The "Secret" of Angus Young's Classic AC/DC Guitar Sound?

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Did a tone-obsessed fan, a seminal '70s inventor, and a GP interview crack the code of the classic Angus Young tone?

We've been following this story ever since I received an email from Ken Schaffer, the inventor of the '70s wireless guitar system, the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System.

Could it be that a tone freak really pieced together the tonal secret of Angus Young's Back in Black guitar sound? Is it true that an interview in Guitar Player helped unlock the recipe? How does a wireless system fit in?

Well, here's some data from Schaffer's original email to me:

"I wonder if you're familiar with an extraordinary fellow named Fil 'SoloDallas' Olivieri? There is a 30 year long story here, filled with love, devotion, perseverance, insanity, talent and obsession. For me, it started a couple of years ago when I was quietly minding my own business and got a long, timid, tentative e-mail from Fil, who spent 30 years searching for "the secret" of Angus Young's guitar sound, most specifically on Back in Black and other songs he considers AC/DC's Golden Age.

"Fil contacted me to plead that I find him an SVDS unit — out of production since 1981 — which had just been suspected to be “the missing link” in getting Angus's sound. Fil’s equipment chain (not a penny spared) duplicated what was known to be Angus’s equipment chain, from guitar to amp or DI box.

"It turned out that one of the contributors to Fil's SoloDallas blog had come across an old interview in Guitar Player with Angus. Asked what special effects he used, Angus answered, 'I don't use any… I only use a Schaffer Vega wireless.' That got Fil and his contributors to speculate, 'Why would anybody use a wireless in the studio when he is only a few feet away from the amp?'

"The commitment Fil demonstrated in his letter convinced me to take the only two units I'd been saving 35 years as souvenirs and send them to him. He put my wireless in the chain and – Presto! — 'Back in Black.'

"But that wasn't enough. He then financed two of the best electrical engineers in Rome and Vienna to retro-engineer (with my passive blessing) the audio sections of the old wireless system and introduce The Schaffer Replica as a way for other players to capture Angus's classic tone.

"I'm pretty freaked out and delighted."

Guitar Player was recently sent one of Fil's Schaffer Replicas, and while we are doing a comprehensive review for a future issue, we also did a little "box opening" video to introduce the pedal. There's a brief audio demo included in the video, just to whet your (and our) appetite for more real-world evaluations and data.

See it here.

You can also read about Fil and Ken's trip to Vancouver to witness the recording sessions for the upcoming AC/DC album, and show Angus the pedal right here.

There will, of course, be more information to come as GP develops this story.