Learn To Play: AC/DC's "Back In Black"

AC/DC is one of the most pure, most durable and loudest (live) hard rock bands around. Like a good whiskey, their songs distill the feeling of rock and roll into its sharpest, most raw elements. While pre-Brian Johnson purists may disagree, we feel "Back In Black" represents that distillation more than any other song in their catalog. Genius in its simple riffery, it holds a special place as a resurrection/tribute song for their former frontman, Bon Scott, who died after a night of heavy drinking while the band was working on what would become the Back In Black LP.

With a simplicity reminiscent of The Kinks or even Link Wray, the opening chords and groove of "Back In Black" exemplify the template AC/DC used most of its career: simple, loud, memorable. It's a great vehicle to understand the rest of the band's catalog, a study in power chord/pentatonic permutations at its best. Without AC/DC, it's fair to say there might not be a Van Halen or even a Jack White. This lesson isn't just about a song. It's about rock history. Tune in, turn up and rock out.

The Other Brother: Malcolm Young

AC/DC was formed by two Australian brothers, Angus and Malcolm Young, in 1973. While Angus quickly became a rock icon with his school boy uniform and incredible live solos that involved as much dance as fretboard fireworks, Malcolm was the rock, holding down the business side of things and composing many of the band's most iconic riffs as the rhythm guitarist. Part of AC/DC's characteristic sound is the perfect simplicity of two guitars, each with a slightly different timbre, sometimes playing in unison and sometimes allowing for solos. Angus playing alone or overdubbing would have been one-dimensional. Add in the subtle, uncomplicated riffs and texturing of a second bright guitar, and you have something like a less invasive, rootsier precursor to Billy Corgan's and James Iha's fuzzy wall of guitars. Listen to AC/DC through a good stereo system and sit in the middle. What you'll hear is the genius of Malcolm Young.

In 2014, Malcolm officially retired from the band due to struggles with dementia. While AC/DC has stated they have no plans to break up in light of this, we would like to officially salute the pillar and original founder of the band. If not the end of the band, it's certainly the end of an era. We'll miss you, mate.

The Gear Of Malcolm Young

His brother will forever be the scion of the Gibson SG. Malcolm, however, was a career-long user of Gretsch guitars (though he was seen from time to time with a Tele). His main axe was a double cutaway 1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird - a guitar he called "The Beast" - with the neck and middle pups removed. Stuffing socks in the remaining holes to fight feedback, this left him with a single Filter'Tron bridge pickup. It is this setup that produces the tone on so many iconic AC/DC riffs. Gretsch produced the G6131MY, a signature model tribute to this guitar, from 1995 - 2011.

Malcolm also played a 1959 Gretsch White Falcon (seen in the "Back In Black" music video) until a repair job reportedly robbed it of its mojo. Retired from touring and studio work, the guitar was eventually sold at auction. He continued to play other White Falcon and Pro Jet specimens later in his career, mostly through Marshall stacks, but he's ocassionally been seen with Orange and Mesa Boogie stacks as well.

1963 Gretsch Jet Firebird

Gretsch G6131MY

1959 Gretsch White Falcon

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