High Voltage: AC/DCís High Powered Rig

By Adam St. James

AC/DC guitar tech Geoff Banks gave us the rundown on every piece of musical equipment used on stage and on the new disc, Stiff Upper Lip, by perennial schoolboy Angus Young; his brother, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young; and bassist Cliff Williams. Hereís the Meltdown:

Guitar.com: Geoff, what kind of gear is Angus using these days?

Geoff Banks: On a normal live situation Ė an arena concert tour Ė he would have eight or 10 Marshall 4x12 cabinets with Celestion 30 watt vintage speakers. Weíve got a lot of amps. Normally heíll go through all of his heads in rehearsal before a tour and pick the heads he wants to use. We use five Marshall model 1959 100-watt heads. On the last tour we had a selection of maybe another 20 with us, in case there was a problem.

Guitar.com: How does he set those amps?

Banks: That varies. Heís not a big presence guy. The bass is normally about halfway, the mids are normally around three or four, and the treble is normally on maybe five or six. The volume is normally up between seven and eight. On the model 1959 thereís no pre-amp or master volume. On a stock 1959 head thatís pretty loud. Thatís on maybe two of the amps. Some of the others might be tweaked a bit different because of idiosyncrasies in the amps. He plugs into channel one. We use Groove Tubes EL-34s, or the Groove Tube version of them, and the Groove Tube version of the EC-383 pre-amp tubes, which is called the 12AX-7.

Guitar.com: What guitars is he using these days?

Banks: The black SG he used on the last tour, the Ballbreaker tour, was a mid- to late-í60s Les Paul SG. Heís got a selection of those, all basically stock. The main one he used for the new album and will probably use for this tour is one of his old SGs, the one with the lightning bolt slash inlays on the fingerboard, and the AC/DC logo. Thatís a basic, stock early-í70s SG with humbuckers. Thereís nothing particularly flashy about it. Itís well worn. Heís had it for a long, long time. It was a vintage, stock SG, but at some point somebody put the slashes in the fingerboard. Itís got a large scratch-plate (pick guard), which goes above and below the pickups. A couple of his spare SGs even have the Vibrola system on them.

Guitar.com: Are all the pickups stock?

Banks: Theyíre all the basic, stock Gibson pickups as far as I know. Sometimes they get waterlogged from all the sweat, so sometimes he wonít play one for a couple of days until it dries out. Sometimes we put a hair dryer on them. At some point somebody bypassed the tone and the other wiring controls to just give him one volume control, for the back pickup. Otherwise all the wiring is back to stock. He uses the bridge pickup all the time. Sometimes in the studio heíll go to the neck pickup and play some phenomenal blues licks. Heís an excellent blues player, unbelievable. One of his idols is Johnny Winter.

Guitar.com: How many guitars does he bring on the road?

Banks: Last time we had eight for him to play on a daily basis. There was some other stuff in the trucks. I think he brought an old Les Paul, and some old Firebirds. I think thatís the Johnny Winter influence coming out. But heís got the favorite SG with the slashes. He thinks itís just a killer guitar. When Iíve been to the warehouse looking for guitars thereís a lot of guitars there, as you can well imagine. I may not have gotten to the depth of them all. I think thereís probably in excess of 90 or 100 guitars. Thereís a large percentage of SGs, but thereís other stuff that heís bought over the years. Thereís some acoustic stuff, some 335-looking stuff, thereís Firebirds, Les Pauls, some Epiphone stuff, and one or two Telecasters.

Guitar.com: Does he use any effects?

Banks: No effects whatsoever. It comes out of the guitar into a Samson UT-5 transmitter, which is part of the UR-5 wireless receiver, which is off on the side of the stage, then into an A/B box so if he pops a string we can go straight to another guitar. He has two guitars rigged up all the time. We change the batteries in the transmitters every day. From the A/B box the signal goes into a splitter unit to the amps.

Guitar.com: What kind of strings does he use?

Banks: He likes Ernie Ball Slinkys. We change them every day, even in the studio. And he plays with an extra heavy Fender celluloid pick Ė the 351 shape, the regular, standard, Tortoiseshell pick. Iíve never seen him drop a pick, and I can probably count on one hand the number of strings he broke on the last tour.

Guitar.com: What did he use in the studio?

Banks: He used the SG with the slashes on the fingerboard, and a Marshall 50 watt head and an old Marshall 4x12 cabinet with the basket weave front with 25-watt speakers. We used that for most of the backing tracks. For the solos we used the vintage 30 cabinets and a different 50-watt head. Another head that was used for some power chords was an ARD head, made by a guy in Vancouver. There was no real rocket science to it. Angus, the guitar, and the amp head were in the control room. We ran a cable out to the cabinet in the studio and miked it up. We used a Shure SM57 close on the speaker, just off center of the cone. We had an AKG mic pulled back a bit, and we had a Sennheiser a little closer, toward the outer edge of the speakers. I think the 57 gave him what he wanted. They recorded live, and just overdubbed a couple of things here and there, a tiny little bit.

Guitar.com: What does Malcolm use?

Banks: Malcolm is incredibly precise. Heís got his old Gretsch. Heís had that guitar for years, the one with the holes in it [where neck pickup once was]. Itís what they call a Jet Firebird. Actually it could have been another model called a Roc Jet, a similar model with a different finish. Itís hard to tell because the top finish has been taken off. Thereís no paint on it, no finish on the guitar. Itís got a very, very thin coating of clear lacquer, to stop the wood from getting fucked up. So we donít know if itís a Roc Jet or a Jet Firebird. Itís got one original, stock pickup in the bridge position. Itís an early-í60s Gretsch Filtertron pickup. Heís got a master volume and another volume and a tone. He uses those flat out anyway. He just backs off the volume if he needs to clean up the tone at the start of a song. We have some old Gretschs, the same model, from around í63 or í64. These are hollowbody, semi-acoustic guitars. He uses heavy gauge Gibson strings, .012 to .056. In the studio we used old, late-í60s, early-í70s Marshall Super Bass 100s. We had one head and one 4x12 Marshall cab with Celestion vintage 30s, not the green backs.

Guitar.com: What does he use live?

Banks: On the road he has a minimum of eight Marshall cabinets. If you look at the band from the front of the house, the four top cabinets on Angusí side are Angus, and the four bottom cabinets are Mal. On Malcolmís side the top four cabs are his, and the bottom are Angusí. So theyíve got cross-stage monitoring. So wherever they go they can hear themselves. For the last two tours Malcolmís been using ARD heads, custom made for him. Itís a 400-watt amplifier. It looks very similar to a big, very chunky Hi-Watt. Itís got 12 6L6ís as output tubes so it kicks out a good 400 watts, enough to drive eight cabinets. I run the four cabs on Malcolmís side off that 400 watt head, and the four cabs on Angusí side off two 100 watt Marshalls. So if Angus says, ĎHeís too fuckiní loud!í I can turn him down without affecting Malís side. And I can turn Angus down on Malís side too.

Guitar.com: Any pedals or effects?

Banks: No. Heís got the Samson wireless just like Angus. It comes out of the guitar into that. Iíve got a four-way A/B box because Malcolm pops a lot of strings. He plays with a heavy Fender pick and he basically wears them away. He goes through about 40 or 50 picks a night, and heíll sometimes dig in and pop an A or D string, usually the D. So Iíve always got three spare guitars wired up and ready to go.

Guitar.com: And what is bassist Cliff Williams using?

Banks: I donít know what it will be this time around. For the past couple years weíve been using Ampeg SVT 300 watt heads, which were called the Classic heads. I think itís a reissue of an old amp. He has two heads and two Ampeg SVT 8x10 cabinets. In the studio he used the SVT Classic heads and the Eden XL-410, a ported 4x10 cabinet with a little tweeter in the middle of it. I donít know if weíre going to go to Eden or SVT on the road. Cliff uses a wireless, but if thereís any radio interference Iíll get him a good heavy cable, either Whirlwind or something, about 30 feet. In between that and the amp is a Demeter tube D/I, a little 110-powered D/I box that gives the board a clean signal before the SVT heads. He runs his heads on around three or four. On the album he played a Musicman four string bass, a regular Stingray, stock, no messing around. It was the old, pre-Ernie Ball Musicman, early-í70s. Heís got about five or six of those. On tour he uses DíAddario XLs. In the studio he used Ernie Ball flat wound, .045, .065, .085, .105. He uses the same gauge live, but round wound. He wanted a fatter sound in the studio, so he used the flats.