Listen to Malcolm Young’s Definitive Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar Tone

Malcolm Young, 2008
(Image credit: Ron Pownall/Getty Images)

AC/DC founding member Malcolm Young (1953-2017) was a rhythm guitar extraordinaire. Gifted with one of the best right hands in the business he was the driving force behind the band’s immense groove.

But Young didn’t rely on large amounts of distortion or flashy licks to create such a powerful sound. His no-nonsense approach to rock ‘n’ roll was all about fundamental electric guitar tone and back-to-basics rhythm chops.

As this isolated track of AC/DC’s 1980 classic “Back in Black” demonstrates (performed here live at Donington in 1991), you don’t need much to create world-class guitar tone. 

In terms of equipment Young allowed little to get in the way. For the definition of Filter’Tron/Marshall tone we need look no further. This essential combination allowed the subtleties and character of his playing to shine through unhindered.

Here's the original full mix for reference...

Young’s all-killer-no-filler approach to guitar playing is reflected in his long-serving guitar – a heavily-modified 1963 Gretsch Jet Fire Bird. Known as the model 6131, the red Jet Fire Bird was released in 1955 as an alternative to the black Duo Jet (6128), silver sparkle Silver Jet (6129), and orange Round Up (6130). Young’s guitar was later stripped back to ‘natural.’

Similarly, the guitar’s electronics were stripped back to include a single Filter’tron bridge pickup. Empty cavities are the only remaining traces of the original neck Filter’Tron and an aftermarket Gibson humbucker. 

The tight, percussive grit and sparkling harmonics of a single Filter’Tron humbucker paired with a Marshall amp was all Young needed to create his timeless rock 'n' roll tone.

Malcolm Young

(Image credit: George De Sota (ID 5073478)/Redferns)

“There’s very few rock ‘n’ roll bands,” Young told an interviewer back in 2000. “There’s the Stones and us, and their sound is completely different to us. We aim in an area that’s going back in time with the sounds – the old analog sounds… And the sounds are bigger than digital.”

Gretsch G6131-MY Malcolm Young Signature Jet

Gretsch G6131-MY Malcolm Young Signature Jet (Image credit: Gretsch/FMIC)

Check out the Gretsch G6131-MY Malcolm Young Signature Jet, their "salute to the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time" here.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.