When he joined AC/DC in 1977, Cliff Williams played a Fender Precision, an instrument that fits well with his powerful and effective pick playing. But in the meantime, the Californian brand Music Man, also created by Leo Fender, had launched the StingRay bass, a model that retains the simplicity of the P Bass but adds a higher output level and an extra edge that was perfectly suited to the changing sound of recordings in that era.
Cliff Williams permanently switched over to the StingRay in 1979, on the tour that followed the Highway To Hell album. We can also see a sunburst mistreated by the master in the film Let There Be Rock, recorded in Paris in late 1979. We saw it again on stage at the Live At The River Plate concert in 2011, and through to the Rock Or Bust World Tour, which ended in 2016. Cliff had just five StingRays throughout 37 years of good and loyal service. This one is number three, and number four is also in the Matt’s Guitar Shop collection. In other words, few basses can boast of having made so many stadiums vibrate as this humble Music Man.
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.