Vivian Campbell Discusses His Epiphone "Holy Diver" Les Paul

The Def Leppard and Last in Line guitarist discusses how Rory Gallagher influenced the creation of his new Epiphone signature model.
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Recently, GP sat down with a number of guitarists who've recently collaborated with Gibson or Epiphone on new signature models. One of those guitarists was Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell, who kindly took the time to discuss his latest signature model, the Epiphone "Holy Diver" Les Paul, with us.

The Epiphone Holy Diver has all the mods you originally made to your Les Paul. What were the reasons for modifying it in the first place?

Before I was wanting a Les Paul, my very first guitar influence was Rory Gallagher. Rory’s Strat had hardly any paint on it, only a couple of little flakes, and the guitar was so beat up and road worn, and that kind of set the tone with me for guitars. I’m not into shiny pretty guitars. So I ordered a gold Les Paul standard when I was 15, but when I went to pick it up it was a wine red Deluxe model. 

I didn’t want to wait another six months for a gold one, so the first thing I did was take sandpaper to it, and within a couple of months I took it to a guitar repair guy in Belfast and had him put full-size humbuckers in it, Schaller machine heads and a brass nut and jack plate. I also had him paint it black, and because he painted over the serial number he had to stamp the number from top to bottom, as opposed to left to right, as it normally would be. 

So that’s where Epiphone puts the number, which is 72987537, on all their Holy Diver models. When I did the Holy Diver album, the guitar had DiMarzio X2-N pickups and jumbo Dunlop frets, which I’ve always favored. It’s also got brass control knobs, which is what I had on it back in the early ’80s when I toured with it.

You stopped playing a Les Paul entirely for some years. What brought you back to it?

After the Holy Diver album and tour, I kind of retired my Les Paul. I got seduced by so many other guitar players in the ’80s that had hot-rodded Strats with pointy headstocks and whammy bars, so during the ’80s I played Charvels and other things, and eventually Tom Andersons, which I felt were the best of the bunch. But around 1995, we were in the studio and I was recording Slang with Def Leppard, and Phil [Collen] had a beautiful Les Paul there. I picked it up and said, “This is the guitar I learned how to play on, and this is where I belong.” It’s just where my hands fall on it, and ever since that moment in the studio when the light bulb went on, I’ve played a Les Paul.

You already had a Gibson custom shop Holy Diver guitar. How did Epiphone become involved in creating its own version of the guitar?

My custom shop model came out in January 2018, and it was through my connections at Gibson that the whole Epiphone thing came together. I went to NAMM that year and met with some Epiphone people, and they seemed keen to try it, so I sent them my original Les Paul. They had it for a month or so and took all the dimensions and specs off of it. They made me a couple of prototypes, and we sent them back and forth and tweaked them until we got it right. It just fell into place and was very much a case of Epiphone and Gibson working hand in hand on this project.

Are you pleased with how the Epiphone Holy Diver turned out?

I can’t say enough about the quality of the instrument. Along with the aforementioned custom shop model, I’ve got a couple of ’58 Les Paul reissues that are really high-end custom shop guitars, and one of my favorites is a Rick Nielsen model that’s a replica of his ’59, which is a beautiful guitar.

But for the Def Leppard show, I’m playing the Epiphone prototype of my Holy Diver guitar, and the quality is just totally amazing. I think it’s a real testament to what Epiphone and Gibson are doing now that I can pick up a guitar that sells for well under a thousand bucks and have it work just as well for me as a $5,000 custom shop guitar.