Angus Young is probably the first name you think of when talking about the guitar playing in AC/DC. But there is a solid argument to be made that Malcolm Young’s guitar playing was just as important. Rhythm guitar is an essential part of their music and Malcolm was a master of laying down a rock-solid foundation for his brother’s lead guitar parts.
In this lesson, Kent will be going over some of Malcolm’s greatest guitar parts as well as a few ways you can nail his tone. If you’re trying to pick out Malcolm’s parts in an AC/DC song, they usually have Angus and Malcolm’s guitars panned to either side in stereo.
Malcolm’s Guitar Tone
Malcolm’s tone was perfect for rhythm guitar. Just the right amount of gain and a whole lot of attitude. He played 12 gauge strings and modded a Gretsch Double Jet so that it only had one pickup. This made it very similar to a Gibson Jr. style guitar which screams classic rock tone. This guitar had a bypassed tone control and was known as “The Beast”.
He plugged directly into a cranked vintage Marshall Super Bass. When dialling in the distortion, it’s important you don’t overdo it. It should be enough so that when you dig in there’s grit but when you lighten your touch it cleans up.
If you’re trying to get his tone on a budget, then any guitar with Filterton pickups and a Marshall-style amp will get you there. If you don’t have an amplifier that can get a Marshall tone, then try the J Rockett .45 Caliber guitar pedal.
Just make sure you’re using a heavy pick and hitting the guitar hard. Confidence is key!
Malcolm mostly used power chords and open chords. The main chords you’ll find him using in AC/DC’s songs are the A power chord, E power chord, G power chord, D major chord, and B power chord.
The first rhythm guitar part we’ll learn uses single notes instead of chords. You want to make sure you’re adding that rhythmic swing that Malcolm always talks about. Feel free to get lazy with your fretting hand so you can more easily mute the adjacent strings. That way, you can add attitude by including some extra muted notes into the riff. Vibrato is optional but it’s a great way to add a little more emotion.
There are so many tutorials out there on Angus’ part, but Malcolm’s part is worth looking at as well. You’ll be playing a B power chord and splitting it into two pieces. You’ll go back and forth between the top part and the bottom part of the chord to get the accents right. It might seem tough, but once you find the groove it should come pretty naturally.
Be sure to check out our full Thunderstruck lesson with both Angus & Malcolm’s parts here: How To Play Thunderstruck – Rhythm vs. Lead Guitar
Let There Be Rock
Here, we’ll be playing a G power chord in a position you might not be familiar with. It’s more of an open G major position without the index finger fretting the A string. You’ll be using this G power chord with an E power chord and an A power chord while chunking the low E string between the chords.
Shoot To Thrill
For our last Malcolm part, there’s a challenging transition between chords. When switching from the D chord to the A chord, he reaches up to the fourth fret of the A string to play a C# note with his pinky. If you can’t get the stretch, you can feel free to abandon the D shape to make the reach before switching to the A power chord.