Mike Campbell reveals his “desert island guitars”

Mike Campbell recently sat down with Guitar Center to discuss what he describes as the “mystery of songwriting.”

In the process, the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers legend – who currently plays with Fleetwood Mac as well  as his own band, the Dirty Knobs – talked about how instruments often spark the idea for a song, and also pulled out three of the most cherished electric guitar models in his collection, which he dubs his “desert island guitars.”

First up is his Number One, a ‘50s Fender Broadcaster. “It’s priceless,” he says. “I will never sell it. I got it for $600 at Nadine’s Music Store in Hollywood, California when [Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers] were doing our first record. I only had a Stratocaster at the time and Tom was using that. So I needed something good.

"I found this on the wall and it’s natural wood. It’s just beautiful, it plays wonderful. And we used it all throughout the Heartbreakers records. In fact, on Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Tom played this.”

Next up is a ‘59 Les Paul burst. “This is a particularly good one," he says. "It’s in great condition. I don’t take it out of the house. And it’s a totally different sound than the Broadcaster.

"This guitar represents a lot of records I grew up – Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, a lot of those great players from the ‘60s who inspired me used this same model guitar."

He continues, "I got this when we were starting an album called Mojo with the Heartbreakers. I started playing it and Tom lost his mind. He said, ‘That’s a great-sounding guitar. I want you to play it on every song. We’re going to make this album around the sound of that guitar.’ And we did.”

Finally, Campbell pulls out a white Gibson Firebird that “supposedly” has Johnny Winter’s signature on the body. “This guitar I bought in Philadelphia. I was on tour with Fleetwood Mac on a day off and my wife and I went walking and we passed a pawnshop," he says. 

"And I have Firebirds but I don’t have a white one. I put it in the show that night and it was my main guitar the rest of the tour. It just sounded perfect. And it’s also become my main guitar in the Dirty Knobs.”

As for the impetus behind collecting guitars?

“There’s the joke about how many guitars does a guitar player really need,” Campbell says. “Only one…more.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.