Mike Campbell features on the latest episode of Gibson TV’s The Collection in an episode that once more it proves that it has got to be one of the best things about being a career pro musician with decades under your belt is the guitars you collect along the way.
Sometimes, however, you’ve got to make some radical home improvements before you can house all of them safely. Campbell’s solution was to mount his favourite acoustic and electric guitars above his head on some rigging, using remote control to bring them down within reach. “The guitar carousel in action,” he laughs. This, folks, is living the dream.
For a while, however, Campbell’s collection grew out of control, and he duly sold off a whole trove of vintage gear on Reverb. But this is the stuff that he couldn’t part with. The stuff no one in their right mind would part with, and it offers a fascinating perspective from which to trace the career of a guitarist and producer who has worked with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, and now of course fronts The Dirty Knobs.
Campbell wasn't always a Gibson man. Weaned on Elvis, Johnny Cash and the Beatles, he liked the bright jangle of Rickenbackers and used a Fender Broadcaster in the early days. That soon changed, though. As Campbell reveals to Gibson’s Mark Agnesi, his first Gibson was a red triple-pickup Firebird he picked up for a 100 bucks. It saw plenty action, too, before meeting an untimely end.
“I played that right up until Tom sat on it and broke it off,” says Campbell. “He sat on it, yeah, and broke the neck off in the studio.”
But there were others. One of Campbell’s most prized guitars in his collection is a white Firebird signed by the doyen of white Firebirds Johnny Winter, and by legendary jazz drummer Philly Joe for good measure. Campbell can’t recall what year the model is, but it wasn’t super-old and that is never the attraction about the guitars.
“I didn’t care what year it was,” he says. “It looked good and I liked the way it felt and I didn’t have a white one.”
Back in the day, Campbell and Petty used to pair up with the Firebirds. And he plans on doing likewise with The Dirty Knobs’ guitarist Jason Sinay, whom Agnesi has just hooked up with a matching white Firebird.“His was not signed by Johnny Winter, though!” retorts Campbell.
The hits keep coming. There’s a 1956 J-200 acoustic guitar, a Gold Top Les Paul Standard with coverless P-90s.
“This thing is loud,” says Campbell. “I used it on Fooled Again [(I Don’t Like It)], Strangered In The Night, even the solo on Listen To Her Heart is doubled on a 12-string with this underneath to make it thick. It’s my main Gibson. It’s one of those. I just would never part with it.”
And no episode of The Collection would be complete without the obligatory 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard – the Holy Grail guitar. And Campbell's is as clean as a whistle. It also inspired him to write Good Enough from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' 2010 album Mojo.
- Classic Interview: Mike Campbell on 30 years of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
“The one that I bought, I took it in here in this room, and plugged it into an amp, and the tone was just – I usually play bright guitars, jangly stuff and this thing was like thick and full,” says Campbell. “And I go, ‘It sounds like Clapton and Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Mike Bloomfield, like it reminded me of those tones.
“It’s completely different from the ‘58s and the ‘60s, different necks, different feel. But the ’59, there’s just something about it, and I think there is a reason why all those guitar players gravitated towards it. They just instinctively picked up on the tones and the feel of it.”
Check these guitars out and more in the video above, where you will also find proof – if needed – that often all you need from a guitar is a single pickup and a slab of mahogany to create music history. That’s where the ’62 Gibson SG Junior and Runnin’ Down A Dream comes in… It also just goes to show that sometimes you can pickup the best guitars in the weirdest places.