Interview: Viv Campbell talks guitars

We sat down with current Thin Lizzy and Def Leppard guitarist Viv Campbell recently to talk about his past and present guitars.

As you'll read Viv was in nostalgic mood, reminiscing about his first instruments as a Rory Gallagher and thin Lizzy-worshipping teenager in Northern Ireland. He also tells us about the Gibson Les Paul he would make his name with on the classic Dio album Holy Diver and its superb follow-up Last In Line…

On His First Guitars

"I had toy guitars from a young age. I was one of those kids who used to annoy their parents with a little plastic guitars they used to sell at Woolworths, then eventually I got an acoustic. I got my first electric for Christmas. It was an Arbiter- a bizarre guitar with a Strat headstock and an SG double-cutaway body shape. It had one sign-coil pickup and it was a piece of junk. Then the following year I talked my folks into getting me the same guitar in a bass guitar version. I guess I still wasn't sure!

"Then I got a Strat replica from a catalogue on weekly payments - I remember it cost a lot of money... it must have been £70 or whatever. It was much closer to a real guitar with a natural finish and a maple neck but I don't think there was a name on it.

Viv is now part of the current Thin Lizzy touring line-up alongside The Almighty's Ricky Warwick and classic Lizzy line-up guitarist Scott Gorham. Guitarist interviewed the trio of players in issue 331.

"After that I had a Watkins Rapier 33 that I bought second hand from a guy in Lisburn. But I wanted a Strat because I was really into Rory Gallagher by the time I was about 12. I worked all Summer to try and raise enough money to buy a Stratocaster. The local music store had a Telecaster Thinline - with the two humbuckers and the F-hole. My father, god bless him, knew I wouldn't have enough money to get a Strat by the end of the Summer and he went into the music store on a Friday afternoon. He knew I wanted a Fender and they sold him the Thinline.

"So he thought he'd surprise me - he opened the trunk of the car and there was the case... but with a Tele and not a Strat inside. It was one of those moments but I actually kept that guitar for a while and it was a great guitar. But it wasn't a Strat - a Thinline Tele might be considered cool nowadays but it wasn't then. I played it for a couple of years but by this time Gary Moore was my guitar hero, along with with Scott Gorham and Robbo [Brian Robertson] - the Lizzy guys. I wanted a Goldtop Les Paul."

The Holy Diver Les Paul

"It's wasn't like today where you go to a guitar centre and they've got 3,000 to choose from - I had to wait for months and months [to see a Les Paul]. I'd go in every day and ask, Any sign yet? One day I went in and they said, Good news and bad news - we have a Les Paul Standard but it's not gold. I was impatient so I said I'd take it - it was a wine red deluxe Les Paul with the little mini buckers in it. I thought that was pretty cool because Scott Gorham had a sunburst version as one of his main guitars. So I took that and immediately set about bastardising it.

"The first thing I did was take emery paper and rub the finish down because Rory [Gallagher] was my guy back in the day, I don't like the newness. To this day I still tell Wolfie, my tech, don't clean it up if I bang into it with my belt buckle that's fine. I changed everything on that guitar - I changed out the mini buckers out and put a DiMarzio in the bridge, I refretted it, painted it matte black after a couple of years and put Schaller machine heads in it, put a brass nut in it...

"That was the guitar I went on to use with Dio on the Holy Diver record. I still have that guitar and it's the only guitar I know the serial number of: 72987537. It's not a great guitar compared to the Les Pauls I have nowadays - the neck's really thin, I play much thicker necks now. But a lot of notes have been played on that guitar - a lot of solos. I always remember the Holy Diver album and tour was on that guitar - and most of Last In Line too."

Recent Acquisitions

"I got a bunch of new guitars for this tour - most of them are in America because we have an A rig there and a B rig when we're in Europe. I was in Tokyo last October and Zemaitis have been bought by a Japanese concern and they're manufacturing them - they're f***ing stunning guitars! I immediately played one for our first show at Bodoukan back then. So I've got a few of their Les Paul shape guitars with different pickup configurations but mostly with twin humbuckers.

"I've also got a Yamaha SBG 2000 that they just started making again in America. I've got a few of those and they're like the best Les Paul Custom ever - so well made. But they take a little while to get used to. I was playing one at home in my studio and it was great sitting down but when you play it standing up with a strap on the neck is a little longer and the 12the fret is in a different place to my Les Pauls. I'm only playing it for one songs tonight because I'm a bit worried about being in the heat of battle - I don't like to have to look down and think, Where am I? I'll be playing a Zemaitis on a few. Other than that I've got a bunch of Les Pauls - I've got quite a few of them now!"

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.