Mark Evans was there in the beginning, but Cliff Williams is AC/DC's main bass player without a doubt. His low frequencies can be heard on every great album released by the Australian group from Powerage until Rock Or Burst in 2014. He joined the band in 1977, so the sold out stadiums have been adding up in the meantime.
This true master has turned the quarter note into an art form, with a playing style that seems simple but is perfectly mastered and cannot be dissociated from AC/DC's sound. His approach to gear is the same: simple, without fanciness or complicated stuff, but with a constant goal to bring that fullness and brightness that will complement the sacrosanct rhythm guitar. When he joined the band, this Precision Bass was his weapon of choice. It was black back then, and can be heard on Powerage and Highway To Hell. Very few basses have contributed to so many great riffs.
That 1964 L Series was also Cliff's stage bass until 1979, when the long-haired bassist got hip to Music Man instruments for the Highway To Hell tour. Indeed, with the limited PA systems of the time, active electronics were a much welcome tool to make life on tour easier. Williams even tried to upgrade his Precision by sticking a Steinberger's pickup and preamp inside of it, but of course the result was not what he had hoped for, and the original pickup was quickly reinstalled. This is when the bass was refinished in Fiesta Red in order to hide the cavity that had been dug.
Since then, Cliff has remained faithful to active Music Mans for the band's extensive tours, while this Precision stayed in his collection and his studio arsenal until its recent retirement, which is when the ultimate AC/DC bass found its way to France.
Group : AC/DC
Main guitar : Music Man StingRay
An absolute “must-hear” track : Down Payment Blues
AC/DC’s rhythm section is the opposite of a group of flamboyant showmen or guitar heroes: the two frontmen (Angus Young and Brian Johnson) put on the show, while the three at the back are the discreet driving force behind the whole thing. To see him nestled at the rear of the stage, stepping forward only to join in on the choruses, one might think of Cliff Williams—the band’s bassist since 1977—as a simple worker bee. On the contrary, he is a musician of rare intelligence, whose every bass line fully justifies his place in the band and who is not afraid to play the same note for three minutes if that is what the song demands (listen to his work on Thunderstruck). Some accuse him of being simplistic and not bothering to vary his approach, but that is to disregard his discreet syncopations and melodic bass lines that are mixed so low that they are more perceived than heard.
Williams joined the band at the time of the Let There Be Rock tour and so began appearing on AC/DC’s discography from Powerage (1978). He replaced Mark Evans after having been in the bands Home and then Bandit, which were only successful on a small scale. With the arrival of Cliff Williams, the band’s golden age began, and he was responsible for the big, soft sound of the trio of magic albums Powerage, Highway To Hell (1979), and Back In Black (1980). At first, he mainly played a Fender Precision Bass, as the model lends itself well to the piercing rebound of his pick. Over time, he adopted the Music Man StingRay, which became his main instrument. However, he has been seen with many different instruments including a headless Steinberger bass and a Gibson Thunderbird.