Tony Platt Shares the Secret to Angus Young's "Back in Black" Tone

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

“I was in a band at school, but only because I had a van and could fix the PA,” Tony Platt says with a laugh, revealing one of the reasons why he chose the career path of record producer over rock star.

An enlightening trip to the BBC and a tour around the then–fledgling Radio 1 cemented his decision some 50 years ago. “I was in these control rooms with these fabulous Studer tape recorders and racks of gear and decided that [sound engineering] was something I'd like to do.”

Tony applied to work at recording studios all around London. But after a lack of response, he was about to embark on a rather different career as a trainee air traffic controller until two job offers turned up at once.

“One from Trident Studios and one from Kingsway Studios,” he recalls. “I decided on Trident, as it was a bit more rock 'n' roll.”

Cutting His Teeth on Rock 'N' Roll

It was a significant time for music at Trident, with The Beatles, David Bowie, and Elton John among the artists recording there.

As Platt remembers it, “I was seeing people like that all the time, making tea and getting them sandwiches. Roy Thomas Baker, Ken Scott, Robin Cable, and David Henshall were engineers, and Tony Visconti was doing a lot of work.

“I got to do a bit of tape op–ing with one of the first 16–track machines, a 3M M56. They also had Ampex 2–, 4– and 8–track machines and a Sound Techniques console before Malcolm Toft installed the first Trident console while I was there. They had a big mic collection: a sea of U 67s, lots of AKG C 28s, C12s and D 25s — very cool gear.”

Tony worked his way up and was lured to Island Records in 1970. “It was more of my scene. Island and Olympic were popular with all the American acts. UK bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who used them because [producer] Glynn Johns was into the Helios consoles that both had. Andy Johns was another producer/engineer there.

“Other artists included Steve Still — from Crosby, Stills and Nash, who did an album that Jimi Hendrix played on — Mott The Hoople, Free, Fairport Convention, and John Martyn. And then there was a lot of reggae stuff as well.”

People say ‘You were on a session with Led Zeppelin,’ as if they were the superstar band of the time. But they were pro session musicians before and had played on sessions with us, so we knew them quite well."

Platt began assisting with Brian Humphries, working on albums by Roger Waters and in sessions with The Stones. He even worked on Led Zeppelin’s legendary Stairway To Heaven. “People say ‘You were on a session with Led Zeppelin,’ as if they were the superstar band of the time. But they were pro session musicians before and had played on sessions with us, so we knew them quite well.”

Platt moved into engineering full–time, working with producer Chris Blackwell and Bob Marley to help blend both reggae and rock for the album Catch A Fire. “He had this very clear idea, and it was a great experience. There wasn't much gear about back then, so it was very straightforward: a U 67, an 1176, and that was it!"

Tony eventually went freelance, but when a friend bought Saturn Studios in Worthing, he also adopted the role of chief engineer there, overseeing its transformation into Pebble Beach Sound Recorders. “We did the Stranglers demos that got them a deal with Universal, and the demos that got Thin Lizzy resigned. We did a lot of punk stuff — The Adverts, Penetration, some of the big punk hits.”

That Angus Young Sound

By this time, Platt was becoming known for his British sound. He describes it as “a warm round bottom end with overdriven guitars, but still with a certain acousticness. You can still hear the strings. Most importantly, there's a sense that the musicians were playing at the same time in the room when the music was recorded, regardless of whether they actually were or not.”

AC/DC - Highway to Hell (Official Video)

In the late ‘70s, producer Mutt Lange called Platt in to help deliver that sound with Australian band AC/DC and its album Highway To Hell.

Platt recalls, “They recorded in Roundhouse Studios, a very dry environment. The crunch was there, but the sense of the room wasn't. I set up some Altec Lansing speakers at Basing Street Studios and used them as my reverb source and sent certain parts of my drums and guitars through. The speakers had big drivers with horn loaded tweeters, so if I drove the guitar in the right way, I could get more crunchiness.”

Highway To Hell has become an AC/DC classic and was the band’s last album to feature lead singer Bon Scott, who died shortly after its release. Mutt and Tony recorded the follow–up, Back In Black with new lead singer Brian Johnson at Compass Point Studios.

People ask me how I got [AC/DC guitarist] Angus Young's guitar sound, and I reply, ‘You need a Marshall amp, a Marshall cabinet, a Gibson SG Standard, and Angus!'"

The album sold over 50 million copies and helped Platt become a producer in his own right — one who people often talk to about recording that perfect guitar.

“People ask me how I got [AC/DC guitarist] Angus Young's guitar sound, and I reply, ‘You need a Marshall amp, a Marshall cabinet, a Gibson SG Standard, and Angus!' That's where it comes from, it's generated from the player.

“I did learn that Marshall amplifiers do that sound best. No one else has come up with anything quite like them. You have to know what you are doing. If you don't get the right combination of guitar, player, head, and cabinet, you can spend hours not quite getting it.”

Young used a Marshall 1959 100 watt Super Lead Plexi head, model 1960AX and 1960BX 4x12 cabs, and a Gibson SG Standard guitar.

Tony Platt's Signature Amp Tricks

Platt went on to produce Samson and a few tracks with Iron Maiden, working with their guitarist Dave Murray who is a Fender Strat and Marshall amp user. Having recorded so many guitarists, Platt has some general rules for getting a great tone.

“For certain sounds, you need to be running the amps at 16 ohms and into 16 ohm cabinets. If you want to get the right crunch, you need to have the lower specification speakers because you want the speaker to overload and not the amp. There's a substantial difference between overdrive on an amp and overdrive on a speaker.”

Platt stresses, “You need to get the sound coming out of the instrument absolutely right before you put a microphone on it. With any sound, the most important factors are choosing the right microphone, choosing the right instrument, and choosing the right place in the room.”

And for mic'ing up the cab, Tony developed his own technique.

“With stereo, you record a lot of point sources and position them around two channels. It's very difficult to get them to spread across, so people use reverb and, of course, that softens the sound.

“AC/DC don't like using effects, so I developed this technique using two microphones — preferably U 67s, as they are the most versatile microphone. The beauty of having two microphones is that you can stretch the sound out into different parts of the image.”

Platt enjoys in–the–box mixing now just as much as he still enjoys working with large format consoles. “I've just mixed a band from France and I had 12 mixes on the go at the same time. When we used to do recalls on the older consoles, a mix could take a day to recall. I was recalling these new mixes in minutes.”


He still has a few favourite pieces of vintage gear. “I have always been a fan of Pultecs. We used to just pass a signal through them and you just get all of this warmth and a little crispiness, just something that happened with Pultec PEQs. [Universal Audio] have modeled it perfectly on its platform. The Helios F700 compressor is amazing, and there's also the ADR Compex F760. I don't think anyone has modeled either of those satisfactorily.”

And of newer gear: “Neumann made a TLM67 that very few people seem to know about, and it is absolutely incredible. It has all of the best stuff from a transformerless microphone but sounds like a U 67. It is just an amazing microphone.”

After 45 years Platt still regards his job as “the best job in the world” adding “and it's probably a good thing I didn't take the air traffic control job — the skies have definitely been a lot safer!”

Editor's Note: In response to some of the questions we've seen about his wireless system, Tony told us that it was only used to record the solos, not the rhythm guitars, and that the rig was constantly changing from song to song.

There does, however, seem to be some controversy around this point. SoloDallas builds a pedal-format replica of the wireless system and tell us that the system was used "on any and all parts that were played from within the control room, next to the producer. That would include a whole new rhythm part, before and after the solos - and the solos themselves."

Whatever the case, if you're looking for a way to achieve to this particular set of tones, SoloDallas' Schaffer Replica is definitely worth a look.

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