THERE’S NOT MUCH THAT CAN BE SAID
about Def Leppard that hasn’t already been
said on a Behind the Music or Classic Albums
episode. For anyone who hasn’t turned on a
TV or radio in the past 25 years, their saga
goes something like this: They emerged out
of Sheffield in the late ’70s as the poppiest
exponent of the New Wave of British Heavy
Metal. The band saw their star rise with a
Mutt Lange-produced formula that included
catchy riffs played with surprisingly clean
guitar tones. With success came substance
abuse, personnel shakeups, tragedy, and more
tragedy. As of 1992, Leppard
has had no original
guitarists, with Phil
Collen and Vivian
Campbell holding down
the 6-string fort.
The current Leppard
lineup has been relatively stable
since then, releasing albums
and playing stadiums. Along the way,
they have been welcomed into the
pantheon of Brit Rock nobility,
counting as fans and friends of the
band such heavyweights as Brian
May and Jimmy Page. Still touring
their Sparkle Lounge record, the Def
boys are planning some well-deserved
downtime in 2010 to recharge and write
and record a new album. Both Collen and
Campbell met with GP before their headlining
set with Poison and Cheap Trick.
After so many years, is it easy for you guys to
get a consistent sound onstage every night?
Campbell: It is. I primarily play Les
Pauls and I haven’t changed my amp rig
in about 14 years—Marshall JMP-1s
through Marshall power amps with a
Bradshaw system. I’ve got an old Yamaha
D-1500, a TC Electronic 2290 stereo
delay, and I found an Eventide Omnipressor
a couple of years ago, which I
love. It really is a sweet compressor.
Collen: I play my signature Jackson PC-1
guitars and I haven’t changed my amp for ten
years either. I use a JMP-1. I’ve used a solid-state
Randall power amp since the ’80s. I like the sound
of the Randall and, to be honest, people don’t
actually hear what comes off the stage except for
the front row. We’re using Palmer speaker simulators,
it’s all going through a P.A., and what I
hear in my monitors is coming directly from the
amp—I’m bypassing the speaker cabinet. So it
doesn’t really matter. There’s also a Boogie power
amp in there just so we can blend a bit more grunt
into the sound, but that’s only out front. I don’t
even hear that. On the JMP, I don’t use clean presets.
I just turn my guitar’s volume down.
Campbell: At the NAMM show this last
January, I got a Diamond amp. I’ve just done
a deal with them so for the next tour and the
next album I’ll be using Diamond. I’ve got one
at home and one at my studio and they rock.
The Diamond has real character.
Although you’re best known for being in Def
Leppard, you both had enjoyed some success with
other bands—Phil with Girl and Vivian with Dio and
Whitesnake. What was it like when you first joined
Collen: That’s when I actually learned how to
play guitar. I could do all the shredding stuff earlier
on with Girl, but when I started working with
Mutt Lange, he really taught me about melody
and rhythm. I had to learn to lay back. Since then
I’ve gone back to the shred stuff [laughs].
Campbell: I was in the midst of making a
solo record when Steve Clark died, and a couple
months later Joe [Elliot] called me and said,
“Look, we’re finishing this Adrenalize album.
When the album’s done, we’re going to look
for a new guitar player. I think you’re the guy
for the band.” He had to convince the other
guys, because I had this reputation of being
hired and fired. So we got together in L.A. and
it wasn’t like an audition, it was more like a
courtship that went on for three weeks. We’d
play, we’d go to dinner, we’d go to the movies,
and then we’d go back to the studio and play
a bit and hang out. I was hired to play Steve’s
solos, which were very thematic. They weren’t
so flashy and they were very integral to the
song, so I do them as faithfully as I think I can.
If I go back and listen to the original, however,
I’ll probably realize I’m doing them totally different
[laughs]. In my mind I’m doing them pretty much the way Steve did. The only
chance in the show where I ever get to stretch
out is the end solo of “Love Bites,” and I
always try to do it a little differently.
Even though you guys were always associated
with heavy metal, the tones, especially on High ‘n’
Dry and Pyromania, were pretty clean a lot of the
time. Did that seem odd at first?
Collen: No. Actually, when I joined, I
brought my 50-watt Marshall head that I had
been using in Girl. That’s the one on “Photograph,”
“Stage Fright,” “Rock of Ages”—all
those solos were tracked through that amp.
Literally, they had spent months miking this
Marshall 4x12 up and I just stuck my amp
on top, plugged it in, and turned it up. There
wasn’t a master volume on it. You just had
to crank it.
But the rhythm chords on “Photograph” sound
cleaner than that.
Collen: They are. A lot of that stuff was
done before I even joined. The great thing
for me was all the really hard rhythm work
and all those overdubs had already been done,
mainly by Pete Willis because he had a really
good right hand. His rhythm playing was in
the pocket. They had Teles and Strats doubled
with a Les Paul. I just came in and did
solos, as well as power chords and scrapes
to rough up the rhythm tracks.
When I hear live recordings with you two, it seems
like the tones are heavier and more distorted
Campbell: Absolutely. Live is a different
thing, and we definitely crank the gain. But
in the studio, I back the distortion off a lot.
Ronan McHugh—our front-of-house sound
guy and who has recorded our last several
records—and I are both huge AC/DC fans
and we’re always cognizant of that. When we
want to get power into a track, less is actually
more when it comes to distortion. Phil’s
very guilty of wanting to have high gain even
on the rhythm track. I can see it for solos,
because you need the juice to loosen up. But
for the rhythm tracks, I try to take it as far
back as possible, to where it’s almost uncomfortable.
With the compression that goes into
modern overdrive, especially when you’re layering
guitar tracks, you think you’re adding
power but you’re actually taking it away if
you use too much distortion.
What about on subsequent records? How did
you get the tone on “Pour Some Sugar on Me”?
Collen: That’s an interesting one. Most
of that record was done on a Rockman and a
Gallien-Krueger. We were trying to get certain
sounds but we failed. We wanted it to be
a cross between the Fixx and Andy Summers.
I remember sitting there with Mutt banging
on this Gallien-Krueger. We said, “Yeah, it
doesn’t sound as good, but it’ll be fine for
now.” And of course that ended up being on
the record. But it does sound unique, I guess.
How has being in this band changed you?
Campbell: I have much more experience
in making records because of the years I’ve
spent in the studio with this band, and I’m a
much, much better singer. I’m not pursuing
that technical side of guitar playing anymore.
I’m just looking for a few good notes.
It’s incredible that you guys are not only still
doing this, but you’ve done it at a high level for so
long. You’re accepted by rock royalty.
Collen: It’s amazing. I mean, we played
Wembley. I looked down and Jimmy Page was
there. I’ve gotten to jam with Brian May and
Gary Moore. As a guitarist and a fan, you go,
“Wow.” It feels great, absolutely