AC/DC’s Angus Young is easily one of the most iconic rock and roll guitar players of all time. The Australian-by-way-of-Scotland legends have sold over 200 million records, and continue to tour to this day, well into their 60s.
Angus is known as much for his schoolboy outfit as he is his (mainly) black Gibson SGs, but he is famous among guitarists for picking every last note. No mean feat when you consider most modern players aim to use legato and other techniques to use their picks as seldom as possible.
As for picks, Angus uses Fender 351 Extra Heavy picks. He told Guitar World, “I just plug in and hit the thing really hard. That’s my style … or lack of one! That’s why I use extra-heavy Fender picks—there’s a lot of plastic in ’em so it takes longer to wear ’em out!”
Angus’s guitar tech was also interviewed for Premier Guitar in 2016, and he revealed that Angus actually uses older style picks:
The thing is they don’t make these like this anymore. These are actually hot-stamped, now they’re all silk-screened. (He prefers the older ones) because he can grab it – there’s a grip there which is quite standard.
He also revealed that Angus has picks with his “character” embossed on them, but those are for giving out to fans and are never used at concerts.
During the rig rundown, he also explained that Angus uses Ernie Ball Slinky strings (. 009-. 042) – and has for decades.
“One thing you should know is that these guys are creatures of habit, Angus won’t change anything he doesn’t have to.”
Angus has also spoken about how his picking technique is the key to his tone – and the great thing about Angus is his tone is all his.
The funny thing is, when you learn to play really hard you also learn the instrument’s limitations. I honestly believe that you have to be able to play the guitar hard if you want to be able to get the whole spectrum of tones out of it. Since I normally play so hard, when I start picking a bit softer my tone changes completely, and t hat’s really useful sometimes for creating a more laid-back feel.
Scott Ian of Anthrax is also a massive AC/DC fan, saying “Malcolm Young basically thought me to play the guitar” (by playing along to their records).
He also stresses that AC/DC’s music is in the fingers, not the gear.
AC/DC always sounds real simple. People always think “that sounds easy, it’s just a couple chords” – but try playing it right. That’s my challenge to everybody all the time. That’s why there’s only one AC/DC, because only they can do that.Scott Ian: ‘The Magic of Malcolm Young’
Angus rounds out his sound by plugging his guitar into a wall of nine 100-watt Super Lead Marshall heads. They run the heads so hard that they actually travel with a full time amp tech named Simon Morton – this is because the amps are played so loud for so long every night, they typically only last three shows before they need to be repaired.
While the band is loading in every day, Morton sets up his mobile workshop and lovingly swaps tubes, fixes blown parts and performs other preventative maintenance on Angus’s guitar amps until the next time they come back onto his bench.
So will you sound like Angus Young if you play Fender Super Heavy picks into a Gibson SG, into a Marshall? Probably not – but it’ll get you one step closer!
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