Nearly 40 years after their breakthrough album, Pyromania, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell are still setting the world afire with their hot-rod gear.
It’s been eight years since Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen met with PG while they were on the band’s arena-filling odyssey in 2014. Now they’re on the aptly titled Stadium Tour, playing packed mega-venues with openers Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Joan Jett, delivering songs from the 12 studio albums they’ve recorded over the past 45 years. It’s quite a legacy, with “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak,” “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Animal,” “Love Bites,” and plenty more classic hits. At their June 30 show at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, John Bohlinger talked with Collen, Campbell, and their techs, Scott Appleton and John Zocco, about the guitarists’ muscular live-show arsenal.
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For the 30th anniversary of Phil Collen’s Jackson PC-1 signature model, the guitarist painted a limited run of the instrument in this cool, Jackson Pollock-esque finish. He kept this one for himself. (Smart!) It features a mahogany body, quartersawn maple neck, reverse headstock, a Floyd Rose vibrato, a DiMarzio Super 3 humbucker in the bridge, and a Jackson Sustainer Driver in the neck spot. There’s also sustainer on/off and fundamental/harmonic/blend toggles in the control set. Collen uses D’Addario .013–.054 sets.
Paint Yer Noggin
Collen’s paint job also extends to this super-colorful headstock.
A Workhorse of a Different Color
This Jackson USA Signature Phil Collen PC-1 in satin natural features a quilted maple top and all the appointments of the splatter-finish model, but ups the tonal ante with a HS-2 DP116 single-coil DiMarzio in the middle. That setup requires a 5-way blade pickup switch, of course. The scale-length is 25.5", and the neck has a 12"–16" compound radius.
Jackson built Collen his guitar named “Bela” in 1986, tricking it out with glow-in-the-dark paint and Mr. Lugosi’s face—in Dracula get-up—on the front of the axe. Bela has DiMarzio Super 3 pickups, titanium saddles, a titanium block, a Floyd Rose vibrato, and an unquenchable thirst for blood. (“Listen to them. The children of the night! What music they make!”)
Phil and the Supreme
This black-finish Jackson Phil Collen PC Supreme has an impossibly thick U-shaped neck that the guitarist loves for its stability, sustain, and tone. The guitar also features a Floyd Rose, two beefy DiMarzio humbuckers, a DiMarzio/Collen-developed Sugar Chakra pickup (which puts humbucker depth in a single-coil size) in the middle, and a sustainer circuit.
Another cool touch on Collen’s Supreme is the kubuki-like mask inlay just under the headstock.
The Blue Axe
This prototype Jackson signature-model Supreme has a more conventionally sized neck as well as a Floyd Rose with classy blue titanium saddles, two hot DiMarzio pickups, a Sugar Chakra, and a sustainer circuit. Check out the super-ergonomic angled cutaways.
Mr. Big Neck, V. 2
This PC-1 also has a neck like John Cena, built from curly maple for a distinctive look. Other details: an in-your-face DiMarzio X2N, a Sugar Chakra, a sustainer, titanium saddles and block, and that omnipresent Floyd Rose. Same PC-1 electronics, too, with volume and tone controls, a 5-way selector, and double toggles for sustainer on/off and fundamental/harmonic/blend.
This brown PC-1—which features all the appointments of Collen’s 30th Anniversary model—looks more muted than it’s bright-hued pals, until you look closely. The tiger-stripe quality of the word makes the guitar striking and displays Collen’s pick scratches between the neck and middle pickups.
Speaking of Pick Wear
This road-weathered Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster is showing all its miles. The bridge has been updated with titanium pins. Collen uses not only the acoustic sounds in this guitar but goes full-rock-tone as well.
Search and X-Stroy
Jackson built its X-Stroyer model especially for Collen in 2014. It is modeled after the Ibanez Destroyer that he played in his 20s—seen onstage in the videos for “Photograph,” “Foolin’,” and other hits. It has DiMarzio X2N pickups, a sustainer, and a Floyd Rose. Look at the lower-front horn and you’ll see a killswitch, too.
Collen’s signal runs to a Shure Axient wireless system. Its four channels go into a Radial JX42 V2 switcher and out to a Fractal Axe-Fx III. (He also carries a spare Axe-Fx in the rack.) A digital output goes from the Fractal to the front-of-house speakers. Another pair of outputs runs to two Atomic CLR full-range powered reference monitors behind the video wall for a bit of stage volume. It’s all controlled by an RJM Mastermind GT/22 operated by tech John Zocco.
Phil A Rig
Here’s a look at that Mastermind Zocco controls, with a bunch of uniquely named, programmed patches, including STFU, Mocha, and Cold Brew.
Vivian and Les
Vivian Campbell plays Les Pauls exclusively. His Una is an all-stock silverburst Custom, which will be auctioned off at the end to the tour with the proceeds going to Gibson Gives to support music education for kids. It’s strung with Dunlop .011–.050s and tuned down 1/2 step.
This Gibson Vivian Campbell Signature Les Paul Custom in antrim basalt burst was a limited-edition model. It has a 1970s-style C-shaped neck, a 2-piece figured maple top, and a solid mahogany body. The neck pickup is a DiMarzio Super 3 and the bridge is a DiMarzio Super Distortion. It has two 500k CTS volume pots, two 500k CTS tone pots, and orange drop caps. Same strings, same half-step-down tuning.
Another limited-edition instrument in Campbell’s line-up is this Gibson Custom Shop reissue of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen’s 1959 Les Paul Standard. Campbell replaced the frets with jumbos, but otherwise it’s all stock, which means a 1-piece mahogany body, pearl inlays, an Indian rosewood fretboard, and Custom Bucker pickups.
The Friendly Ghost
“Casper” is a Gibson Les Paul Studio that Campbell has owned for years. It features a DiMarzio SD 3 in the bridge along with its original humbucker.
More Gary Moore
Few players have had a greater influence on British rockers who came of age during the ’70s and ’80s than the late, great Gary Moore. This Gary Moore Les Paul Standard has its neck pickup flipped, to go for that Peter Green out-of-phase tone. (Moore was the longtime owner of Green’s famed Holy Grail Les Paul.) The mahogany neck has a rounded ’50s profile, the pickups are BurstBucker Pros, and, of course, the 6-string has a mahogany body with a figured maple top.
Campbell has replaced the standard P-90s in this Gibson reissue Les Paul goldtop with P-100s, which are stacked humbuckers, for a buzz-free playing experience.
This colorful Gibson SJ-200 has a Fishman pickup, a soundhole block to avoid feedback, and high action for a clean-toned strum.
In the Box
Tech Scott Appleton dictates the flow of Campbell’s guitar with an RJM MIDI-controlled input switcher. First, the signal hits a Shure Axient wireless, and then there’s a Cry Baby Rock Module with a Lite-Time wah controller. The rest of the magic is courtesy of a Fractal Audio Axe-FX III. A Marshall 9200 Dual MonoBloc System provides the power for a pair of ENGL 4x12 cabs.
Look, Ma, No Wires!
Chad Zaemisch, longtime tech for Metallica’s James Hetfield, designed the first two-channel wireless expression pedal system that Vivian employed to handle wah-wah duties via his rackmount Dunlop Cry Baby Rack unit.