Guitars from the Young clan are extremely rare on the market—if not to say non-existent. There are two reasons for this: on the one hand, AC/DC is a clan that you can’t get into unless you’ve been approved for years, and on the other hand the Young brothers weren’t collectors, so they didn’t own a crazy number of instruments. Each of their guitars that turns up on the market is therefore a fascinating exception, and among them this L6S is even more moving since it was the understudy to The Beast.
In 1975, AC/DC were in Sydney to record their first album, High Voltage. Just before the sessions began, Malcolm Young’s 1963 Gretsch Firebird—nicknamed The Beast—had an accident and was sent to the repair shop. You still need a guitar to record an album, so Mark Evans (then the band’s bass player) went with Malcolm on a tour of the local music stores. They agreed about the qualities of this L6S, a bizarre Gibson model that has never been very successful beyond an endorsement by Santana.
Their new acquisition was quickly transformed, or “Malcomised”. They ditched the bass pickup (the treble one is still the original Bill Lawrence), the Varitone, the pick guard, and cut out an additional panel to make it a double cutaway, like the Gretsch or one of Angus’s SGs (Angus also used the L6S as a backup guitar on stage). There are different versions of the story, but one thing is certain: this is the L6S that Malcolm used to record the track High Voltage, and maybe the whole album. All you have to do is plug it into a Plexi amp and you’ll immediately hear its sublime rumble.
In 1980, Malcolm gave the guitar to his nephew Stevie, further proof that the Youngs’ guitars generally remained in the family. But Stevie finally sold it in 1982 and the L6S did not resurface. In the end, it was Matthieu Lucas who found it again in 2015, allowing a little piece of history to be appreciated again at its true value.
(1953 - 2017)
Group : AC/DC
Main guitar : Gretsch Duo Jet “The Beast”
An absolute “must-hear” track : It’s A Long Way To The Top
Although Angus Young is the musician from AC/DC who features most in the media—to the point of becoming the group’s mascot—it was his brother, Malcolm, who had been in charge of the group since its formation in 1973. The Australian genius of primitive rock rhythm wrote the band’s best riffs and most staggering grooves, led by his tireless right hand that was constantly fighting against the huge strings of his Gretsch.
Just as AC/DC’s music has changed very little over their long career, Malcolm’s approach—founded in precision, nuance, and authority—has remained the same. The craftsman’s tools did not change either: with the exception of two brief infidelities (with a heavily modified Gibson L6S and a White Falcon), it was The Beast that accompanied him throughout his career. This 1963 Gretsch Duo Jet began life painted red and with two and then three pickups. Malcolm made it a monster of simplicity by giving it a natural finish, a single pickup, and two gaping holes left by the other two. 12-58 strings, a Marshall Plexi amp not pushed too high, and all the rest was in the fingers.
From High Voltage (1975) to Stiff Upper Lip (2000), Malcolm remained the captain on board, then on Black Ice (2008) Alzheimer’s disease gradually forced the master to take early retirement. In 2014, he was replaced by his cousin, Stevie Young, and died three years later. But his riffs are not about to disappear, and it is likely that they will still be making people tap their feet a few centuries from now.