Proper key for "Highway to Hell"?

Hey folks, after some lessons tonight I figured I’d pull out a song from the 50 list and give it a shot. “AC/DC?” thought I, “Hell yes.”

Pulling up the canonical version on Spotify I found something to be a bit off. After retuning my bass and checking against other songs, I’m confident that I’m in tune. That would make the original recording about a quartertone flat from the provided sheet music. Is that just me? I found another live recording, and it’s a reliable semitone flat from the sheet (which is fine… we just shift fingers down a fret).

Any idea what’s going on here?

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This is a good question for @JoshFossgreen.

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Yeah, let’s see what Josh comes back with, but my quick research says this:

It is supposed to be standard tuning, but when they were mastering the song, they had to slow it down a little bit, which makes it sound flat.

And other people say that tuners weren’t around back then and they tuned off of each other, so they just were out of tune by a 1/4th step (which means down a fret will not be perfect either!).

Regardless, it does sound like the official recording does sound a bit flat compared to standard tuning. Well done for hearing this though. That’s a good talent to have!

Also worth mentioning that it’s good to work this out now, because those doing the 50 songs in 100 week challenge are scheduled to start this one in a month’s time on the 3rd of May. You should try to post your recording (if you make one) in that thread when it pops up. :slight_smile:

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It is indeed about a 1/2 semitone flat. @JT covered the possible reasons why.

What to do?

You can de-tune your bass. Set the A frequency on your tuner to about 428 hz (instead of the standard 440 hz), tune your bass and you should be pretty close.

Or, do a YouTube search for Highway To Hell 440 and you should find a version with the pitch corrected.

Or, you can make your own corrected version using programs such as Transcribe! or Audacity.

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Yeah the song is tuned to A430. This was the first song I covered last year, and I ran into the same issue. Except I had no idea I was having an issue until @terb pointed it out to me, see this comment.

Congrats on noticing it yourself and not being tone deaf like me. :slight_smile:

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Basically you need an extra bass just for that song.

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Yeah I get the same problem if I’m trying to play along with Fortunate Son off Spotify. I’m guessing they recorded it on an old tape system that was at the wrong speed or something. Drives me up the wall.

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I wouldn’t be at all surprised about that, @JT . . :thinking:

Cheers
Joe

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Always the best choice :slight_smile:

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And actually it wasn’t just an issue of shifting down a fret (even on the live version which is a reliable semitone flat), because the sheet uses the open strings in a number of places. In those cases they need to be shifted back up.

In a case like this, should the sheet music be corrected, or should we warn people to down-tune?

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For something that is detuned, you could write it above the first measure as “A=428” or whatever the correct frequency is.

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the other approach, which I prefer, is to shift the song to bring it back to A:440

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I second these explanations - I’d guess the mastering theory more than the no-tuner theory, since you can hear the same thing on a lot of Beatles recordings (and many more), but either could be it.

When I write charts, I write them in the key I assume they’re “supposed to” be in. This live video from '79 is definitely in A:

This newer version is in Ab, but Angus is playing open position, so they clearly just drop tuned down to Eb standard (probably to make it easier to sing in later years?).

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Thanks @JoshFossgreen, yes I believe it’s the latter video’s recording that I found later on Spotify that appears to be in Ab.

Either way, what’s a student to do in this situation?

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Yep even better.

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Or because the first one was Bon Scott and the 2nd was Brian Johnson, so they could account for each singers voice.

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That’s an interesting point, @T_dub . . . :+1:

Long time AC/DC fan, myself

Cheers
Joe

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Takes one to know one :+1:

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You can retune your bass, but I think it’s easier to retune the track using Transcribe! or another program that can handle that task. It can be a little tricky to find the exact spot, but you’ll get better at it with some trial and error.

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Thanks folks.

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