August 19, 2019 / 2:09 PM

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How To Play Guitar Like AC/DC



Anyone who claims they do not know an AC/DC song is clearly lying or not knowledgeable about the world of rock and the hits we have all come to love. AC/DC songs can be found in commercials, television shows, and movies. They have unforgettable favorites such as, "Highway to Hell." and "You Shook Me All Night Long." Their long-standing fandom has been carried by the distinct guitar playing from both Angus and Malcolm Young.

The brother's guitar riffs can easily be distinguished from other bands of the time and have been an inspiration to newer musicians for years now. Let's examine the basics that make up this style of instrumentation, without diving into the complex ideas of composition. 

The Correct Set-Up

By this point, you have probably listened to AC/DC songs on a loop, recreating what you believe the sound is, or at least attempting it. Each guitarist will have a different set up, which will make a huge difference in the sound produced. The first step to ensuring you have the correct sound is to use the right equipment. Yes, everyone clearly cannot afford the same exact equipment as world these world renowned artists, but the type of equipment is what is the key.

One might simply assume that the best way to achieve these effects are with sound altering pedals. This is not how the band did it, and neither should you, they used genuine equipment to produce the sounds and effects naturally. You will need an electric guitar that has humbucker pickup capabilities, and this is plugged into a valve amp. The settings on the amp will reflect AC/DC's style with the EQ and volume up high, but the gain lower than normal. This is a basic authentic tone to match the band, even if you think AC/DC's sound is all about high-gains. Play with these settings and adjust where needed to make your setup match that of the Young brothers.

Use Your Power Cords

If trying to merge your style with AC/DC's distinct guitar artistry, you need to know about classic power chords. The most acknowledges power chords are of the 'root and fifth' persuasion. Because of the style, these low chords, which are not major or minor, provide the foundation and the driving force that AC/DC uses to pump up the crowd.

Power chords are the basics of the band's sound. Between these notes are riffs, filled with slides and even pauses, which we will go on to discuss. But first focus on getting the building blocks down, and for AC/DC's rockin' sound, this is the power chords.

A Dynamic Rhythm

The rhythm of AC/DC is all about large power chords, classic rock will use regularly. The band has a way of arranging these power chords interestingly. AC/DC will break things up using staccato notes, or a method known as a start and stop technique to give each bit its own beginning and ending power. Just listen to the famous opening of "Back in Black" to get a taste of the variance. 

Firstly, AC/DC uses pauses and breaks in the scales to do this. Then, they use a lot of sliding to make the sound dynamic within the main rhythm. Lastly, they will emphasize particular notes, often the less upfront rhythm, bringing it into battle with the power rhythm in the forefront. This way the two rhythms mesh together rather than being completely distinguishable.

Know The Pentatonic Scales

There are four positions within the pentatonic scale, and you should know them if you're deciding to imitate the sound of AC/DC. This is how you will become a solo shredding guitar master, this is why it is such a key feature for rock guitarists. You should learn how to play this scale anywhere on the neck, so you can make sharp note changes wherever, whenever. Young uses this style in lead guitar, and while there is a lot of choppy repetitism, the entire fretboard is used.

While this is just one of the basics of playing a guitar you must know, never be afraid to research examples of these scales. Even begin an online guitar course, some offer a Guitar Tricks free trial for beginning your journey. 

You Need a Rockin' Solo

Solos are vital in classic hard-rock. These tunes rely on a heavy and interesting guitar solo. To match Young's solo styles in AC/DC songs, try learning some of the basic elements and build from that. Remember we are attempting to mimic a particular style, so individuality and your personal rhythm has little to do with this now but can always be implemented once you've got the basics down. 

Main Elements: 

  • Using Pentatonic Scales: Our own patterns can come as second nature, but be sure not to jazz it up. Since this is the style of AC/DC all licks and note choices are going to be pentatonic. 

  • Focus on Legato: Your legato is the amount of slides, pull-offs, etc that you infused with the notes. This gives the drama of AC/DC solos.

  • Respect the Lick: There is a large focus on avoiding licks in contemporary rock, so it will feel more natural. Now, AC/DC is known for distinctive licks that are often speedy, not to mention repetitive.

  • Climb that Neck: Most solos in AC/DC songs will slowly work their way higher and higher before they explode back into the surrounding song. 

You're On A Roll!

Most guitarists dream of playing in the style of AC/DC, and starting with these tips, you are on your way. Just remember, it's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll like AC/DC, mastering this will take time and practice. AC/DC is known for their ability to put on a fun show, just by having a good time on stage, so don't take it too seriously. Using the same principles the Young brother's applied during shows and recording, you can impress everyone with your solid rendition of "Back to Black." 

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