New, Tony Platt Interview on “Back in Black” (Premier Guitar)

24 Oct New, Tony Platt Interview on “Back in Black” (Premier Guitar)

In this issue of Premier Guitar, Platt is interviewed again regarding the techniques used for recording Back in Black,

i.e the whole album.

It’s no surprise then that this album, still increasing in sales, is now the second highest selling album in history. That fact in itself tells us several things: not only is it preparing itself to break that record but it may also be considered (as I do, and I have done for years) the most sold album of all time, not only in rock music, but across all genres: out-selling The Beatles, Michael Jackson “Jacko”, etc.

Confirmation surely, that the band was and still is a great band, but also that all of the elements represented within this album (it’s composition, arrangement, playing, gear, recording, … ) are evidently “desirable” to a large section of the music appreciating public. For me, that’s like if you asked me to go out to eat, it would be at a Japanese Restaurant or MacDonald’s: despite living in Italy, where supposedly cuisine is amongst the yummiest in the world, I love the two afore-mentioned cuisines the most and go crazy for them. So, knowing that Back in Black is what it is, the album I love the most, then the more information I can gather about it the happier I feel.

In this particular interview, Platt describes briefly (but better than ever before) the usual positioning of the microphones for recording. This information is “worth its weight in gold”, both to me and for any of us willing to spend time recording our guitars. Not only because it may help in achieving the “Back in Black” tone, but also because evidently, those – well thought out – settings simply deliver magnificent tone for those who like that type of Marshall sound.

So, illegally ( I am not supposed to be copying an excerpt of that interview!) here it is for you:

There are guitar records, and then there are guitar records, like AC/DC’s Back in Black. Boasting worldwide sales of almost 50 million units, Back in Black has inspired countless fans with its raw, in your face attitude and classic guitar licks.
Engineer Tony Platt manned the board for that album, and along with legendary producer Matt Lange, helped capture the tones that would launch a thousand guitar lessons. After running into Platt at the famed Electric Lady studios in NYC, and sharing some equally famous NYC pizza afterwards, I caught up with him from his home in gland to talk about this memorable project.

Did the band tracks the songs live?

Yes, absolutely. On Highway To Hell, there were quite a few guitars overdubbed. But with this record, there was an intention to do it as live as possible. So all the songs were ticked with Angus Malcolm, bass and drums. On a few occasions we may have dropped in a chord or so on a great take.

What mics did you use on the guitars?

There were U67s and U87s (SD: Neumann). That’s the point I start from with guitars. We used two per guitar and mostly used one cabinet for each amp. They would be on different speakers, which lets you spread the image and get more depth (underlining of SD).

So how did you pan them?

Changing the panning could quite dramatically change the focus of the mix.
One of the mics – it could be either one – would be hard left or right, and the other might be just slightly left or right of center, but sometimes would be the opposite side of the other. So the guitar on the left would be at 7 and 1 o’ clock and the other would be at five and 11 o’clock.

All Marshall amps?

Yes, and I did a lot of research into what makes those sound like they do. The best combination for me was some of the older 50 and 100 watt heads with the simplest tone controls. More important were the cabinets (!), and I feel the sloped ones sound different from the straight ones (i.e., slanted versus non slanted), SD). The sloped ones are more for cosmetics, are a little tighter, but you don’t get the same bass response because they are smaller. I also noticed that the 50 watt speakers with a 100 watt head changed the cabinet rating, and you weren’t crunching as much as with the 35 watt speakers (hard to understand what Mr. Platt refers to exactly here, SD).
The guitar is very much a part of the whole package. You turn an amp up until the guitar starts to sing. That will of course be different  for every guitar you use, but that’s what we did. We had a nice selection of heads and speakers and we mixed and matched from song to song.

We ran his rig wireless (Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, SD), so I had different setups in different rooms. There was a live-ish room down at the end of the studio and another setup in the main room. We just kind of blended the sound together in different combinations. He always felt more natural using a wireless, but in NYC (some editing took place there) we didn’t have the wireless setup so we had to try to match a few sounds.

The wireless has filtering in it, and it added quite an edge in the middle area (!). We had to tweak it a little to try and match, but I was always aware that it wasn’t quite the same sound.

How about any effects?

There’s a tiny bit of delay in the mix, which we used to spread the guitars even further, it’s very hidden and way in the background. Sometimes it just heaped to inverse the distance between the two mics. Angus and Malcolm basically play in unison, just in different positions. It sounds like one very big guitar, really.
I know it’s kind of cliche, but what they do is as good as it can get. What I needed to do was just make sure I captured what they do. That was the most important part of the whole process, as far as I was concerned.

Illegally (but with best intentions) copied from: http://digital.premierguitar.com/premierguitar/201011_3#pg47

Fil "SoloDallas" Olivieri

We Are Rock 'N Roll People.

  • avatar
    Posted at 00:58h, 25 October

    Considering we discuss the importance of Back In Black so often here, I thought I would share a story that an old girlfriend’s dad told me once.

    He was in the Marines during the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm and was stationed in the Middle East (he kinda skipped over the details here). He said they had a room with a bunch of equipment to listen to music in their downtime while they were there. He told me that the first way they were able to bond with the locals in Kuwait (I think) was because they all knew what Back In Black was. I dont know if they just had it playing but they said that the citizens they didnt know came up to them and danced to the “Dun… duh nuh nuh… duh nuh nuh”

    I thought that was pretty cool.

  • avatar
    Posted at 22:53h, 24 October

    “I also noticed that the 50 watt speakers with a 100 watt head changed the cabinet rating, and you weren’t crunching as much as with the 35 watt speakers (hard to understand what Mr. Platt refers to exactly here, SD).”

    That means that a 100watt amp sounds differently with the g12 65 in comparison with the g12m25

    There are no 50W and no 35w in this era, so it is obvious that there is a mistake or an intended mistake.

    anyway, the points that I keep are that they used different amps and different cabs for each song. Of course a SV unit had an important role BUT that it is only for recording purposes, at home playing maybe a mid booster would do the job..

  • avatar
    Posted at 22:21h, 24 October

    This was really interesting. I had no idea there was any delay in there, but I guess that makes sense when you really listen to that opening slide in Have a Drink On Me and such.

    I like your annotations too! Those were helpful.

  • avatar
    Posted at 21:52h, 24 October

    The biggest thing here is the Schaffer Vega. Id bett my Ass that Angus used it to punch in a bit harder, making the Guitar more present in the tone, JMPs do have a strong charakter though. I dont know how the JMPs Preamp reacts to a naturaly boosted Guitar Signal ? Maybe you should try a booster that doesnt change the EQ to much, and see how the JMP reacts. I know that JTMs tend to get a bit more squealy if you kick their preamps, but im not familiar with the JMP.

    • avatar
      Posted at 21:59h, 24 October

      I believe it too (the Diversity System being a missing ring of the chain). Clearly, there is none for sale. But these WILL pop up again. I’m on the lookout. Now, I DID try already to use a boost in the JMP high gain input signal: it’s posted already among the recent sound tests I did with the 2203 (will post the link if you can’t find it). Definitely works, being even more aggressive. It is unknown yet if one should look into a mid booster or treble booster (these were common back then; it is rumored that, before using the SV System, Angus was using either a treble or a mid booster!). If you want, we can consider these as Angus’ real tricks. The untold part (although he did talk about the SV Diversity in interviews, but not many gave it its importance as we are doing right now, in 2010). I WILL find a SV Diversity in working condition. Or I will simulate one (it did contain, I say again, both a volume booster and a compressor; the volume booster was probably pushing in the mids).

  • avatar
    Posted at 21:21h, 24 October

    That’s some interesting info. To bad all I have is a SM57 with a Blue Icicle interface. It does the job but then again I hae to much stage fright to record for public ears. It’s just for me so it’ll do. 🙂

    • avatar
      Posted at 22:16h, 24 October

      Which amp and cabinet do you use for recording?

      • avatar
        Posted at 22:41h, 24 October

        I have a Bray Modded 1987x Head with a self built 2 x 12 Cab. In the cab I have 1 25w Greenback Reissue and 1 Vintage 30. I love the AC/DC tone but I play alot of other stuff so I’m kind of set up for a little bit of diversity. What I have will give me some of their older (pre HTH) sound but seems to lack the meat of HTH and BIB.

  • avatar
    Posted at 21:14h, 24 October

    Great reading. Does the reference to the microphone positioning confirm what you’ve previously believed? Do you have (is it still possible to get) a Schaffer-Vega wireless system?

    • avatar
      Posted at 22:01h, 24 October

      Yes, it does, although now I can go directly using THOSE mic positions instead of having to wander around using my ears randomly! The Diversity system can’t be found right now. There may be some evolutions on ebay right now, look under Vega Diversity. Later models, mostly sold as junk parts; maybe one works (seller won’t sell out of US). It may be an evolution of the Schaffer model, the first one. So it may still have a similar flavor – sonically – of the early one. Who knows? No one.

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