Interview: Phil Collen of Def Leppard and Manraze Talks Effects, Amps and Jackson Guitars
It's hard to believe it has been 30 years since Phil Collen joined Def Leppard.
Since that time, the band has pretty much done it all. They've put out some of the biggest-selling albums of all time. They've sold out countless shows. And at a time when many artists can make a living as nostalgia acts, Collen continues to explore creative endeavors.
Last year saw the release of Def Leppard’s first live album, Mirrorball. Collen’s other band -- Manraze, featuring Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols and Simon Laffy -- released PunkFunkRootsRock.
We recently caught up with Collen to talk gear, sounds, Def Leppard and Manraze.
GUITAR WORLD: On your Twitter page and your bio page on defleppard.com, you're holding what appears to be a hybrid of a Gibson SG. Can you tell us what that animal is?
That’s the PC Supreme from Jackson. It’s a neck-through, a hybrid. The PC1 is like a hybrid Strat that I’ve been using for 15 years. Lots of people love it, including me! I use it a hell of a lot. I also wanted something a bit different. I didn’t want someone else’s guitar. I got together with Pablo from Jackson, who has been building my stuff for years. I had a few drawings and photos. I would tell him I wanted it a bit like this and a bit like that. Then I would say, "Not like a like a PRS, not like an SG, not like Les Paul." It sort of hints at those styles but is more of a combination. It has the electronics from the PC1 with the Sustainer and the Floyd Rose. My version has titanium saddles. It sounds ridiculous. It’s just a monster.
Is that a mahogany body?
It is a maple top with a mahogany back. One of them has a maple fretboard, which is actually my favorite. Everything adds to the tone.
You've been at this for 30 years. How has your guitar rig evolved?
I've been using the same rig for about 15 years or so. I definitely subscribe to the “If it ain’t broke” theory. I use a Marshall JMP rack mount and this old solid-state Randall power amp. It’s been around the world a zillion times. It never breaks down. The fuse on it went once and it lasts forever. We do direct so we don’t mic things up. I do try new things out all the time. I still keep going back to this. I use a TC multi-effects unit for delays and a chorus or whatever. My tech punches those presets in and out. I have tried the Guitar Rig thing through a PA. I still have to mess around with that some more. Eventually it would be great to go there, but I still haven’t found anything better than the JMP and the Randall.
When I’m in Manraze, I’ve got a Cyber-Twin. I have it pretty much dialed in to sound like my live rig with Def Leppard. I’ve done a bunch of TV and Manraze gigs with it and it sounds awesome. The great thing about it is you can dump the memory so you can rent one, which I’ve done, and it sounds exactly the same.
With Manraze you handle all the lead vocals. Is it fun to stand out front and take on that role?
It’s a little bit weird. I’ve sung all my life. I sang to the radio when I was a little kid. Obviously I sing with Def Leppard which is tons and tons of singing. We are almost like a hard-rock Beach Boys. But in that role, I was a guitar player singing background vocals. Then I had to shift the focus. I’d forget I was singing. I’d forget the lyrics because I was focused on the guitar part. I had to really focus on the vocals and make the guitar part secondary. Being a three-piece, you can’t really fudge it. I don’t really get a break because if I’m not singing, I’m soloing. We do some jamming as well. I really appreciate stuff like Hendrix a lot more now.
Last week you announced you'll be hitting the road with Poison and Lita Ford. You also did a song recently with Bret Michaels. What was that experience like?
I’ve known Bret and all the guys in Poison since the '80s; CC, Bobby, Bretty and Rikki are really good guys. Bret approached me about a thing for motocrosses. I played a solo on it, rhythm parts and some backing vocals. It turned out great, has a nice vibe. I get on great with Bret. I really respect what he does. He works his ass off.
Catch Def Leppard with Poison and Lita Ford on the Rock Of Ages tour beginning in June:
June 20 - Salt Lake City, UT (USANA Amphitheater)
June 22 - Irvine, CA (Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre)
June 23 - Las Vegas, NV (Red Rock Amphitheatre)
June 25 - Denver, CO (Pepsi Center)
June 27 - Kansas City, MO (Sprint Center)
June 29 - Atlanta, GA (Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood)
June 30 - Tampa, FL (Tampa Bay Times Forum)
July 2 - Cincinnati, OH (Riverbend Music Center)
July 3 - Nashville, TN (Bridgestone Arena)
July 6 - Cleveland, OH (Quickens Loan Arena)
July 7 - Detroit, MI (DTE Energy Music Theatre)
July 10 - Baltimore, MD (Merriweather Pavilion)
July 11 - Newark, NJ (Prudential Center)
July 13 - Wantagh, NY (Nikon at Jones Beach Pavilion)
July 16 - Montreal, QC (Bell Centre)
July 17 - Hamilton, ON (Copps Coliseum)
July 19 - Chicago, IL (Allstate Arena)
July 22 - Cadott, WI (Rock Fest)