Mike Campbell’s circa-’50 Broadcaster

A lot has been made of the Fender Broadcaster, and how it helped push the solidbody concept into mainstream acceptance. But to fully appreciate the “rightness” of Fender’s first production guitar, one need look no further than this old soldier, which has been played by Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell for the last 30 years.

“I got this guitar in Hollywood in 1976,” says Campbell. “We were working on our first record, and I wanted something different to play in the studio, because I wasn’t happy with the way the recording was going. I thought this guitar would be what I needed. I paid around $600 for it, and I had to put the band’s P.A. amp on consignment to raise the money. I’d actually wanted a Telecaster, but I figured a Broadcaster was just as good. Of course, I found out later it’s even better. I had no idea this guitar would wind up being so valuable.”

Campbell says he used the Broadcaster extensively on the band’s first album, where its bright, sweet tones helped propel the hit singles “American Girl” and “Breakdown.”

“The Broadcaster has been on all of the hit songs on every album ever since,” says Campbell. “Tom even used it for the main rhythm part on ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance.’ I used to play it live a lot until one of our trips to Japan. We’d sent all the instruments over on a boat, and when I opened up its case, the Broadcaster was soaking wet with salt moisture. That scared me so bad that I retired the Broadcaster from the road for many years. On the last few tours, however, I decided to start playing it again, because it sounds like no other guitar. Every time I bring it out, the soundman goes, ‘Where has that guitar been? It sounds so good out front.’”

We don’t know the exact production date of this guitar, as Campbell says he has never taken the neck off, or, for that matter, even cleaned it.

“You can see all the grime and grease between the frets, and I’ve told my techs to never clean it off because it shows where all the playing has been,” says Campbell. “I don’t tinker with guitars, but, about 15 years ago, my roadie suggested we replace a fret that had worn out. I said, ‘Go ahead.’ But that’s the only part we’ve changed.”

The fact that this guitar has remained basically stock for nearly 60 years underscores the design brilliance of Fender’s first solidbody. And for Campbell, the Broadcaster proved to be just the tool he needed to craft some of the most definitive guitar sounds in the Heartbreakers’ history.