Def Leppard’s 12th full-length album, Diamond Star Halos, returns the band to its roots. The title is a nod to Marc Bolan, who inspired Vivian Campbell pick up guitar in the first place. Appropriately, Campbell revisited the guitar where it all started for him.
“I’ve been playing 7297537 a lot,” says Campbell, who is so attached to his first Les Paul he always refers to it by its serial number. “I moved to New Hampshire just prior to the pandemic, so I don’t have many guitars at home. Most of my guitars are in Def Leppard’s locker in southern California.”
Campbell reconnected with the guitar – which has since been replicated as an Epiphone signature model – in 2012 after forming Last In Line with his former Dio bandmates.
“Because I’ve been playing it a lot with Last In Line I still use the original Dio Les Paul,” he explains. “I’ve just gotten really comfortable with it again. I like the closure of going full circle, starting my career with it and coming back to it.”
The Les Paul started life as a wine red Deluxe and housed a pair of X2Ns in the ’80s, the hottest pickup DiMarzio made. It now contains a matched set of Seymour Duncan ’59s.
Says Campbell, “I was using DiMarzio X2Ns back then because I was playing through a JCM800 Marshall and there just wasn’t enough distortion in that amp, so I front-loaded it with really hot pickups and Boss overdrive pedals. With modern amps you don’t need to do that – there’s so much more saturation available.”
Another old favorite also made a return. “The other guitar was my original blue Tom Anderson with the maple neck,” he reveals. “I used it a lot on the Adrenalize tour when I first joined Def Leppard.”
Campbell played the Anderson for his Def Leppard debut at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert: “Again, I’m comfortable with it and it was one of the half dozen guitars I have at home.”
When their Stadium Tour was cancelled in 2020, Def Leppard began recording instead. Remote recording posed only one problem: Campbell had no idea how to do it.
“I’m a technophobe. It’s a wonder I can use my iPhone,” he laughs. “Joe [Elliott, vocalist] emailed, ‘If we're not going to tour this year, let’s make a record.’ I’m thinking, ‘That means I’ve got to learn how to use technology again!’ Phil Collen said, ‘Get Logic. It’s really easy.’ I open it up and I’m thinking, ‘That doesn't look easy to me!’”
At his old studio in California, Campbell admits, “I only knew how to record because some clever grownup who built the studio for me came in and showed me how to do it and made notes in case I forgot! So spring 2020 I’m downloading Logic, buying an interface and thinking, ‘How the fuck does this work?!’”
Eventually, producer Ronan McHugh sent him pre-engineered recording templates. At Phil Collen’s suggestion, Vivian downloaded Guitar Rig.
“I would just scroll through presets, adjust the amp settings a little and record,” he recalls. “I also used the Engl plugin for most of the solos. They have one that looks exactly like my Last In Line amp and that’s so easy even I can use it. It was really easy once I got going, but I just have this fear of technology.”
The band, though, loved Campbell’s work. Bandmate Phil Collen praises his playing, especially on the duets with Allison Krauss, Lifeless and This Guitar.
“Lifeless is fucking awesome,” raves Phil. “He used a Telecaster and it’s very different for Viv. My favorite playing of his is on This Guitar. It’s Dave Gilmour-esque. He plays these heartfelt, emotional licks and some really subtle slide.”
The Telecaster, Campbell reveals, is a Def Leppard staple. “Phil’s Jackson and my Les Paul are fat-sounding guitars, so for more specific parts we’re always reaching for a Telecaster,” he says.
Accordingly, Vivian’s ’66 Telecaster is all over the album. “It’s a wonderful guitar,” he enthuses.
“The only problem is the noise when you’ve got any kind of gain going on. They’re so microphonic. Ronan doesn’t like it when we send him tracks with all this buzz. That means you can’t breathe while you play. The Telecaster is never quiet, but you find a position where it’s not as noisy and you can’t move!”
- Diamond Star Halos is out on May 27 via UME.