On the 30th anniversary of Jackson’s Soloist – and Guitarist magazine’s own 30th birthday – we speak to Def Leppard guitarst Phil Collen about how this iconic guitar took his tone to new heights of melodic, high-gain goodness on landmark albums such as Hysteria...
How did you first hear about Jackson?
“Through [producer] Mutt Lange. I was using Ibanez, pretty much like everyone else, you know... playing a Fender Strat and Les Pauls and everything and I had the Ibanez Destroyer, which is really cool and obviously very iconic in the 80s... and we’d just come off the Pyromania tour and we were writing songs in Dublin and Mutt said, ‘Oh, check this out, I’ve got this Charvel.’
"And I’d heard of them, obviously, but I’d never really sat down and played with one and I just loved it - it was just so comfortable and it just could do a variety of different things, you know. It was the first kind of hybrid, if you like, of a Strat and a Les Paul. And that really was the sound and the feel that I was actually always looking for.
“Since then, it’s kind of changed a bit but you always wanted it to be very Strat-y and very Les Paul-y and really, when Charvels and Jacksons first come out, that’s exactly what they were trying to do. So, anyway, Mutt introduced me to Grover Jackson and, after that, it was just full-on, you know?
"He sent a red Charvel, which I’ve still got, and I’ve just been with them ever since and I think I got that first one in ’84, and then they customised a Soloist for me. That was the one I used on the album, actually, the one you see in the videos. It’s a sparkly, crackly, black, silvery Soloist and I actually took that out last year because we did the Hysteria album in total and it’s in three or four of the videos. Yeah, so that was the whole introduction. It was Mutt Lange, actually.”
So was it Mutt’s actual guitar, that first one?
“Yeah, I was just borrowing it. I was just playing it and whilst we were writing songs, I’d just gravitate towards it, you know, but my first one personally was a red one that Grover Jackson sent out.”
And what model was Mutt’s?
“It was kind of like a Dinky. It was like a Strat or a San Dimas actually. It was more like a cross between a Sam Dimas and a Dinky or something. I’ll have to pull it out because I’m not exactly sure exactly what it is, you know. Some of them kind of blend into one another, especially if you have shit customised and stuff.”
What was it you particularly loved about the Soloist?
"Well the Soloist, because it had a neck-through, it wasn’t a bolt-on neck and it just had a slightly richer sound and, even now, this guitar’s like alive, you know. It’s almost 30 years old now, 29 years old or something and, I don’t know, it’s just got a thing about it, you know.
"Old guitars and guitars in general... it’s not just the aging thing, I think, when some of the lacquer comes off, some of the varnish - it depends on how much you play it and how much you sweat on it and stuff but, you know, I’ve got big holes in the back of it where it’s just kind of rubbed away and everything but it still plays amazing. Now, that was the thing about Jacksons: they’re very easy to play.”
And what other customisations did you put into the spec?
“Well, I always put DiMarzio pickups on everything. I was always a huge DiMarzio freak when I first started playing and I found the Super Distortion and that changed everything. And I try everything. Obviously, you know, being in Def Leppard, people just have given me shit all the time - ‘Oh, try this, try that,’ and I do try everything, you know, like Seymour Duncans and this and that but I really don’t get on with any other pickup. It’s just DiMarzios.
"So, for most part, I have them on everything, you know, unless it’s like a vintage thing like a Gibson ES-175 or something. I’ve got the original pickups on that and a few Telecasters and stuff but everything else [is DiMarzio]. So that was the first thing I did – and my PC1s have a DiMarzio Super 3 on them as well. So that was the first thing and, obviously, the tremolo arm thing...
"I’ve always been into whammy bars and, initially, I had Kahlers and stuff and then I switched over to Floyd Roses just because you keep more of the tone. I found that with Kahlers and stuff, you know, it kind of made it a little bit muddy in some cases just the feel of it was different.
"So that was pretty much it actually – a locking nut, the tremolo and a DiMarzio and then, from then on, I started getting bigger, fatter necks and fatter frets and sustainers and all sorts of stuff – titanium parts and everything. All of my newer guitars and everything I take on tour has all of that stuff.”