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AC/DC In The Studio: Recording Info Insights (Update!)

29 Apr AC/DC In The Studio: Recording Info Insights (Update!)

UPDATE: Our friend and member Currentpeak has just found this superb interview in audio form where Powerage sound engineer Opitz describes how Angus recorded the album back then.

This is Currentpeak‘s understanding, I am posting his comment as a whole:

 

It is a Michael Butler’s (of Rock ‘n’ Roll Geek Show) interview with Mark Opitz. As we know, he was an audio engineer/mixer/producer for many Albert Productions’ artists including AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo = real rock royalty!

 

In fact he was an audio engineer of Powerage recordings. He mentions some bits like:

– if you are looking for AC/DC tone you should look for 1959 Marshall head, but nothing past JCM800 (but that’s what we already know)

– Angus used wireless on solos (he didn’t remember the name, but mention that “the one” was popular brand at that time – of course it is SVDS) – he was recording the solo for Riff Raff in control room standing next to Mark (and it is Mark’s favourite AC/DC song to this day)

– he also mentions his technique of placing the microphones – 2 per cabinet, 90° angle, facing the center of the cab, 8 inches from it at the start,  1 cardio/dynamic (for mids) 1 condenser (for bottoms&tops)

 

Audio can now be found here: Opitz Interview

Here’s Rob version of it, only mattering elements:

 

Opitz tells that he was recommended to Vanda and Young by the artist John-Paul Young (remember him? he did the song ‘Love is in the Air’ in ’75) common mis-conception that he was a relation but not true.

Opitz then says he joined at the tail end of L.T.B.R (confused by this as he also says he mixed ‘Love is in the air’ which WAS 1975 and was L.T.B.R ’77).

Talks randomly about following Vanda and Young around, some AC/DC live stuff and working with the Angels and Rose Tattoo.

Then says V + Y just positioned the mikes but didn’t have any depth of knowledge at that time, he introduced the scientific approach (from Powerage). He says that before the band came in he would match the all of amps with the speakers, and each speaker with each other, this would take him weeks to do but he then knew the best equipment for miking from.

Amps up really loud and just touch the strings on the eigth notes’ (he took this technique to other bands from AC/DC).

The interviewer implies that the guitar tone is his signature but Opitz immediately corrects this with ‘I’d like to think that my signature is invisible and the tone is down to the people you’re working with and getting the best from them’.

He says for AC/DC use heavy gauge strings and a 1959, nothing newer than a JCM800.

Now he starts to talk about mike technique!

His way makes the ‘guitar amp in the control room sound like it does out on the studio floor’. He says this is very hard to do through a control amp. His technique is

‘two mic’s at a 90 degree angle, facing the centre of the speaker box but crossing the middle as oppose to facing it, is my format’ . ‘Ones a cardioid and ones a condenser mic(adds) a dynamic mic – more middle range, condenser – good on the bottoms and the tops. These mikes to start with, just to get the basic sound, at 90 deg, it’s an X-Y configuration about 8″ in front of whatever speaker you consider the main speaker, right in the middle, just pointing at the sides. He says (for getting a little technical) ‘he just flips one out of phase until the guts disappear and then just brings it back in and bang there it is, but it’s very simple’.

He says, in the old days with a centre mic people spent two or three days moving stuff around the studio but he doesn’t with this technique.

He’s then asked about pedals and says ‘people have there own sound that they bring with them so he doesn’t necessarily discourage them’. The Young brother’s didn’t use them.

He then relates how V + Y didn’t realise that they weren’t paying him for the first 6 months and he was too afraid to mention it.

Talks about radio mic’s on Angus guitar’s for the solo’s and standing beside him (i.e behind the desk but Angus in the control room) when played.

He used the wireless so he could ‘gun the amplifier in the studio’ (must be what we know about the boost and comp then eh!)

He can’t remember the make ‘Could have been a Shure or something like that’. The way he says Shure makes me think Schaffer is in his mind. He adds ‘popular one at the time American’.

After Powerage he left Albert.

SoloDallas Note: On Powerage, SUCH mic technique was NOT used; only ONE microphone per guitar was used and that was a Neumann U47 FET.

 

Thank you Rob :)

My old time brother Max (Canadian) has provided additional and precious info regarding Opitz’ microphone positioning as stated above:

 

Just to clarify what the engineer was saying about one Dynamic Cardioid and one condenser at 90° at 8″

he’s pointing the two mics so that they form an ‘A’ shape 8″ from the cone, with each mic pointing at the side of the cone

he then flips one of the mics out of phase and tries to get as much phase cancellation as possible (thinning of the sound) so that when he switches the phase back to normal the two mics will be ‘perfectly’ in phase.the combination of one good dynamic and one good condenser is a good part of the sound IMO.  the dynamic gives you more immediacy in the sound.

the U47 FET mic has the second generation K47 capsule which is a bit flatter on the top end than the U47 tube mic, which was designed to pick-up orchestras and voices from a distance.  The U47 FET is also a raunchier sounding mic because of the early solid-state electronics. It is not a modern Phantom mic, and needs it’s own power supply like a U47 does.

I think Bon Scott recorded his vocals thruough a 47Fet as well.

 

Thanks Maxi!


____________________________________________________

I am basically robbing the book taking out some technical details. I won’t be posting exactly its phrases though so, at least in this case, I can’t be held for copyright infringement (and as usual, I bought my copy of the book). All of that follows is in fact taken from AC/DC In The Studio (Amazon)

 

For documentation purposes here at solodallas.com, I intend to write down here exactly what amps and microphones were used on the following records, where documentation of this exists in the book (and it’s never complete).

 

Powerage

 

As for most of the book, very little documentation exists for Angus and Malcolm of what they really used. So, one has to read between the lines. Some data is clearly stated though.

The sound engineer that recorded Powerage says that Angus and Malcolm were into the room with everyone else, but the guitar speakers of both were into a separate room.

They were placed “…back to back” and microphone types were exactly one Neumann U47 FET (no tube, transistor version) for each at “maybe one inch” distance from the grill cloth.

(Fil’s note on the Neumann U47 FET: this microphone was the transistor alternative to the tube Neumann U47 that had to be replaced because of ceasing of production of the VF14 tube; it is reported that one of the close replica’s of the Neumann U47 FET is the Audio Technica AT4047sv which – you may now by now – is a microphone we have and we have tested extensively here at solodallas.com!)

No information on the speaker types.

He does mention what amps were used, when he describes the fact that Malcolm and his heavy strings gauge and right hand would light the tube amps very quickly (i.e., by striking hard) so they set the pre-amps at a level useful to have harmonic distortion where it was needed so not to blow the speakers.

In other terms, they had Master Volume amps, which at the time, were the only Marshalls with pre-amps knobs to set the distortion independently not having to be too loud. And evidently, I think this was for both of them.

Since you wouldn’t break a 4×12 with a 2204, 2203s were used.

Solos were recorded separately by Angus later on and thanks to the above update, it is now clear that Angus used the Schaffer Vega for Powerage solos too!

No other meaningful mention on their gear appears.

 

Highway To Hell

 

For both Ang and Mal the speakers cabinets were towards corners, and baffled (i.e., the speakers/grill cloth side was against the corner to attenuate the loudness and enhance bass frequencies).

Microphones used were a couple of Shure SM57s and one MD421 per cabinet (i.e., three mikes per cabinet), one cabinet for each brother). Close mics as well used here.

Now, the most important thing you may want to listen to now is that Mr. Mark Dearnley said that Angus overdubbed all of the Highway To Hell solos with… “his radio unit”.

That meaning, The Schaffer Vega. Meaning that, once again, the SVDS was also used on Highway To Hell, at least on the solos.

 

To be continued.

 

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Fil "SoloDallas" Olivieri
sd@solodallas.com

We Are Rock 'N Roll People.

37 Comments
  • avatar
    Brunduz
    Posted at 01:26h, 29 April

    on this great page there is always something awesome to read 😀 and so helpful!


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    Ruční registrace do katalogů
    Posted at 19:45h, 27 December

    Ruční registrace do katalogů…

    […]AC/DC In The Studio: Recording Info Insights (Update!)[…]…

  • avatar
    Max
    Posted at 14:03h, 01 May

    Just to clarify what the engineer was saying about one Dynamic Cardioid and one condenser at 90° at 8″

    he’s pointing the two mics so that they form an ‘A’ shape 8″ from the cone, with each mic pointing at the side of the cone

    he then flips one of the mics out of phase and tries to get as much phase cancellation as possible (thinning of the sound) so that when he switches the phase back to normal the two mics will be ‘perfectly’ in phase.

    the combination of one good dynamic and one good condenser is a good part of the sound IMO. the dynamic gives you more immediacy in the sound.

    the U47 FET mic has the second generation K47 capsule which is a bit flatter on the top end than the U47 tube mic, which was designed to pick-up orchestras and voices from a distance. The U47 FET is also a raunchier sounding mic because of the early solid-state electronics. It is not a modern Phantom mic, and needs it’s own power supply like a U47 does.

    I think Bon Scott recorded his vocals thruough a 47Fet as well.

  • avatar
    bhock4
    Posted at 12:19h, 30 April

    im AUSTRALIAN phil if u need any help

    • avatar
      SoloDallas
      Posted at 12:30h, 30 April

      PLEASE mate, go for it as soon as you can :)

      • avatar
        bhock4
        Posted at 13:04h, 30 April

        ok well let there be rock he worked with them on the tone with vanda and young
        he also mixed AC/DC LIVE stuff as well
        they say a lot about the albert sound
        basic and good tech with the microphones
        he also matched the cabs and speaker boxes together so they all matched he says angus and mal have the best right hands and he overdrive the amps so much so they barley had to touch the strings placing the mic in front of the amps and it works heavy gauge strings 1959 head 90 degree angle dynamic mic and high condenser mic 8 inches apart from the amp speaker no effects tail end of let there be rock 2 mic radio mic on his guitars early shure wireless he cant remember for solos he used the wireless
        (so theres all the info phil i hope u can understand the writing umm i just wrote down the words he said so its not in sentences so yeah good luck m8 glad to help)

  • avatar
    currentpeak
    Posted at 02:04h, 30 April

    Fil, I think this might help a bit with debunking of the Powerage tone.

    http://www.americanheartbreak.com/rnrgeekwp/blog-posts/rock-and-roll-geek-show-320-mark-opitz-interview/

    It is a Michael Butler’s (of Rock ‘n’ Roll Geek Show) interview with Mark Opitz. As we know, he was an audio engineer/mixer/producer for many Albert Productions’ artists including AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo = real rock royalty!

    In fact he was an audio engineer of Powerage recordings. He mentions some bits like:

    – if you are looking for AC/DC tone you should look for 1959 Marshall head, but nothing past JCM800 (but that’s what we already know)

    – Angus used wireless on solos (he didn’t remember the name, but mention that “the one” was popular brand at that time – of course it is SVDS) – he was recording the solo for Riff Raff in control room standing next to Mark (and it is Mark’s favourite AC/DC song to this day)

    – he also mentions his technique of placing the microphones – 2 per cabinet, 90° angle, facing the center of the cab, 8 inches from it at the start, 1 cardio/dynamic (for mids) 1 condenser (for bottoms&tops)

    …at least that is what I was able to understand; I’m not a native English speaker, but I’m sure you will “decode” it better than me 😉

    • avatar
      banane
      Posted at 08:52h, 30 April

      Remarkable: this was the second time that it were mentioned that Angus used his wireless on the solos. Of course it’s clear why he did (boost and easier soloing) but does that also means that he didn’t use his wireless on rhythm playing?

      • avatar
        SoloDallas
        Posted at 09:12h, 30 April

        Fra, this is good reasoning. I have been thinking about this too just these last few days. Actually, every engineer always talked about solos only with the Vega, not rhythm not, even for Back in Black. This could also mean that all the rhythm was done with cables and solos only with the Vega. While I think Angus had gotten more natural with the Vega by 1980 (and someone does mention – maybe it’s Platt, I can’t remember right now) that Angus felt more natural with the Vega, wirelessly, it could well be that he was playing with a cable when playing rhythm. Still, I think that this additional info is golden, as now I will be able to try things out with more info and be more focused only on certain gear. I am certain I – we – will come out with good sounds from all of this! :)

        • avatar
          banane
          Posted at 09:33h, 30 April

          Yeah, this interview solves another part of the puzzle. But I’m wondering why he should play only the solos wireless. Wouldn’t the sound change too much? Or can the Vega adjusted in a way that it don’t change the tone so there’s no difference to the tone of the “cabled” guitar?

          • avatar
            SoloDallas
            Posted at 09:38h, 30 April

            Franz,
            come over to me here in Rome right now and let’s play for 72 hours straight! 😛 The Vega CAN BE ADJUSTED ANYWAY YOU WANT IT. Meaning that, you can adjust the amount of boost on the RX by rotating the “audio adj” screw on the back of the unit. Additionally, the TX sensitivity can be adjusted anyway you want it too. There is a world of things that one can do with that; this is why I decided to replicate it mate. It was just the greatest piece of equipment at the time, and to me it still is. Additionally, miking, EQ and post production in general could do a world of things with/to it!

            • avatar
              banane
              Posted at 09:56h, 30 April

              Hehe, there are very few things I would rather do now and one day I’ll be there, ringing your door bell :) Even my wife said already something about having a long weekend in Rome would be nice :)

              Well, I see, so maybe Angus got the Vega with a rather neutral setting and started experimenting with its tonal capabilities later in the 80s.
              But then again the question would be, why changing between cable and wireless. But I expect it’s the boost making a better tone for the solos and it’s just like you said that Angus needed some time to get natural with the Vega. Can’t imagine any other reason for this.

              • avatar
                SoloDallas
                Posted at 10:02h, 30 April

                Several reasons for it. One could be that Angus has always been rather coherent with the simple approach of guitar into amp. Another could be, batteries would last only for a while. Another one could be interferences. Another one could be that the Vega is slightly more noisy (hiss, white noise) than the amp alone. There can be really a lot of reasons why, but I to tell you the truth, I think they were really going for the sound. So, it would be entirely possible that he also played rhythm with the Vega, and they can’t remember, didn’t notice, thought it wasn’t important, were going for different sounds, wanted the guitars cleaner etc. 😀 !

                • avatar
                  banane
                  Posted at 10:07h, 30 April

                  Alright, too many possibilities…well, we’ll find it out by trying it then :)

                  • avatar
                    SoloDallas
                    Posted at 10:14h, 30 April

                    Yes, trying will be KEY. The most important part was knowing that he actually DID use it (as I supposed). That rules out a lot of useless attempts.
                    What I will do will be to try the Vega with both the stock 2203 AND 2204. I have a suspicion that he used a 50watts for solos even there. So since they were using MVs, a 2204 may have been used. And I never tried the Vega with the 2204 YET… 😛

                    • avatar
                      banane
                      Posted at 10:19h, 30 April

                      Hehe, then it’s time :) Looking forward for what we’ll hear then :)

                    • avatar
                      SGACE
                      Posted at 15:04h, 30 April

                      The more I listen to the records, I come to a conclusion that from HTH and afterward Angus used mainly a 1959 for rhythm parts and either a NMV or MV for solos…

                    • avatar
                      SoloDallas
                      Posted at 15:48h, 30 April

                      George,
                      on some, especially from BinB on and earlier, up until 1977, yes.
                      But earlier, and most of all, ’78 and ’79, I think they did use extensively MVs.
                      I did try hours ago – after all this – the Schaffer on the 2204 and with proper settings, I think I was able to match several Powerage songs. To give you and idea, both the rhythm and solo in “Kicked in the Teeth”. If you know 2204s and 2203s, you can’t not recognize the sound of a MV with high pre-amp and low master.

                    • avatar
                      SGACE
                      Posted at 17:30h, 30 April

                      I think that HTH has a lot of NMV on it.. especially on rhythm..
                      From BNB the most characteristic song that it comes to my mind and ears that Angus used MV is
                      the song What Do You Do for money honey.. For me is a 100% MV amp in there..

    • avatar
      SoloDallas
      Posted at 09:08h, 30 April

      Mate, I don’t think you realize how this is important to us! You really uncovered a great treasure. I am going to credit you now in the article, and we’ll ask help of an Aussie to text the whole part of this audio interview so that we have it black on white. I can’t understand everything either! 😛 THANK YOU! I saved this audio file, this is gold. This actually uncovers Powerage!

      • avatar
        currentpeak
        Posted at 12:30h, 30 April

        It’s nothing, really. From time to time I stumble upon some stuff on the web. But I think that you’ve already seen majority of this stuff, too. Like this one:

        Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Mike Fraser (AC/DC Black Ice)
        http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan09/articles/itfraser.htm

        It can help with debunking of the Mike Fraser era albums. This is really interesting: “In addition, one thing that I have learned from working with AC/DC over the years is to try and keep the cables from the guitar to the amp head and from the amp to the cabinet as short as possible. So they had their amp heads with them in the live room. With short cables, you get all the bottom end as well as a nice top end. As soon as you lengthen the cable, the magic of the sound goes away and you have to add more top end at the amp, or EQ on the desk, and the sound becomes fuzzy as opposed to crunchy. A lot of people ask me how I get such a huge guitar sound, because it’s not doubled and it’s simply Malcolm in one speaker and Angus in the other, and there are no effects. The short cables are one of the main reasons.”

        Would love to know, if they used this technique in the old days. Also, what cables do they use (and used in the old days), because, yes, the cable also affects the tone. Nowadays, the cables are much more of higher quality. In the first picture from the link above (Mike Fraser sitting at the Neve desk) – in the lower right corner, I see this cable (http://www.lavacable.com/lyric_hg.html), but we can only assume they actually used it. Btw. what cables do you use, Fil?

        I’m a real Aussie Rock freak, you know. AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Angry Anderson, Choirboys, Finch/Contraband, Coloured Balls, Buffalo, Airbourne… And also other bands that got that “Aussie rhythm” element as Starfighters (Stevie Young’s band), Krokus, Killer, Rhino Bucket, Autograph, Trust, Status Quo and even Motley Crue, Van Halen, KISS etc. So I dig every information I find about these bands.

        Talkin’ about Powerage, does anybody have noticed, that in the song “Cold Hearted Man” from original UK vinyl Mal is playing in the left channel and Angus in the right one (as always), but in the Backtracks and Iron Man 2 version, channels are reversed? At least I can hear his rhythm crunch in the right channel. I wonder how could this happen, maybe during the remastering?

        • avatar
          SGACE
          Posted at 14:58h, 30 April

          No way to be LAVA cables… about a year ago I had a cable test, which means that I gathered all the cables from different manufacturers that I could and I tested them in the same amp with the same guitar, blah blah… The lava is very bassy sound cable best for Hendrix sounds… These days I play with KLOTZ cable, very transparent…

          • avatar
            currentpeak
            Posted at 15:17h, 30 April

            Actually, that black-green cable is Evidence Audio – The Lyric HG cable. It is only made-to-order by Lava Cables. They make also Klotz – La Grange.

            And yes, they make their own cables, too. I have Lava Soar from them.

            But I take your point. I just wanted to point out, that cable is also important part of guitar-cable-amp-cable-cab chain and it does affect the tone.

            • avatar
              SoloDallas
              Posted at 16:06h, 30 April

              Have no ideas about cable boys. But for sure, back then they used what was there. I don’t think much was known in the ’70s about this. I’m still locked in there, in those times :)
              As for cables, I really used what there is around. Now I am having built a few from Guido

            • avatar
              SGACE
              Posted at 17:34h, 30 April

              Of course you are right, the cable is important factor..
              Evidence Audio – The Lyric HG cable is on the Top end of the cable chain but it is more on the HIFI side… Actually I use Klotz – La Grange, I preferred them from the titanium series.

            • avatar
              SCgrad98
              Posted at 19:24h, 30 April

              I use the Evidence Audio Lyric HG cable too. It’s won shoot-outs again and again. It’s a bit pricey but by far the best cable in its price range. I’d recommend it to everyone!

              There are plenty of reviews out there but here are a few for a quick look:

              http://www.oncables.com/reviews/audio-cable/evidence-audio-lyric-hg.html

              http://www.evidenceaudio.com/images/reviews/exhardware.pdf

  • avatar
    banane
    Posted at 00:03h, 30 April

    Very interesting insights. Could it be that MV amps were also used for Flick of the switch?
    I think Angus used his Schaffer Vega almost always and anywhere since he got it, until he decided to use something different later because he wanted a different tone or maybe it brokes.

    • avatar
      SGACE
      Posted at 00:19h, 30 April

      I think that in HTH, BNB, FOTS albums, Angus uses NMV and MV were are appropriate..

  • avatar
    SGACE
    Posted at 23:33h, 29 April

    Guys this book is really readable, but it does’nt give in details the technical aspects that we are looking.. anyway either way its good to be books like this around..
    I suggest that the next big Fil’s event should be a follower of the Metro Sessions, the VEGA sessions.. Now the best is to use one guitar only, 2203/2204 and 1959/1987 and one take with a 4×12 g12m25 and another one with a g12h30..

  • avatar
    Andrea Sg
    Posted at 22:49h, 29 April

    eheh!
    in fact i think “we have guessed ” a lot until now :)
    so, probably on HighWay to Hell the vega influence by 20/25% on the solo part..?

    and that means we gonna have another performance of higway to hell these days with the vega 😉
    this site it’s growing up very well!! i’m so glad

  • avatar
    Andrea Sg
    Posted at 22:19h, 29 April

    an important step! with this book!
    now the worst is over 😉
    grande fil!

    • avatar
      SoloDallas
      Posted at 22:28h, 29 April

      Well we should thank the author :) While for Back in Black everything was fairly documented mostly by interviews directly with Platt, not much was there for Powerage and HighWay to Hell. I am glad that a little more info is available on these thanks to this book, so that one doesn’t have to really guess everything. It’s a good starting point. The very “shocking” part is that the Schaffer Vega was used ALSO on Highway To Hell!

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