This week, we’re looking at the style of ACDC guitarist Angus Young. He’s really not one for effects pedals, or really anything more than the standard pentatonic scale. But don’t be fooled! As I’m about to show you, a lot can be done with this seemingly very basic setup!
I would say that Angus ‘shreds’ in the true sense of the word (in guitar circles, anyway). I mean, he plays pretty damn fast! However, instead of having to use fancy techniques or strange new scales, he uses more musical elements to add interest.
So, while you’re unlikely to hear an ACDC solo using the phrygian dominant scale, there is a lot to learn here with phrasing and rhythm!
Here’s the track with the lead guitar removed:
Getting the Sound
As I mention in the video, there is not a lot of equipment that goes into getting the ACDC tone. The best thing would be to get a 100 watt Marshall stack, and plug in a Gibson SG. That will actually take you most of the way there.
The only ‘effect’ that Angus uses is his Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, which is a wireless unit. The main use of this is to enable him to move around stage during the live shows…
…however, I believe he also uses it in the studio because it adds a boost and compression to his tone. I suggest using something similar for this purpose- so an Ibanez Tubescreamer or some other type of overdrive or boost pedal (with the gain turned down).
What you want here is a bright, biting tone that isn’t too fizzy. So turn the bass down to around 3, with the mids and treble around 8. Of course, you’ll have to adjust the specifics based on your own equipment (and personal taste!).
The gain also shouldn’t be too high, I would aim for 5 or 6 (depending on your amp). This isn’t a ‘metal’ tone we’re going for. The distortion only really gives it some bite and grit. The most important thing here is how you play the notes.
I mean, you could have exactly the same equipment and settings as Angus himself…but if you’re playing softly it wont sound right! This is rock; this is ACDC; this means digging in a bit more with the pick for the right tone.
He also uses super slinky (0.009 gauge) strings. Apart from that, his tone is all in the hands.
So, the drum beat is pretty much the same for every ACDC song, and they only use one scale. How has that lasted for so many years?!
- It’s about the attitude
- It works so well
- Interest is added in other ways
The first two points there are down to opinion, but the third is certain. Yes, the drum pattern to most ACDC songs is fairly simple, but the guitar rhythms are not. Obviously, we’re not talking about extreme progressive new-age jazz (if that is a thing…), but they use something called ‘syncopation‘.
Syncopation means basically ‘not playing right on the beat’, and doing this makes their songs really rock! I’ll explain a bit more as I talk about the solo…
First 4 Bars
The solo starts with an idea that is based on the beginning of the solo to “Back in Black”. We’re using the open E string and playing notes on the A string on the offbeats. This is that ‘syncopation’ thing again- the notes that I’m emphasizing are the ones that don’t fall on the beats (the 7, 5 and 4 on the A string).
There isn’t really a ‘chord progression’ here, but the riff ends on an A chord in the second bar. This means I’m targeting the C sharp (4th fret; A string) because it’s part of the A chord. Then I play a short twiddly idea based on the open A chord shape.
No, you probably wont find ‘short twiddly idea’ in a music dictionary…
Then I repeat the descending lick before jumping to the E minor pentatonic scale (third shape, then 4th shape). Angus Young is great at suspense, and slowly building a solo up, which is what I’ve tried to do here.
Second 4 Bars
Notice how I’m dividing this up into 4 bar sections? This is all about phrasing. It’s much more musical to have blocks of 2 or 4 bar sections, than to just widdle aimlessly over the whole track!
For the second 4 bars, we’re using the 4th shape of the E minor pentatonic scale (7th position). I wrote this part out myself, before learning it note for note, but it might be easier to just listen to the example solo and work out the rhythm ‘by ear’.
Watch out for the last bar on the second line! Use your first finger to fret the 5th fret, and then reach up with your little finger for the 8th. Then pull-off ‘8 7 5’. Your second finger should then be able to get the 6th fret on the G string.
Then be careful to mute the open strings with the palm of your picking hand. These random open strings don’t seem to make much sense when written down, but should fit the flow of the solo when you play them.
The third line then ends with a repeating, bluesy lick.
Third 4 Bars
This part of the solo is where the riff changes, and I wanted to show that in the lead part. So, we move further up the neck, to the 12th position, and we’re using the first shape of the E minor pentatonic scale.
These licks can seem very daunting at first, because there are a lot of notes to get through in a very short time! The worst part is: they’re not repeating patterns like some shredders might use. These are actually blues licks that have been sped up.
For bars 10 and 11 (4th line), I suggest you treat these are blues licks. Learn them slowly at first, and then speed them up. Well, to be honest you don’t need to speed them up for them to sound good! It just wouldn’t be ACDC without the speed.
On the start of the 5th line I’ve followed the rhythm of the backing track with the lead part. This is something you should always be looking out for, because it connects your lead playing with the backing track, or song a bit more.
The last thing you want is a solo that sounds like it has nothing to do with the rest of the band!
Examples of this in ACDC songs include: Whole Lotta Rose, Rock and Roll ain’t Noise Pollution, and there are many others.
The Last 4 Bars
Continuing with the ‘very-fast-blues’ idea, we stay in the 12th position (i.e. around the 12th fret). We’re still mostly following the E minor pentatonic scale, but because it’s also the blues I add in the note on the 13th fret of the G string.
This is actually the major third. Imagine the open E chord moved up 12 frets, what we’re doing is going from the note in E minor (12th fret, G string) to the one in E major (13th fret, G string). That’s where the extra note comes from. It’s fairly common in the blues to go from the minor third to the major third like this.
The solo ends with a high pitched bend (of course!). Here, we’re bending a D note (15th fret; B string) up to an E (17th fret on the B, or 12th fret on the E).
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Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.