Malcolm Young was born in Glasgow, Scotland on January 6th 1953. The family emigrated to Australia in 1963 coincidently the same year the Gretsch guitar with which Malcolm would be most often associated was built.
On arriving in Sydney the Young family, parents William and Margaret and their children; brothers George, Malcolm, Angus, Stephen and William Jr along with sister Margaret and her husband all crowded into Nissan huts at the Villawood Migrant Hostel. Although later would move to the Burwood area of Sydney.
While at the migrant centre older brother George met Dutch immigrant Harry Vanda who shared his love of music. The two would become part of the group The Easybeats who would go on to have some international success in the late sixties.
While George and Harry were on tour in the USA Harry Vanda bought a red Gretsch G6131 Jet Firebird guitar. The Jet Firebird was a double cutaway with two filtertron pickups. The body is mahogany with a maple top and was also semi hollow. This gives the guitar a more jangly sound. It had a vibrato system made by Burns of London and a bound ebony fingerboard.
By the early 70s The Easybeats had ended, and George Young and Harry Vanda concentrated more on producing. Vanda gave his red Gretsch to Malcom who along with younger brother Angus had just formed a band named AC/DC, a name they got from a sticker on the back of their sister’s sewing machine.
It wasn’t long before Malcom started to modify the Gretsch, he added a humbucker pickup between the two filtertron’s plus a set of controls for it on the upper horn of the guitar. This configuration can be seen in the video for the song ‘It’s a long way to the top (If you wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ in 1975.
By the late 70s Malcolm had dispensed with the middle pickup and at some point decided to strip the red finish from the guitar. Clear coating the pale maple top. The guitar remained Malcolm’s main guitar for recording, although he also acquired a Gretsch White Falcon. This was a large hollow body guitar, and Malcom used it live in the early 80s.
Also at this time Malcom had two custom guitars made by John Diggins of Jaydee guitars. Diggins had been working on Angus’ guitars for a couple of years and built the guitar that Angus used for the Donnington Monster’s of Rock show in 1980. The two guitars he built for Malcom were close in style to the Firebird with Diggins own pickups. Both had wrap over bridges and one had a single bridge pickup.
Malcolm stopped using the White Falcon after it was damaged, and went back to his original Gretsch. In the mid to late 80s the guitar gained a wrapover bridge and the Burns vibrato was removed, the hole this left was covered with a piece of plastic made by a friend that Malcolm thought was supposed to be a fish, although apparently it was actually the tip of a penis. The neck pickup was removed and unused controls were removed and the holes they left capped.
During the late 90s the Burns vibrato was put back, to aid string tension, but not much else was done to the guitar. Although a replica, with all the extra holes and so on, was made by Gretsch that served as a spare for Malcom, this guitar was then given his nephew Stevie when he replaced Malcolm in AC/DC in 2014.
Gretsch produced the G6131MY model, loosely based on Malcolm guitar. It came in either single pickup or two pickup and had a wrapover bridge. Although currently unavailable these are great guitars, and if you put on a set flat wound string, like Malcolm’s, you can get close to his sound. They also make the custom shop ‘Salute Jet’ which is a full replica of Malcolm’s guitar in it’s final state.
Malcolm was forced to retire from music in 2014 due to ill health, and he passed away in 18th November 2017.