Jim DalrympleSee, the problem with some amp modeling software if you’re not careful is that it can give you a guitar tone so chock full of cheese it ought to come served between two buttery slices of whole wheat. If you are looking for ways to make your guitar tracks sound like an electric tooth brush or a synthesizer, there is no learning curve.

But hey, what if you want to get your home recording guitar tracks to sound like—gasp!—an actual great guitar rig? Impossible? Not at all—and I can prove it.

To make my case I take on one of the greatest guitar tones of all time—the sound of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young’s SG as it was on High Voltage, the band’s killer first record, and how it changed as the band progressed.  With a little guidance, not much dough, and a fairly functional computer, you too can get that vibrant Angus Young tone. (Sure, there are other ways to get Angus’ tone—you could go out and buy all of the vintage gear that Angus has played over the years. After your wife divorces you for spending a small fortune, invite me over and I’ll jam some riffs with you. I’ll even bring the beer.)

Now, before you decide what tone you want, we really have to look at the different eras of AC/DC. Angus has always been a big fan of Marshall amps, in particular the JTM45 and JMP50, but after 35 years of making music, you can bet there are several different and distinct Angus tones. Luckily with the power of today’s software, we can build a preset that closely resembles Angus’ classic crunch tone for each period. Let’s take a look at four eras of Angus Young, and dive into recreating each on a home set-up.

I played my Epiphone Zakk Wylde Bullseye and used Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 for all of the sound samples.

“Dirty Deeds”: This tone will represent all of the band’s early recordings, from High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Let There Be Rock. Stipped-down, on-the-verge-of-break-up blues tone. High Voltage and all of the AC/DC recordings of that era are the most raw. The sound is pure Marshall and Gibson that helped define crunchy rock.

I used a Plexi amp model for AC/DC’s early sound. Volume One = 9, Volume Two = 2, Bass = 1, Mid = 5, Treble = 6, Presence = 6. I didn’t use any effects.

Angus Young“Highway to Hell”: This is a relatively short period that includes the classic albums Highway to Hell and Powerage. A very full, screaming tone with a little more sparkle and a more gain. For a long time, Highway to Hell was my favorite album. It’s just oozed power—from Bon Scott’s vocals to Angus’ ripping tone. This is still one of my favorites from the band and, I think, one of the best periods of tone. From the opening riff of the title song, down to the ending of “Night Prowler,” AC/DC takes you on a trip with Highway to Hell that is not to be forgotten.

Again I used a Plexi amp model. Volume One 5, Volume Two 3, Bass 6, Mids 5, Treble 6, Presence 4. I added a Screamer to it with Volume 3, Tone 10 and Drive 6.

“Back in Black”: One of the top selling albums of all time, this not only defined the sound of AC/DC for years to come, but the sound of many other bands. Angus tone is natural progression from the earlier two categories: sparkly, grinding electric tone. Back in Black is a classic, and one of the best-selling (and best!) rock and roll records of all time. It also has some of the biggest changes the band would ever face. Following Bon Scott’s untimely death, Brian Johnson took control of the mic, but Back in Black also saw some big changes for Angus’ tone as it became a bit deeper and more substantial for several albums to come.

I switch amps here and used the Ultrasonic. It has a fatter tone that I was able to manipulate to capture the sound of the era. Master 7, Volume 6, Gain 6, Bass 4, Middle 7, Treble 6, Presence 4. No other effects were added.

“Modern era”:  A tone representing all of their most recent albums, like Fly on the Wall, Who Made Who, and The Razor’s Edge. A more modern gain tone, but still rooted in Angus’ classic, bluesy rock. My favorite tone of the modern era was Fly on the Wall. That’s where I believe they went back to the Back in Black days and based their tone on that album, albeit more up-to-date.

I stayed with the Ultrasonic for our final sound sample. Master 7, Volume 7, Gain 9, Bass 4, Middle 3, Treble 10, Presence 8. No other effects.

So fire up that computer, plug in that guitar, and have at it. You’ll never blow a tube, the neighbors won’t call the cops, and your wife won’t leave you (for buying gear anyway).