out their brand of the high voltage riff-based rock they're known for. They don't deviate. And every time you think you've heard the last from them, they bounce back with some cool hit song like Thunderstruck, Who Made Who or Money Talks. Angus is the engine that makes it all go.

Balls. There's nothing subtle about Angus. He's been rocking his ass off for 30 years.
Hmmm . . . Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Frank Marino . . . Medical Journal Entry: Note to Self — Look into the intrinsic properties of Gibson SG vis-à-vis warding off the effects of ALD. When worn over or in close proximity to pelvic region, SG may retard testicular shrinkage. Possible precedent: intrinsic properties of Fender Telecaster have been linked to suicidal tendencies in test cases Gatton and Buchannen.

Energy. Live, Angus young is a endless fountain of kinetic energy. He never stops moving or running around on stage. Sometimes he lies on his side and spins like the hands of a clock ala Curly Howard — all of it, while dispensing great rock riffs.

Tasty solos: Angus isn't the best lead player in the world, and he doesn't have great chops, but that hasn't kept him from creating loads of very tasty, melodic and memorable guitar solos. He plays what's right for the song and he does it very effectively. One perfect example is in You Shook Me All Night Long.

Weaknesses

Chops. Angus is a 70s style Pentatonic lead player, and a fairly sloppy one at that. He's not as fast as Jimmy Page was when Page was at his best, but Angus is faster and cleaner than Page is nowadays. Angus' style doesn't demand high-precision. Just high energy and attitude. Like Iommi, Young hasn't progressed much over the years, but he hasn't lost anything either.

Versatility. Angus' style, like the AC/DC formula itself, can be like eating chicken for every meal — even if you like chicken, it grows tiresome after awhile. People have said that Angus is a good blues player, and I don't doubt that, but you don't really hear a pure blues style on AC/DC records — you hear a rock style.

Losing Mutt Lange. This hurt the whole band — not just Angus. I don't think that there's any doubt that the band peaked — at least success-wise — when Mutt Lange was producing them. Highway to Hell with Bon Scott, and Back in Black with Brian Johnson represent two classic landmarks in heavy rock. Both are essentially perfect albums. There's not a duff moment on either. Lange helped AC/DC cross over into mainstream popularity, and they did so without compromising the sound (the way Def Leppard compromised their sound with Lange later). Non metal heads bought Highway to Hell and Back in Black by the millions. And while the Lange-produced follow up, For Those About to Rock, We Salute You wasn't as strong as the other two, it has some great tracks. And if the title track, if not the best AC/DC song ever, is certainly one of the best. When Mutt left to bring his magic to Def Leppard, AC/DC carried on doing what they always did. But they never were able to recreate quite the same magic they had with Mutt.

Tone

Angus and brother Malcolm Young (AC/DC's rhythm guitarist) have always been associated with the pure Marshall 100 Watt Plexi sound. It's a clean tone by today's standards. No extra gain stages or boosts. Just warm, poweramp distortion. Angus' sound is in a similar ballpark to Jimmy Page's early live Zep Plexi tone. Angus tends to get more bite than Page, and because you're hearing a rhythm guitarist too, the tone seems much fuller than Zeppelin did live.

According to Marshall's web site, Angus and Malcolm plug into no fewer than four 1959SLPs each, with each head driving two cabinets. Angus told the UK magazine Guitar recently: I've experimented with different makes of amp but finally came to the conclusion that the Marshall 100 Watt stack was the best rock amp. The 100s have more bottom and are louder and cleaner, while 50s have a smoother sound and are easier to overdrive. AC/DC have some vintage heads but mostly use the 1959SLP reissues live. Angus says: The re-issues sound good and they're more consistent. They're just more reliable to have out on the road. Angus does, however use his favorite studio amp, an ancient JTM45, on the road too. This amp powers a single Marshall 4x12 cab which is located in an isolation box under the stage for mic'ing purposes.

Angus has always used Gibson SGs, and stated once: I have maybe 16 or 17 now. I've never come across two that are the same. I would say my favorite one is from about '67 or '68. It used to have one of those engraved metal things on the back [base plate] with the little arm-the tremolo-but I replaced that with another tailpiece. But I've got a couple of them that have the vibrato arm still. (Guitar Player, February 1984) Gibson now produces an Angus Young Signature SG and an Angus Young signature humbucker.

Guitar Style

Angus' contemporaries are the early 70s style Pentatonic-based lead players like Ace Frehley, Joe Perry, and Pat Travers. Angus is absolutely an unschooled player.

Angus has a unique rhythm style in that wherever possible, he uses amped-up folk chords rather than root based bar chords. Sure he'll use the bar cords too, but the vast majority of AC/DC songs are in the keys of A, G, or E and played in the first three frets. One chord that is particularly characteristic of Angus is the Dsus2/Gb (played: 2x0230). This chord is featured in Highway to Hell, For Those About to Rock, We Salute You, and many others. A fairly common rock chord, I mention it because I have personally seen this chord baffle several beginners. Their first exposure to it is usually in an AC/DC song.

Angus' lead style is ballsy and to-the-point. As stated above, Angus is adept at crafting melodic memorable solos. They are composed solos that feature worked-out beginnings, middles, and ends. He recreates them live. Scale-wise, it's all Pentatonic — root and octave positions most of the time. Aside from the odd pick scrape, Angus doesn't use anything in the way of 80s style flash effects. He's more rooted in the 70s.

Angus is not a disciplined alternate picker and uses a lot of legato. He claims any speed he has comes from his fretting hand. There's a lot I can do without picking he told Guitar Player, February 1984. This is true, and the Angus trademark that most reflects this are his open string pull-offs such as the kind featured as the foundation licks of the songs Thunderstruck,and Who Made Who. You will also hear this technique used in leads as in the sloppy/grabby ascending climb in the middle of TNT — it's all done with the left hand and high volume.

Vibrato:

Fast and manic, just like Angus on stage. About a medium width at its widest, usually it's pretty quick and narrow.

Angus Young in Action

Recommended Listening

AC/DC

 

Profile by Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.