How to Sound Like AC/DC: Amp Settings Guide


When you think of classic metal bands from the ’70s and ’80s, AC/DC are likely to one of the first that springs to mind for most people, especially keen guitarists. However, one of the hardest parts about trying to sound like Angus Young is getting your amp settings right. In this article I’ll guide you through the best place to start with your amp settings, examples for AC/DC popular songs and what to do if the tone doesn’t sound quite right.

Quick Guide AC/DC Amp Settings

To sound like AC/DC, start with the following amp settings:

  • Gain: 5-6
  • Bass: 4-5
  • Mids: 5-6
  • Treble: 6-7

Keep in mind that the settings listed above are designed to be used as a starting point and will likely need adjusting according on the guitar and amp you are using. Unless you are using the exact same rig Young used in a particular song, it’s practically impossible to get an exact tone match. However, I’ve designed this article to take you through the easiest way set up your amp to get the closest possible tone with your equipment.

The Basics

Before we jump into some specific songs, I think it’s a good idea to understand the fundamentals of each control on an amplifier and how to adjust this to get a strong starting point to achieve Angus Young’s iconic electric guitar tone. There are 3 main aspects to address here:

  • Gain
  • EQ
  • Effects

Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

Gain

There are two main types of amp: solid-state and tube amps.

Most players reading this article are likely to be using a solid state amp with an individual gain control and two channels (clean and overdriven). Most most songs you’ll need the overdriven channel and should start with the gain set to 6 to give you plenty of distortion to play with but without it sounding overly heavy. If you have a tube amp then you’ll likely need to crank this up quite high to achieve the appropriate level of distortion.

Some players may prefer to use an overdrive or distortion pedal run into a clean amp channel in order to get their gain. This is a good choice if you have an entry-level solid state amp as it usually sounds more refined and less muddy. In this case, set your pedal so the gain is midway and have the gain on your amp very low.

EQ/ Tone (Bass, Mids, Treble)

You’ll also need to adjust the EQ of your amp to ensure the tone matches Young’s more closely. Some amps have separate bass, mids and treble controls to give you more freedom, whereas others have a single EQ/ tone control which blends them into a single control.

The treble control adjusts high-end frequencies and dictates how crisp and bright the tone is. This should be fairly moderate-high for AC/DC so start with it on 7 to begin with. If your tone needs more definition then increase it and if it sounds too harsh and is interfering with the vocals too much then decrease it.

The bass control adjusts the low-end frequencies and dictates how warm and full the tone is. In general, most songs will sound about right with the bass on around 4-5. If the tone is too loose and muddy, decrease the bass. If it sounds thin then you can increase it.

The mids control adjusts how full the tone is and is important for AC/DC’s style of music. The mids usually sound best on around 5-6 for most songs. If the guitar’s tone is getting lost in the mix then increase the mids, however if it sounds like it’s taking over then you can lower it. Lowering the mids may be needed if you’ve tried lowering the treble and find that the tone loses too much definition with that tweak.

Of course, the exact settings needed will depend on the song, as well as the guitar and amp you’re using. As a general rule, if you’re using single coil pickups then you’ll need to increase the bass and mids and decrease the treble, whereas if you’re using humbuckers then the opposite is true.

Some amps also have other controls such as presence and contour. Check out my complete guide to amplifier controls to learn how to adjust these controls and many more to get the best settings possible.

Make sure you also check out the brand-specific amp controls guide which is relevant to you, to get the most from your rig:

Effects

You don’t need to worry too much about effects pedals as Angus Young is known for having quite a basic rig. You may want an overdrive/ distortion pedal instead of using the gain on your amp though. Also, using an overdrive/ distortion/ boost pedal can be useful for solos.

Sounding like AC/DC isn’t just about your amp settings, it’s about your skills too.
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Amp Settings for AC/DC Songs

Now the fundamentals have been taken care of, it’s time to dive into some of AC/DC’s most popular songs. The following example settings are to be used as a starting point and are not the exact settings used by Young. If they don’t sound quite right with your rig, don’t panic! In the next section I’ll be addressing common problems and how to fix them.

Back In Black Amp Settings

  • Gain: 7
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 6

Highway to Hell Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 5
  • Treble: 4

Thunderstruck Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 8
  • Treble: 6

You Shook Me All Night Long Amp Settings

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 5

T.N.T. Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 3
  • Mids: 5
  • Treble: 4

For Those About to Rock Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 5

Hells Bells Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 5

Shoot to Thrill Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 5

Rock N Roll Train Amp Settings

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 7

Whole Lotta Rosie Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 4

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 4

I’ve also made an article with example amp settings for over 40 popular guitar songs here to help you sound more like your favourite players.

Common Issues

If you’ve used the example settings above and it doesn’t sound quite right, this section aims to fix those issues. Here are some of the most common problems guitarists encounter when trying to dial in the correct amp settings and which settings to adjust to fix them. There are multiple suggestions to help combat each issue, but the best approach is to try each adjustment individually and listen to the results so you can pinpoint the problem.

Muddy Tone

  • Make sure you are using the bridge pickup and that the guitar’s volume and tone controls are on full
  • Decrease the bass
  • Increase the treble
  • Decrease the gain

Tone Sounds Weak and Thin

  • Increase the mids
  • Add some reverb
  • Increase the bass
  • Increase the gain

Not Enough Sustain

  • Use a compressor pedal
  • Increase the gain
  • Increase the bass

Tone Sounds Too Harsh

  • Decrease the treble
  • Increase the bass

Frequently Asked Questions

What amps did AC/DC use?

AC/DC primarily used Marshall amplifiers such as the 2203.

What guitars did AC/DC use?

Angus Young the lead guitarist of AC/DC usually played a Gibson SG electric guitar whereas Malcolm Young predominantly used Gretsch guitars such as the Jet Firebird.

Here are some more articles you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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