Phil Collen on How Eddie Van Halen Shaped Def Leppard’s Guitar Sound
Speaking to MusicRadar on Friday (Sept. 24), the Def Leppard member — who shares six-string duties in the "Pour Some Sugar on Me" rockers with guitarist Vivian Campbell — discussed the benefit of swapping guitar pickups for a better tone. In particular, for hard rock and metal, switching from a single-coil to a humbucker.
Interestingly enough, the benefit of making just such an equipment change was instilled in Collen by the Van Halen guitarist back in the day, when the pair initially encountered each other on the touring circuit.
"When I first met Eddie, it was on Van Halen's first British headline tour at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park, London," Collen recalled. "He was so humble, considering he was such a monster player. We were talking about guitars and I had this [Stratocaster] that my mum had gotten me for my 21st birthday. It was the main guitar I used later on the Hysteria stuff — whenever you hear anything on that record, it's probably that."
The musician continued, "When I told him I had this beautiful Strat that I loved, he actually said, 'You know, you won't be happy until you've taken that pickup out and carved out space for a humbucker!' And I thought, Fuck! But I did it because Eddie told me to do it!"
"We put a DiMarzio in there and yeah, whenever you hear 'Animal' or any of those tracks on the radio," Collen said, "that's what you're hearing!"
Hysteria brought Def Leppard monumental success in the late '80s with singles such as the aforementioned "Sugar" and "Animal," not to mention "Love Bites," "Rocket" and the title track. Next year, the group's due to join Motley Crue on a co-headlining stadium tour. Eddie Van Halen died at 65 in October 2020; Van Halen quietly disbanded after his death.
For Collen, EVH "was the most important rock player after Jimi Hendrix, who was the first real guitarist," he added. "I still don't think anyone's come close to Hendrix ever since. But Eddie has to come next — he changed guitar in a similar way."
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