Scott Ian on the ‘Magic of Malcolm Young’
November 3, 2018
The number of artists who consider Malcolm Young an inspiration runs pretty deep, but we’re guessing not too many have gone so far to actually have his face inked into their own skin. Anthrax axeman Scott Ian, though, has immortalized the late-great rhythm guitarist and on his left bicep, along with his brother Angus Young on his right.
“Specifically, these guys, as a guitar player, mean everything to me,” explained Ian in the video interview below. “That’s why I really wanted them on me because it makes me happy to be able to look at them every day.
“Malcolm has always been my hero since day one because he basically taught me how to play guitar. As a kid with AC/DC albums, vinyl albums, in my little bed room on a turn table, I just used to sit and figure out how to play their songs. And it was all Malcolm. It was all him. So, I was learning to play specifically by listening to what he was doing. He was my guitar teacher. He was the reason I learned how to play rhythm guitar the way I do.”
Of course at that age, Ian really had absolutely no idea that he was learning from such a master and one of the all-time greats.
“It wasn’t until years later that I got better as a guitar player and had way more experience with other guitar players and listening to thousands of albums that you realize there is a certainty about his playing and the way he economized his chord playing — that’s when you realize he does it better than anyone else,” said Ian. “And across genres too, whether you’re talking about rock, or hard rock, or metal, or thrash metal or anything. It didn’t really matter to me. It was just the way he played and the economy and the percussiveness of his playing — his right hand and his left hand together were just so perfectly in sync at all times, making it seem effortless.
“AC/DC always sounds really simple; people think, ‘Oh, that sounds easy. That sounds really easy. It’s just a couple chords.’ But try playing it right. That’s my challenge to everybody all the time. That’s why there is only one Malcolm and one AC/DC — because only they can do that.”
Ian believes that Young’s playing and tone is so uniquely recognizable that he could crush it on Name That Tune.
“I can name that guitar player in one note — instantly know,” said Ian. “All I’d have to hear is … (strums a chord) and I knew it was Malcolm. Instantly. Just, what a tone! Again, the percussiveness of his right hand and how hard he is digging into those chords has to do so much with his sound as much as the guitar, as much as the amp. His right hand. Just unbelievable. It doesn’t look like he is doing much there, but he is digging in so hard.”
And of course, Malcolm Young did it all on his famed No. 1 guitar, nicknamed “the Beast.” This battle-hardened instrument began life in 1963 as a red Gretsch Jet Firebird handed down to him by Harry Vanda and elder brother George Young (of Easybeats fame). He quickly removed two of the three pickups, stripped away the finish, and spent 40 years pounding out some of the hardest rocking rhythm guitar ever heard in either hemisphere.
“It became an icon, one of the most iconic guitars in rock ‘n’ roll,” said Ian of Malcolm’s famed Jet. “I would put his Grestch up there in the Top 10 iconic guitars of rock ‘n’ roll, for sure. For me it’s number one.”
When Gretsch released a limited run of tribute Custom Shop “Salute” Jet guitars in 2017, not surprisingly, Ian was quick to secure one of the 40 models that paid homage to his hero. And so when it came time to film a video demo to showcase the new Gretsch G6131-MY Malcolm Young Signature Jet™, it seemed only fitting to enlist Ian to do the honors.
“It sounds great, it feels great,” said Ian. “First off, when I walked in the room, it looked great and you know it is going to sound good when acoustically it sounds so good. And then we fired it up …
“Look, I don’t get to play big open chords in my band. My band is all about down picking and palm muting, fast alternating — a completely different style of rhythm playing. So, when I get to hit really big chords and dig in, it is so much fun for me because it is the opposite of what I do. But, it is what I grew up learning how to do. And it’s what I still love. Anytime I can just pick up a guitar that sounds so good and feels so good, and then play chords that sound perfect, I could do it all day. It makes me happy. I could literally sit for an hour and play that A chord over and over again and not get bored.”
So, after some lengthy playing-indulgence, we asked Ian to describe the sound he was getting out of the signature Pro Jet.
“There’s like this splash when Malcolm hits a big old chord and lets it ring out,” he answered. “He digs into the chord and that sounds comes at you. It’s like a giant wave coming at you, and then it crashes. And then another one, and then another one. And this has that feeling. When you dig into that chord, you feel the amp react. You can like, literally feel the tubes. You feel it. You feel that swell of volume, and then it pulls back. And then you hit another one. It makes you really feel like a part of it. It’s that swell, that wave, that splash of his tone, and this sounds exactly like that.”
For more from our interview with Ian, watch below …