Malcolm And Angus Young Guitar Methods

Through this lesson I'm going to teach you a bit about the guitar style of both Angus and Malcolm Young. AC/DC has been one of rock and roll greatest and longesst-lasting bands.

Malcolm And Angus Young Guitar Methods
45

Introduction

Malcolm and Angus Young are the two guitarists for the Australian rock band AC/DC. Since the start of AC/DC in 1973, the guitar style of the Young brothers has heavily influenced rock & roll. Their band has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide, and is currently in the process of working on a much-anticipated album. Through this article I'm hoping on providing useful info and licks from both Malcolm and Angus so that you can better understand the style of the Young brothers. This article is mainly aimed at beginning/intermediate level guitar players, although I hope that everybody will enjoy this.

Background

Malcolm Young was born in 1953 and is the rhythm guitarist for AC/DC. He is also one of the founding members of the band. For the most part Malcolm is the most underrated member of the band, due in part to the fact that Angus takes the spotlight. Malcolm writes most of AC/DC's guitar riffs, and has really helped define the AC/DC sound. He used a Gretsch Jet Firebird guitar for most of his career.

Angus Young is the lead guitarist for AC/DC and was born in 1955. He founded the band with Malcolm. His solo guitar ability is almost overshadowed by his wild stage antics and his school-boy uniform. Angus always plays Gibson SG's both live and in the studio. Both Malcolm and Angus use Marshall Amplifiers.

Rhythm Guitar

Most people would agree that the most memorable part of an AC/DC song is the riff. In concert, both the Young brothers would usually play the same riff, although Malcolm sometimes played a modified version that included some bass notes. The first riff I'm going to show you is probably the most famous one from the Bon Scott era: T.N.T. Here, take a look.
|-----------------------------|
|-----------------------------|
|------0--2--------2----------|
|---2--0--2--------2----------|
|---2--x--0--------0----------|
|---0--3-----3--3-----3qb-----|
This is just about as basic as an AC/DC riff gets. Notice the frequent use of power chords. These show up in just about every single AC/DC song. In between the A5 chord are single bass notes that add a certain groove to the riff. If the second chord in the riff looks a little odd, don't worry, it's just another way of playing a G5 power chord! The next riff we're going to look at is the one to the song Back in Black. It's slightly more complex.
e|----2-2-2----------3-0-----------------2-2-2-------------------------|
B|----3-3-3--2-2-2-------3-0-------------3-3-3--2-2-2------------------|
G|----2-2-2--2-2-2-----------2b4r2p0-----2-2-2--2-2-2------------------|
D|-2--0-0-0--2-2-2--------------------2--0-0-0--2-2-2------------------|
A|-2---------0-0-0--------------------2---------0-0-0------------------|
E|-0----------------------------------0----------------7-4-7-5-7-6-7-7-|
This is a fairly simple E-D-A progression. The D and A chords are not power-chords (although they sound very similar) which gives the riff a bit more flavor. The fills in between the chords flow very nicely, especially the chromatic second fill. So now that we've seen what some of the basic AC/DC riffs are like, let's look at some ones that are different. This next riff is the opening to the song 'Hells Bells.'
e|---------------------------------------------------------|
B|---------------------------------------------------------|
G|---9---7------5-----7-------9---7------5-------7---------|
D|-----7----7-----5-----7-------7----7------5--------5-5---|
A|-0----------0-----0-----0-0----------0------0------3-2-0-|
E|---------------------------------------------------------|
This lick is based on the A minor pentatonic scale, and be careful to get the timing right when playing it. Be sure to play this lick with minimal distortion - each note needs to be heard clearly. This riff shows that AC/DC weren't all power-chords, although if you listen to the next riff in 'Hells Bells' you can hear a combination of double stops and power-chords. The next riff is from a little song called 'Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution.' Here it is, enjoy!
E|-------------|------------------|------------------|-----------------------|
B|--0---2---3v-|---2---2---3------|-------0---2---3v-|---2---2---3-----------|
G|--1---2---4v-|---2---2---4------|-------1---2---4v-|---2---2---4------9----|
D|-------------|------------------|---2--------------|------------------9----|
A|-------------|---0---0---0------|---2--------------|---0---0---0------7----|
E|-------------|---------------3--|---0--------------|---------------3--0----|
This riff is somewhat difficult to understand musically just from looking at the tab, so I'll provide the actual chord progression - E - A - Bm - A - A - Bm/A - E5. What gives the riff such a great and original quality is the way that the chords transition from high notes to low bass notes so quickly. It's brilliant! Notice that at the E5 chord is played differently at the end of each riff. The second E5 chord is in fact an octave above the first one, except that it has an open E string added. Why can the open E string be added? Play the open 6th string, and then play the 7th fret 5th string. Notice it's the same note just one octave higher! It's useful to know. The final riff that I want to share is from the song 'Moneytalks.'
  Angus
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|-12-10---12-10--13--|-(13)-13-12-10-8-10-8--|
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|
| Malcolm
|--------------------|-----------------------|
|--3--3----3--3---1--|--(1)--1--1--1-1--1-1--|
|--4--2----4--2---0--|--(0)--0--4--2-0--2-0--|
|--0--0----0--0------|-----------------------|
|-----------------3--|--(3)--3--3--3-3--3-3--|
|--3--3----3--3------|-----------------------|
What's special about this riff? Well, for one, Malcolm and Angus are both playing different parts. Angus plays a lead lick over Malcolm's G - C5 progression. Grab a friend and see if you can both do this riff in harmony, it sounds great! I wish I had time to share and explain more AC/DC riffs, there are so many, but there just isn't time! These should help you gain a better understanding of AC/DC and the rhythm playing of the Young Brothers, mainly Malcolm. Get ready to be thunderstruck as we explore the lead guitar work of AC/DC next, mainly of Angus.

Lead Guitar

Let's move onto the lead guitar work of Angus Young. His style mainly reflects blues artists that he enjoyed listening to as a teenager. If you listen carefully, you can also hear hints of influence from Scottish folk playing (I'll get more into that later). He uses mainly Minor Pentatonic Blues scales.

The first thing to look at when analyzing a guitarist's style is to see how he or she does descending and ascending picking runs. The first we are going to look at is a descending run taken from the solo to 'Back in Black.' 
e|-15p12h15p12----12-------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------15----15p12h15p12----12-------------------------------|
G|-------------------------------15----15p12h14p12----14-------------|
D|-------------------------------------------------14----14p12h14p12-|
A|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
This is a great run (Am Pentatonic Scale), and the pull-offs help contribute to its speed. Try incorporating this lick or a modified version in your own solos! Practice it at different positions on the fret board also. Read Musical Theft: The Art Of Stealing Gracefully by [B]flagman4[/B], it's a great article on how to incorporate other people's licks into your own songs.

The next lick actually isn't from a solo; it's from the intro to 'Thunderstruck.' This lick was influenced by Scottish folk music (pull-off arpeggios); in case you wanted to know.
e|------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
B|--0h4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h|4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h4p0h7p0h|
G|------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
D|------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
A|------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
E|------------------------------------|--------------------------------|

e|----------------------------------|--------------------------------|
B|--5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h|5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h5p0h8p0h|
G|----------------------------------|--------------------------------|
D|----------------------------------|--------------------------------|
A|----------------------------------|--------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------|--------------------------------|

e|-------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
B|--12p0h10p0h9p0h10p0h9p0h7p0h9p0h5p0h|7p0h4p0h5p0h4p0h5p0h4p0h5p0h4p0h|
G|-------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
D|-------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|--------------------------------|
It sounds much harder to play than it is. Once you get the hang of integrating this one handed tapping technique into your lead work, it will take your playing to a new dimension. When practicing it, start out slowly, and then speed up. The only 'tricky' part is going from a pull-off on the 4th fret to a pull-off on the 12th fret, so pay attention to that so that you can play it accurately.

And remember, you don't have to keep this on one string. Experiment! Alright then, the next lick we're going to be looking at is a tapping thing from the solo to 'Shake a Leg.'
e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-12p7h10-12p7h10-12p7h10-12p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-14p7h10--|
G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-14p7h10-14p7h10-14p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10------------------|
G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
This is a really cool sounding chromatic tapping lick. Because of the minor pentatonic scale's relationship to major scales, you will never find three semi-tones in a row. On a certainstring for example, you may be able to play notes on, oh, say the 12th and 14th frets. By adding a chromatic note, (in this example the 13th fret) we can get a different feel for a lick. When playing the minor pentatonic scale, feel free to use chromatic notes during your licks and solos as they can really spice them up, just be sure to use your bestjudgement! Shake a Leg is from the Back in Black album which came out just two year's after Van Halen I (some people speculate whether or not Angus came up with tapping before Eddie, but that's irrelevant). I'll now provide another tapping lick. This one is more complex and from the song 'Who Made Who.' 
|--t14p7h10--t14p7h10----------t14p7h10----------t14p7h10---------t14p7h10-|
|---------------------t12p10p7----------t12p10p7----------t12p10p7---------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

|---------t14p7h10-----------t14p7h10----------t14p7h10----------t14p7h10-|
|t12p10p7----------t12p10p7-----------t12p10p7----------t12p10p7----------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
Unlike the last tapping lick, this one [I]alternates[/I] strings and also alternates between pull-offs and hammer-ons. This one's going to take a bit more practice, but it's not very difficult.

Though there are many other licks from Angus's solos that need to be identified, I'm afraid that there just isn't time to provide them all. So I'll end with the solo to one of my favorite AC/DC songs, 'Shake a Leg.' I think that this solo really highlights many of Angus's solo guitar techniques (plus it's a great song). This tab was done by Sir Matthew Bostock.
e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-17-17-----17-17----17-17-------------------------------------------------|
G|-17-17-----17-17----17-17-------------------------------------------------|
D|-------19--------19-------19--17^-17^-------------------------------------|
A|------------------------------17^-17^-------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-17-17----------17-17-----------17-17-----------20^-20^-------------------|
G|-17-17----------17-17-----------17-17-----------19^-19^-------------------|
D|-------19-17-19-------19-17-19--------19-17-19----------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|-----17--------17---------17----------------------------------------------|
B|-20^----20-20^----20-20^-----20-17----------------------------------------|
G|-----------------------------------20\19----19-17-------------------------|
D|-----------------------------------------19-------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------17h20p17----17h20p17-----17h20p17-----17h20p17--------|
B|-17/19-17--17/19-17----------20----------20-----------20-----------20-----|
G|-17/19-17--17/19-17-------------------------------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|-17h20p17----17---------------17------------------------------------------|
B|----------20----20-17-17--20^----20-17----20-17---------------------------|
G|---------------------------------------20-20-17-20-17/20\17----17---------|
D|------------------------------------------------------------20----20------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
D|-------17----20-17----------17--------------------------------------------|
A|-17h20----17-------20-17-20----20-17\15-----------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------------17--------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
G|---16-{16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16^}---------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-12p7h10-12p7h10-12p7h10-12p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-13p7h10-14p7h10--|
G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-14p7h10-14p7h10-14p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10-15p7h10------------------|
G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
Let's examine this bar by bar so we can fully understand this solo. The scale used in this solo is A Minor Pentatonic.

Bar #1 and 2: the solo starts out with a bluesy double stop pattern. This part is extremely easy. Make sure that you're barreing the 17th fret with one finger

Bar #3: this part is slightly harder. Listen to the song for the timing, as it is very important.

Bar #4: this bar starts off with double-stops on the 17th and 19th frets, but then moves onto a quick hammer-on/pull-off pattern. Although it is played quickly, you can do it with only the 1st and 3rd fingers. Practice it a little bit, and you'll realize that it's fairly easy.

Bar #5 and 6: This descending lick is played fairly quickly, and is the hardest part of the solo. Start off slowly and then speed it up after practicing it. Be sure to do the bends and double-stops in this run to ensure that the solo's dynamics sound correct.

Bar #7: This short lick is mostly tremolo picking - which is super fast speed picking (similar to alternate picking, it requires the use of both down and up strokes). The timing here doesn't show very well on the tab so your going to have to listen to the solo again to get a feel for it.

Bar #8 and 9: Here's the tapping lick that I've already showed you.

Conclusion

Now that you know some rhythm and lead licks from Malcolm and Angus Young, I hope that you have gained some insight into their playing techniques. AC/DC is a great band, and I hope that you continue to listen to their albums and songs. Remember, it's a long way to the top if you wanna Rock and Roll!

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! Remeber not to copy their guitar styles exactly. I'm hoping that you use the knowledge gained from this article to incorporate the styles of Malcolm and Angus into your own original playing technique. Guitarists have been incorporting each other's techniques into their own playing style for decades (think B.B. King and Buddy Guy). There's a fine line between plagiarism and incorporation.

I apoligize for the length of this article in advance, but for a great band like AC/DC this was the only way to really do it justice.

46 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    sanderwtf
    I found it angus uses gibson brite wires 700L 010-046 and I guess malcolm also uses them
    matt_guitar150
    You said that they frequently use power chords, which they do. But if you want that crunch that only ACDC delivers, here is what I would doRemember Malcolm wrote most of the riffs)Malcolm used 12 gauge strings with a wound G string. and they played most the riffs with first position chords w/ some alterations(The string make them ring more crisp). For a good ACDC crunch, They did use Marshalls. I would put the gain at about "3", Not so much bass, a good bit of treble and contour.
    Disaster Area42
    Teufel wrote: They're probably the most overrated guitarists the world has ever seen.
    I love ACDC, but teufel is close to being right. They are good, but highly overrated.
    bigo383
    Over-rated????? Yeah I guess you guys are right, I mean, they've only sold 150 million albums.....they should probably go take some lessons or something!
    matt_guitar150
    matt_guitar150 wrote: You said that they frequently use power chords, which they do. But if you want that crunch that only ACDC delivers, here is what I would doRemember Malcolm wrote most of the riffs)Malcolm used 12 gauge strings with a wound G string. and they played most the riffs with first position chords w/ some alterations(The string make them ring more crisp). For a good ACDC crunch, They did use Marshalls. I would put the gain at about "3", Not so much bass, a good bit of treble and contour.
    typo not supposed to be a frowny face. It is supposed to be a colon :
    matt_guitar150
    Disaster Area42 wrote: Teufel wrote: They're probably the most overrated guitarists the world has ever seen. I love ACDC, but teufel is close to being right. They are good, but highly overrated.
    HIGHLY OVERRATED!!??? They are what shaped rock n roll. If ACDC never showed up, you could kiss good-bye to thoe rock bands you love today. The are the pinnacle of serious Rock-a-tude.They recorded over 150 songs, each song unique. You try and write those many earthshattering riffs that set the tone for the movement of Rock N Roll
    jkmat
    Tim the Rocker wrote: I believe Angus was first with tapping in songs such as DIrty Deeds and TNT.
    Angus uses pull-offs, not tapping, in Dirty Deeds. And I honestly don't know where you got the idea that Angus taps in T.N.T.
    Weaponxclaws
    They recorded over 150 songs, each song unique.
    Haha no... They use the same chord progression, same drum beat, vocal melodies, solos, EVERYTHING. Angus even admitted himself that they recorded the same album 10 times or however many. But hey, if sticking to the same formula for 30+ years works for them then who am I to judge? I sure as hell ain't making money making music.... yet. I AM only 19... Haha
    NothingButRock
    Sure, Angus and Malcolm might not be the "best" guitarists technically speaking, but that just goes to show you don't need to be the greatest guitarist to play rock n roll.
    TeleMA50C
    Back in Black is in E minor, not A minor, Shake a Leg is one handed, not two, and Thunderstruck is all picked. Other than that, though, this was pretty good.
    Briar30
    daswalker wrote: About saying that AC/DC is overrated: the entire metal genre wouldn't have become popular without Back In Black. Without them, the entire music world of today would be very much different.
    Yeah it would suck. ACDC took rock to a whole new level that would have been impossible otherwise. They made rock what it is today.
    daswalker
    Just some trivia: did you know how the T.N.T. riff was born? Originally, it was different. The main idea was making a song with the chords A-C-D-C. About saying that AC/DC is overrated: the entire metal genre wouldn't have become popular without Back In Black. Without them, the entire music world of today would be very much different.
    HCherrySG
    Ibanez87 - I took my son to the show in Chicago on ac/dc's Black Ice tour,we sat directly across from the raised solo stage - Angus DOES in fact one-handedly play the Thunderstruck intro . Angus' playing is not over rated either. It is simple bluesey (Chuck Berry)rock rhythms ,Angus said it himself in many interviews - with powerchords, doublestops and rests in the right sequence the boys have made quite a bit of moolah - I'm betting way more than you have.
    HCherrySG
    another point is that neither Angus or Malcolm use any effects for their sound. Plugged directly into Marshall Plexi's set for clean tones .The wall of stacks are arranged double decker style - On Malcolms side of the stage ( he rarely if ever moves from his spot next to Phils drum kit) his amps are at ear level ,Angus' are lower,however on Angus' side (?)the amps are reversed (Angus' are high ,Mal's are lower). This makes for the blend of their guitars across the stage.
    Ryancaster
    are you crazy they rule!!!
    Teufel wrote: They're probably the most overrated guitarists the world has ever seen.
    acdcrock2000
    Very good. If people don't like the length, they can just f*** off. Very informative. Thanks. PS-when's the albumb supposed to be out? thanks
    Teufel
    They're probably the most overrated guitarists the world has ever seen.
    clint86
    This was my favourite article I have read full stop. Long Live the AUSTRALIAN PUB ROCK scene.
    punkmetal16
    i have the hells bells tabs from the definitive ac/dc tab book and its played with the A , high E, and B strings
    aerodynamic lov
    who the f*** cares what the book says the tab provided by Mr.Freeman sounds like the song but i suppose you could play it either way Oh and Angus and Malcolm are the greatest Songwriters eva!
    ibanez87
    it's good but alot of incorrect stuff. See if I can help: Angus actually picks every note in Thundersturck (the one handed thing in the music video is just for show) Back in Black was mostly right except all but the last 7th fret E string should be 2nd fret A sting. also, I Shake A Leg is more like this: b|-7p4p0-
    ibanez87
    sorry, the thing messed up, Shake A Leg goes 7p4p0 (repeat each lick several times) 8p5p0 9p5p0 10p7p0
    supea
    Teufel wrote: They're probably the most overrated guitarists the world has ever seen.
    I agree... sorry guys. (They're still my heroes!!)
    dgme92
    this lesson is REALLY cool. i loved your enthusiasm when writing it, it really involves the reader, a good characteristic to have... anyway excellent lesson, keep on ROCKIN!