AC/DC's "Back In Black" (Studio) New Series

Well, how could this one miss from the lot of the New Series? It couldn’t, is your sincere answer .

So I did it for you. And for me. And probably it won’t be the last time either. No secret, this is my number one, favorite song of all times across any musical genre. This is it, it’s the one that rings my bells.

An outrageous amount of work went into this one. Days studying (again!). Most of all, it took me days to feel ready again for the solo. When I felt I was, I went for both takes, that happened within a day of recording.

The microphone positions (micing) was as close as what Platt’s describes of his general technique on Back in Black (that is, of using two large diaphgram condenser microphones per cabinet) as it was possible. In the sense that, I kept trying to do what he described until it sounded decent. And I think you may agree with me, this one sounds probably the closest I have ever done ever. Both the solo and the rhythm parts, I guess, sound close.

The two microphones were set one on the edge of the upper left cabinet speaker, outer edge of the speaker cone, facing slightly towards the center, let’s just say in the general direction of it, as I went tilting slightly both of them until they sounded how I wanted them to. I was specifically looking for sounds that I hear on the album, and now I know what to look for. It’s impossible to describe, as it’s a resonance of some sort that in decades of listening, I have learned to recognize. And still, I wasn’t able to catch it, because I think it is an integral part of the room they played in Only partially I did, but I win’t desist.. It was easier for me to capture it in my studio than in this room here. Probably since there is no wood and there are glasses and mirrors here, I will never be able to grasp it wholly until I play in here (which won’t be long, since we have plans to move elsewhere). Still, I was able to capture a decent “Back in Black tone type”, definitely mellow overdrive, but cripsy, cracking. You literally have the feeling that the drive melts on its own, while being on the verge of exploding. Amazing sound. God how I love this. I also followed indications that stated that the rhythm parts were recorded with a 1959 head, so did I. The solo instead – Malcolm says this – were recorded with one (or more) 50w amp, so I used the 2204. I also tried the 1987 for a few takes, but the 2204 sounded better. I have spent hours trying to simulate the solo sound on the 1959, boosting it with an MXR EQ 10 band pedal and a couple of other volume boosts I have here, but it never satisfyed me. Then, on the verge of desperation, I remembered that maybe they used a 50w for solos. And thank God (or the Universe as a self creation) for the existence of the internet and its documentation, because as soon as I plugged in, it sounded like IT. Or a lot closer than the 1959. These amps are really different.

The 50w sounded more glassy, it was easier to make it glassier than the 1959. And also, it would overdrive (2204) just as much as I needed it to, without any boost, so much that the guitar volume was on 8-9. Definitely not on 10, where the tone becomes – you know it – harsh. And there is NO trace of it being harsh on that record, never. So the trick of lowering the volume knob on the guitar both for rhythm AND solos must be really something to look into sistematically. The 2204 head volume was therefore at 10 and the pre-amp at 8.

Treble probably at 7, mids at 5, bass at 2, presence 0.

The guitar volume for the rhythm on the 1959 was at 7, while the 1959 itself was at 8. No big surprises in the settings, believe me, it’s NOT the settings that we have to be looking at! It’s the microphones. I will stress it until I stress you!

Bass in fact was around 2 or 3, otherwise it gets too bassy here. Maybe it’s the attenuator, I’m told attenuators may contribute to bass frequencies to make the speakers work. Mids 4, treble 6. Presence 0. DO you see any new settings? I don’t think so. In fact, it was the way I put the microphones.

The other microphone, the second one, was placed about 6 inches away from the first one, at the very same distance from the grill cloth (not close to it anymore, probably 4 inches away), to prevent phase cancellation, more towards the center of the cabinet, with its general direction towards another speaker (the top right one). Again, it’s not that I set it that way and walked away: I started moving one or both for some time while playing the guitar with headphones on to find the right sound. Something that they did and do constantly in the studios, and which is considered by sound engineers a pain as it really is painful for their ears with such Marshalls. It is evident that the benefit of having an attenuator helps also in this field. It was and is a pleasure to try and dial in an interesting tone while fiddling with the guitar at the same time.

Of course, equalization in post (after recording) was also applied to both the rhythm tracks and the solo tracks. I generally boost the 2khz frequency, and lower higer frequencies while also taking out some bass freqs below 100 hz. Some reverb and that is all. NO compression whatsoever.

I realized once again how much the playing is important with AC/DC. Like I didn’t know it. Sigh. And mostly, without the slighest doubt, the timing is King with them. Impressive. They are – or were – excellent, almost unthinkably excellent. I still marvel at them every time I intend to play seriously one song from Back in Black. Especially the title track.

But I digress.

I used the ’69 custom for the rhythm. You may see it has different pickups. Well, only one is, the bridge pickup (but I added the same covers to both, old burstbucker covers I had laying around). The “new” pickup in the custom bridge position is the… older Angus Young signature pickup! If you remember, it’s the one I had in the ’64 reissue. Since that guitar is a wreck now (I stole most of its parts to modify other SGs), I also took its pickups away. I also re-wired in ’50s wiring the custom (SG Custom) bridge pickup. It sounds “better” to me now, I undestand it better. It works more closely to all the other SGs I have. The AY pickup is still the great pickup I used to remember. I really like it. I used the SG Custom for no particular reason other than the fact that it sounds good and plays easy.

The solos were playid with Blackie. Why? No particular reasons other than, it has a very thin and small neck. I understand why Angus likes these: it’s easier to play like him with these necks. Particulalry, trying to emulate his vibrato comes more easily. So that’s why.

I am trying to tell you that I could even try and exchange parts with any other of these SGs I have here. In fact, provided that the guitar(s) sounds good and plays “easy” (low action, good resonance, no mis-fretting strings, etc.) probably any SG would work.