31 May AC/DC’s “Down Payment Blues” (Powerage, Studio)
While we already knew that the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System had been used on Powerage (first studio album where it got used, actually), speaking with Angus the other day (yeah, right) gave me additional gas to go and play Powerage stuff. Here to you. First Powerage Video of the Schaffer Replica series, and also a song I had never covered on video previously. Great song, naturally (like most of this era if you ask me). Better get it right, right?
Just as a reminder of my theory (that finds recount on the “AC/DC in the Studio” book), this album was entirely played – by Angus – on a 2203, including – I think – solos. It’s still unclear to me what parts were played with the SVDS and which weren’t; at times, for songs such “Gone Shootin'” for example, it seems like the solo was pulled off of the floor with the rest of the band while tracking the backing track. I haven’t asked (yet) but we will find a way to document this for sure as well, in time. For now, suffice the change of sound. Some songs – such as this one, “Down Payment Blues” – have a definite change of sound for the solo, and the comforting position of the solo itself in the centre of the stereo spectrum also usually means, a part played in the “control room”. We do know that at this point in time (and from now on for a whopping 8 more years) Angus liked to comfortably sit on a couch in the control room – cigarette and guitar at hand, and wail on the guitar through the Schaffer-Vega Diversity for solos, additional guitar parts and power chords.
The microphone here – as on any other recorded track – plays a big role. We’re talking Neumann U47 FET (a later model that substituted the tube model, the Neumann U47 tube, an older version favoured especially by singers). This is a microphone that has its own definite punch. Probably, the only other current production microphone that could get somewhere in these whereabouts – and at a fraction of the cost – might be the Audio Technica AT4047; a microphone design that, as the name alone implies, was “inspired” by the U47 FET. A superb microphone not anymore in production, the U47 FET was used to track several instruments including but not limited to, vocals (Bon Scott sang many, many vocal parts through a U47 FET), guitars and the bass drum of a drum set(!). Yep, you read right: few microphones as the U47 FET were able to capture the bass-ness of the bass drum such as a Neumann U47 FET. Naturally, all those U47 FET that sat in the bass drum eventually took a beating to the capsule because of the pressure; a practice definitely not recommended nowadays, these microphones being vintage treasures. The one I used is a mint example in perfect condition.
It seems that a single U47 FET was used on every guitar cabinet for this album, and the Young brothers had one cabinet each, back to back, in a separate room from the band.
There wasn’t much I had to do once the microphone was on a good spot of the 4×12 Marshall cabinet loaded with original Celestion G12Ms from the late 1970s (as on the album, where G12Ms were used). You plug your trusty 2203 to the cabinet, set presence to 0, bass to 4, mids to 3-4, treble to 5-6 and both volume and preamp to 7-ish and just rock, with the guitar – for Angus’ rhythm part – on volume 10 and tone 10. The rest, you’ll have to do with dynamics (that, as you can hear on this track, play a relevant part). The 2203 – despite the pre-amp tube, is able to clean up pretty well even at 7. The 2203 is an amp that deserves to be studied in detail. Without my indispensable Aracom 150 DAG attenuator, I would never be able to pull decent matching sounds as I have been lucky to make happen in the recent years. I do carefully state this at every worthwhile chance, as I will now: attenuators (good attenuators) are a great achievement of current technology (thank you, Aracom!) and they finally liberated scores of 100 watt amplifiers that used to sit in dark corners of our attics, basements or worse, storage rooms. If you think about it, only few players in the world got to really crank these beasts until recent years. You had to have a stage for it. Some luckier than others have had the chance to blast their basement because neighbours were far enough to not care. But these are fewer than the rest, us. When I had to sell the studio , for years I relied on emulation software alone, if you remember. And yet, I was content (but I knew I was going back to analog tube circuitry, babe). Only a good attenuator was enough to convince me to bring out my amps – get even some more – and re-build an arsenal. Done. Mission complete.
I look forward to there being more and more Attenuators out there, so that the costs also will come down eventually. An attenuator for every rock player. For every bedroom rock player, actually.
But deep down inside, aren’t we all bedroom rockers? Even the stars once were. Oh well.
For the solo, I hooked my Schaffer Replica GT. I don’t have serial number 001 anymore – that one went somewhere else (a better home, Angus Young’s) – so I am using another one Franz had the generosity to ship to me (laughs). It sounds amazing. You can’t possibly know about this, but the production units sound even better than the prototypes. I have no whatsoever idea of why this would be, but that’s that. I compared them one against the other and the production models are even closer to the original Schaffer-Vega Diversity character. Fantastic. Maybe I shouldn’t be praising my own product – but you’ll forgive me for this (and the ones among you who now proudly own either a GT or Pedal, you know what I am talking about!).
I brought the amp’s volume and pre-amp slightly lower than 7 – probably 5-6 and boosted a fair amount, probably 75% and almost full companding. Also, bass seems to have been reduced to near zero here (for the solos). Whether it was pre or post it’s hard to say, but with AC/DC one would tend do think that it was done in pre (i.e., before, directly from the amp and not from the mix on the mixing console, after it had been recorded). You have to remember that the Schaffer-Vega added tremendous bass response (so does the Schaffer Replica) and it seems that at this point in time – and even for Highway To Hell – the solos are not at all bassy; not at least as much as they will be on Back in Black and even more, on For Those About To Rock, where most if not all solo tracks were recorded with a 50watts head thus adding quite much that “warmth” Malcolm talked about referring to these being used and which simply means, even more compression and bass as a reaction from the amp under stress.
The guitar tone knob would have to be at zero (0) or close. I am rather sure this is how Angus had his tone knob set like for solos on quite a few of the tracks of this album (and later ones as well, as we found out already). It was just the standard way of making a great solo sound with these amps. It’s funny that one of his current guitars has the tone bypassed now (it’s the lighting bolts one), as that same guitar played on countless of earlier albums and was – for solos – many times used with the tone knob closed at least some.
Which is why I had my new David Allen Powerage pickups installed (both, neck and bridge) and the tone wiring done the standard way (1960s wiring). I always use the tone knob.
By the way, all you hear – rhythm and solos – was done with the Gibson SG Standard Angus Young signature number 37 that you see here, with the Powerage pickups. I finally got rid of the “original” Seymour Dancan pickups that I liked for the first 30 seconds when I had the guitar – then disliked immensely so much that I almost never used this guitar (if you noticed). Only now that I put these fresh ones in, I finally want to play the thing again. And I think the difference in sound is evident. Much closer to authentic t-tops, but these Powerage pickups even bring something different to the table. They seem to have more bite but are still in the same range as the originals. Good stuff that sounds great.