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Phil Collen: “I put a DiMarzio Super Distortion T in my Teles and got the sound we’d been trying to get for years“

Phil Collen
(Image credit: Courtesy of Phil Collen)

Is it true there’s a Tele on every track of Hysteria

“Pretty much. We always used Telecasters to track stuff. On Pyromania you had a Les Paul and a Tele playing the same part to give you the full range. On the latest Def Leppard stuff I’ll use a Tele and a Jackson and blend the two.“   

During the making of Pyromania, you played a Les Paul and an Ibanez Destroyer, while Steve Clark also favoured a Les Paul. What led you to use Teles? 

“We were always searching for this sound, a basic bedrock sound, especially when we were working with [producer] Mutt Lange. We had to compromise, and we’d use a Les Paul and a Tele, or a Strat and a Les Paul. I put a DiMarzio Super Distortion T in about four of my Teles and got the sound we’d been trying to get for years. You’ve got clarity and chime, but you’ve also got firepower and balls!“  

So it was it Mutt’s idea to use Telecasters? 

“I think he got it from working with AC/DC. A lot of rock players get the wrong idea. They think it’s all this distorted humbucker thing. Malcolm [Young, AC/DC guitarist] used his Gretsch really kinda clean. The blending of the Gretsch and the SG from Angus [Young, lead guitarist] was amazing. 

“It’s like vocals – tenors and baritones blending together. Guitars do the same thing. AC/DC didn’t use Telecasters, but it’s where Mutt got the idea for the clarity. A lot of rock bands were just a wall of fuzz. You want it to breathe and be a bit cooler. That’s where the Telecaster comes in.“

Which Def Leppard songs have obvious Telecaster parts?

“We did a song with [US country star] Tim McGraw, Nine Lives. I used it all the way through that. The intro to Rock of Ages was a Tele. That was recorded before I joined the band. The main riff to Hysteria is another one. It’s actually [bassist] Rick Savage playing that, on a black Tele with a Kahler. When we were making Pyromania and Hysteria, we had a black Strat and a black Tele floating around as band guitars.“ 

Do you modify your Telecasters at all? 

“I’ve got this beautiful blonde Telecaster I got in Dublin when we were rehearsing for Hysteria. I changed the bridge. I’m not a fan of the classic Tele bridge. I like a six-saddle. We’re so meticulous and we track up so many things, so you need it bang in tune.“ 

How do you set up your Teles? 

“I use really heavy strings anyway. I have 13s on my Jacksons. With a Tele I can sometimes go a bit higher and harder. At the moment I have 14-56. You can really thrash it, and it gets rid of some nasty frequencies to make it easier for recording.“ 

And what do you use Teles for on tour? 

“Live I sometimes use a Tele on Love Bites, Too Late For Love, or Armageddon It. I change it up, stuff that’s a bit clearer or where I’m not playing the solo. But having said that, now I’ve got the DiMarzio in there I can play a solo and it sounds killer anyway.“