Forever Malcolm Young

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A tribute to the man & guitar who created the soundtrack of Australian rock’n roll.

Growing up in a country town, AC/DC was a big part of the local music culture. It was either on the radio, or blasting out of someone’s car stereo down the main street or being played by every local cover band at the pub. I can’t remember the first time I heard them… they were always there. And the older I get, the more I appreciate their genius.

Throughout his 40 year campaign, Malcolm’s trusty companion (apart from Angus) was his originally red Gretsch Double-cutaway Jet Firebird (dubbed ‘The Beast’) which was given to him by Harry Vanda from The Easybeats, which Malcolm’s brother George Young was also member of. In this Easybeats music video you can see glimpses of George playing the Firebird.

Whether it was Malcolm’s idolisation of The Easybeats or the guitar just clicked with him, it soon became the #1 guitar throughout his career.

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And here’s ACDC playing with Vince Noir from The Mighty Boosh*…


(*Kidding. It’s Dave Evans)

As can be seen in the photo and video, soon after Malcolm got the guitar, a Gibson humbucker was fitted to the middle position and it appears an extra volume knob was added to the top horn near the switches. I’m not sure how long the humbucker lasted in there but it I’ve read after a while Malcolm didn’t like the sound so he took it out, and the holes were covered with white scratchplate material.

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The guitar lasted like this for a while during their stay in London and through the 1976 Australian tour. Soon after, the distinctive red finish was stripped and a bad ass bridge was fitted. The Burns tremolo was removed and the hole covered with some black scratchplate material. Most importantly, the holes of the missing pickups were exposed.

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Something about the open holes appealed to Malcolm… maybe it was the almost acoustic guitar like sound it now had. Whatever the case, the guitar stayed like this for many years.

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Eventually years later the black plastic was removed, exposing the original factory tremolo route. By this stage Malcolm had also been seen playing a Gretsch White Falcon, but after a repair it apparently had lost it’s mojo so The Beast moved back to #1.

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In recent times, Malcolm had the original Burns tremolo refitted, along with the floating Gretsch bridge. I’m not sure on the reasoning for this, but the extra string length would have certainly changed the sound. But Malcolm Young is Malcolm Young… he knows how to make that guitar do what it’s supposed to do.

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Part 2 to this story are the guitars Gretsch released based on ‘The Beast’. These have since been discontinued, but I’ve always been intrigued by them.

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The single pickup version is a study in simplicity. The huge expanse of bare wood with just the barest of essentials… pickup, bridge, volume & tone knob.

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While it’s missing the gaping holes of the missing pickups, it’s so cool Gretsch had the balls to release a guitar this simple. What’s also cool is that in tribute to the original colour of the Beast, it also came out in Firebird red. I’m a big fan of both these guitars. I like the natural because… well, it’s Malcolm’s guitar and I like the red purely because it looks awesome.

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The Gretsch Malcolm Young also came out in a more traditional two pickup version. To me this is kind of cheating… the thing about Malcolm’s Beast is the one pickup. That single Filteron pickup is the backbone AC/DC. I guess with this guitar you can take the neck pickup out… voila… instant hole.

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Bizarrely, Gretsch also released thins guitar with a flame maple top. This is one step too far away from the guitar this signature model is based on. Flame maple in AC/DC?! While a nice looking guitar… in my opinion it’s just not in keeping with the Aussie pub rock spirit of the original. It’s a bit too ‘cork sniffer’…

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There was also a budget Electromatic version of the two pickup model. This guitar is a little cheap and nasty… bolt on neck with the wrong inlays, full size humbuckers, flame veneer. But if I spot one in Cashies for $100… yeah, I’d get it.

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An interesting side note to the Beast is that Jaydee Guitars (who I’m a big fan of their work with Tony Iommi) made Malcolm some Beast replicas in the early 80′s after Malcolm was impressed with the Custom Lightning Bolt SG they built for Angus. Malcolm played them a little while and according to the Jaydee website they are now in the hands of AC/DC collectors.

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Another even stranger Beast inspired guitar is this Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul which was one of 5 built for Malcolm. I have no idea if Malcolm ever played these or where they ended up, but I actually think it’s pretty cool how they combined the acoustic-like sound hole with the Gretsch Filtertron pickup.

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Lately some sad news has filtered out from the tight-knit AC/DC camp that Malcolm is in a bad way. While this is a sad thing to happen to anyone, in terms of Australian rock’n roll, it’s a tragedy.  As I witnessed for myself when I saw AC/DC in 2010, his guitar playing had to be felt to be believed.

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The Black Ice live show was beyond epic… I’d never seen or heard anything that BIG. I’ll never forget it. And thanks to the River Plate live DVD, I can relive it.

To think that he may never be able to play guitar live again is just sad beyond words. After all the hard work, he deserved to quit on his terms and with dignity. I sincerely hope his situation improves and my thoughts are with Malcolm Young and his family.

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