02 Jun AC/DC’s “Kicked In The Teeth” The Schaffer Replica Series (Updated)
Well it is about time to write some details in this white space no?
Here it is. I played this piece with two guitars, both with David Allen’s Powerage pickups in them (bridge and neck). I like these pickups much, and along with the Manlius t-tops these are my favourite replica pickups in absolute terms. The Powerage pickups seem to be less warm and a bit stiffer than the Manlius, but they do everything the Manlius do as well.
I used the two guitars as I also wanted to throw a vintage SG in the package with the Powerage Pus, not only a newer one (the Angus Young signature #37). By the way, the latter was completely revived with the Powerage pickups. It is now finally usable as a regular guitar – probably just as much as one of my older SGs. Good thing at last! And remember – for you guys that own an Angus Young sig of the second generation, the ones with the lightning bolts – to also re-wire the tone knob in that guitar – you definitely need it. We’re not Angus Young, and he has hundreds of SGs anyway. We “Only” have one or a few and we need to be able to use all the features in our guitars. The tone knob is one of those features that I use daily, both to record and to just rehearse, train, play and mess around.
Having said this, the first version of this take sported a different Console EQ (the wonderful API Vision channel strip from Universal Audio). Do NOT underestimate for any reason these plugins. If you even remotely think that I have been doing a decent job in recent years, this was solely possible to me thanks to these plugins – Universal Audio and Slate Digital. If you have either a Mac or PC with decent power and are serious about recording yourself (not only for the pleasure of hearing yourself back, but because we learn so much more by recording ourselves, a concept that I will be stressing immensely when solodallas.com goes pay-for in the future) you must consider acquiring a few plugins from either (or both). They’re not even that expensive anymore, and I assure you that you can start relying on these for true analog emulation that will give you immense satisfaction.
Matter of fact, I just bought me another plug-in yesterday, and I implemented it in the mix for this track today (the re-mixed track is now here for you to play; the youtube link will give you the older mix). Well for me it is night and day difference. Not because the API Channel Strip wasn’t good enough – it is excellent, nothing short of amazing really – but because the newer plugin that I got emulates what was actually used by George Young & Harry Vanda for a long, long time back then: a Neve 1073 channel strip. Try both versions and see (hear) if you spot a difference. I can hear it and it is a big one. But anyway. I must in fact re-stress the fact that the AC/DC kin have been extremely passionate about old Neve consoles for decades. Since the very beginning, in fact, when at Albert studios the two Young brothers went under the direction of their older brother George, who was already using such Neve console. They went on from 1973 to present day using Neve consoles for either tracking or mixing or both. Currently, it is necessary to remind the fact that AC/DC are in fact at the Warehouse Studio 2 in Vancouver, Canada, where one of the most stunning Neve consoles still resides to this day. Not a coincidence, naturally. The Neve 1073 module made the history of rock, nothing short of this very statement, and with AC/DC, you can hear the sound of Neve consoles clearly from the very first album to Highway To Hell, including the incredibly good sounding Powerage, Highway To Hell and even the amazing Let There Be rock (the album, not the movie). If You Want Blood (You’ve Got it) was instead only mixed with such console and yet, both guitars still bear clearly its characteristic sound. These are all excellent examples of a Neve console sporting the 1073 module or one of its derivatives. If you look at the pictures, you will be able to make out the original Neve console at Albert Studios and there, on top rows (just under the VU meters) you will spot the modules vertically inserted into the console. Another image below shows such authentic modules and under it, Universal Audio graphical representation (with workable controls) of such module, including the fader (that you would see further down the module looking at the real console). Great stuff.
I did record this track with the Neumann U47 FET, just like Down Payment Blues. All the tracks on this album – Powerage – were in fact recorded with this great Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. I didn’t change the position of the microphone for this track.
This is a typical, AC/DC obscure treasure. I mean, obscure should be in quotes, since even Powerage sold millions of copies; but it is definitely not an FM track, not a song that we hear on the radio much – is it.
Yet, it’s a typical AC/DC rocking tune. I mean, damn, isn’t this real rock and roll. There are many influences directly from the blues in this one, and it is reminiscent of other AC/DC tracks as well, merely because it is in the key of A and it rotates much around A, C, D etc. It is definitely reminiscent of Whole Lotta Rosie, for example, and even the solo in it has a certain energy that was only found live and in the Let There Be Rock album of the previous year. Not to mention If You Want Blood (you’ve Got It) from Glasgow that came a few months after this studio rendition. Definitely around these months Angus was playing with certain types of scales that included notes that – even he admitted this – would sound like they are out of place in a pentatonic or major scale and yet, they sound beautiful in a rock and roll tune (insert name of mode or scale here!).
My takes were done with plexiglass panels against the cabinet, with the plexi facing the cabinet itself and reflecting the sound back into the microphone; something I should try and avoid in the future as plexi – the material, not the amps! – are not the best sounding, reflective surfaces known to exist. Wood would be definitely better and I’ll try to build a little baffle panel of some great wood type to reflect nicely the sound – when reflection is needed; otherwise, turn the baffles on the other side where absorbing material should be hot glued on.
The solo is evidently king of the scene here. For the rest, the rhythm pattern won’t present any major difficulties other than, proper timing (never to underestimate!).
The solo instead kept me busy for two entire mornings, mostly to debunk it. You do know that I don’t have much enjoyment playing solos that are not at least initially accurate. The “note for note” thing. Yep. Between this and being obsessive, I’d rather be not accurate, naturally, however there’s always a way in between and we must try to choose that path.
The trick for me was made by Audacity once again, where I went to slow down the solo initially by 40% and subsequently, just for the fast scale that happens almost at the start of the solo (and that most likely will draw some attention by the fast-finger-lovers) I had to slow down an additional 20%. That scale was really tricky; another typical Angus Young lick of the old days and yet, there’s nothing cliché nor to give for granted in those few, fast notes, as there is some intricate work that most likely was improvised by him, but in his unique style that escapes most of the guitar players trying to play AC/DC. I took note of the notes and I am now able to show you what was done; most certainly this will happen (and it’s worth it) when I will be starting my major “tutorial” program, which will be – in fact – a pay-for subscription right here on solodallas.com. Will just be a few bucks per month and will be totally content-worthy. You know I would never let you down.
Once the notes were known to me – but slowly – the problem of how to execute them remained; or actually, arose. In fact initially, I thought that the scale was played around the fifth fret, as usually we do our pentatonic thing there. But Angus these very years was playing much on the 7th, 9th and 12th position of the key of A pentatonic scale, too. After a few hours of failed attempts – mostly because I just couldn’t get the right speed for that scale, which thing threw me into despair for a minute or two – I was finally struck by illumination and saw how that scale had been done, which is how you see it on screen. Much easier in that fretboard position, as it actually becomes feasible at that speed only there.
The rest of the solo sees heavy, intense vibratos as an important part of the message, and I too wanted to be able to transmit the same message – and I mean, exactly the same, nothing less – through intensity and eventually, I did. My hands were sore in the end though. But what satisfaction: this is definitely the Angus’ style I like the most (including Back in Black). These very years, the end of the 1970s and the very first few years of the 1980s.
I was almost forgetting to mention guitar and amp settings, which are understandably requested. As said before, Angus used his Marshall 2203 on the whole Powerage album. Not only you can hear it clearly all along the recordings – at least on his side, the right side – but it is also documented in the AC/DC in The Studio book that we mentioned several times. It’s a fact. Surprisingly enough (is it?) despite the potentially gainy-er aspect of the 2203, not much more drive than previous (or subsequent) studio albums is used. Angus was under the strict direction of brother George and brother Malcolm (whom he admittedly would look up to continuously). So he had to give it all, maintaining his sound at a sweet, sweet spot where things start to cook but are never over cooked. Italian people when referring to their pasta – for example – would certainly mention “al dente”. Just cooked enough to be edible, but not overdone. The secret to great cuisine and evidently, a great sound (which makes music better, undoubtedly). That was our recipe, too. So despite the fact that my (and his) sound might seem quite driven, it really wasn’t. Both volume and pre-amp (the gain knob on a 2203) were set at 7. That’s the magic number, at least with Marshall, for volume level. All other controls were the usual presence 0, bass 2, mids 4 and treble 5. Now, even here on Powerage – as on Highway To Hell – the tone control of your guitar will have to be closed some for both rhythm and solo. I think I went down to 3, after trying several different settings. And it worked for me. You must understand that a Marshall 2203 is a very bright amplifier. When pushed up in volume(s) level – at least with a good quality Attenuator – the brightness will even increase. So – when recording, to make it more natural for recording equipment – they counter-acted almost always by decreasing the tone level knob on Angus’ guitar, thus making for a thick, naturally equalised sound from within the instrument itself. In fact, contrary to common belief, turning the tone knob down will not at all make you lose all the bright frequencies. Will kill some – really the excess – but will at the same time make for a very thick, solid body of sound that is also extremely musical. Almost like a human voice when played on single notes. It was always a good trick of the more knowledgeable, skilled guitar players of those years, from well within the 1960s when Eric Clapton himself started making it popular with his “woman tone” (that nothing was other than closing the tone down some or all).
For you, youtube’s older version of this mix; you should be able to make out how harsher it sounded.