Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen on Buying Guitars, Making Guitar Picks and Playing Great Solos

(Image credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

When it comes to Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductees, few artists seem to be as beloved by fellow inductees as Cheap Trick. A true rock band’s rock band, the music of Cheap Trick has been covered by dozens of notable artists, including Pearl Jam, Marilyn Manson, Kid Rock, Green Day and the Foo Fighters. Almost 45 years since the group formed in Illinois, Cheap Trick remains one of rock’s hardest working touring acts, having played over 5,000 gigs.

In support of its new Julian Raymond-produced album We’re All Alright, the Rockford quartet is currently on the road with Foreigner and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. We’re All Alright tracks like “Long Time Coming” and “Radio Lover” are keeping long-time Cheap Trick fans happy.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Cheap Trick’s main songwriter Rick Nielsen by phone about his guitars, picks, and solos.

I've read that you consider yourself a rhythm guitar player as opposed to a lead player. Why is that? Your solos are very popular…

Very popular with who?

Well, with the critics and the fans, at least.

I think I let the song dictate what I play. So you know saying that is like “wow, but you know the song must not like you.” I let the song dictate what it needs. It usually needs an accompanying part, not an “okay now it's my drum solo, now it's my guitar.” I just try to help the song.

Something that you've always been innovative with is your use of the guitar pick. You were one of the first people to have a customized guitar pick. Where did that idea come from?

Well, as I would use picks, you know they wear out or they break. So I was sorting them out, getting rid of them, getting new ones, and first year that we were around everybody thought my name was Fender.How many picks do you usually go out with on a tour?

I order 60,000 at a time. We've only been out, I think we've done 10 or 11, 12 shows, something like that, and I'm already ordering the second round right now.

Is there anything distinct about your picks besides your name going on there?

My big design work. You know some people design buildings and aircraft carriers and cars, and I designed picks. I don’t know, yeah I do it. I try to do something different every year.Word has it that you have over 400 guitars. Is that number on the low end, or do you have a lot more than that?

That's not true, I have over 500. I just bought two yesterday.

Where did you buy two yesterday? Do you usually go to guitar shops, or do people you know come up to you and try and sell you guitars?

Both of those, but I bought one at Guitar Center yesterday and I bought one at the Walter Carter's [Vintage] Guitars here in Nashville.

When you have that many guitars, do you have storage spaces? How do you manage an inventory like that?

I don't know, I have no idea, I don't know. I have three warehouses.

You’re also known as a memorabilia guy. What is your criteria for buying memorabilia? Does it have to be interesting or do you just go, “I want this and that's that?”

It's got to be stuff that nobody else wants…My criteria is, “Is there more space available?” I have been collecting since I was a kid.

Your five-neck guitar is something that everybody loves. Are all the necks actually functioning on it? I've only seen you play the top two necks.

All five have to work, otherwise I won't play it. But usually in the last song of the night I am too tired to play more than three necks.What kind of storage case do you have for that guitar? I assume you had to have it custom built.

It is a 2017 Tesla.

For more on Cheap Trick, stop by their website.

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