|With their first album in 6 years featuring all new hits coming out in April, Guitar Center talks to Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen about his extensive guitar and amp collection, his home studio, and his gear from Guitar Center. -- April 2003
GC: What are you and the band up to now?
Rick: We're touring. We did some shows up in Mississippi and New Orleans. Then we fly home for a week and then go to England, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium.
GC: Any plans for future recording?
Rick: Oh yeah, we have a new CD--all new stuff. It'll be out April 8.
GC: How did you start collecting guitars?
Rick: I started out with a stamp collection, a coin collection and a baseball card collection. I still have my stamp and coin collection. And I wish I still had my baseball card collection. Then I got involved in music. I guess I always had the collecting bug. It was just different sorts of collecting.
GC: Do you collect amps to the same extent as you collect guitars?
Rick: Yeah, I have about 15 or 20 old tweed Fenders, a brown Vox AC30, Premier amps, and Selmer stuff. In the band, we probably have a dozen Marshalls, lots of Fender Deluxes, lots of Rivera amps, and then I have a whole bunch of Gibson Goldtones.
GC: Do you have a wish list of things you'd like to get for your collection?
Rick: There's one I'd still like to get, a Merle Travis Guild. The black one with the fancy laminate ornamentation--it's got a lot of bells & whistles.
GC: What did you think about getting inducted into the Rock Walk?
Rick: I thought it was great! I'm used to people stepping on me so it was pretty cool--quite an honor!
GC: When you do go on the road do you take the guitars from your collection?
Rick: I have two original Gibson Explorers. I usually take one of those and I take a bunch of Les Pauls.
GC: How do you select the instruments that you want to take?
Rick: They've got to sound good, that's job one. After that, I've got a pretty good collection of stuff to choose from. It stems from what sounds good in the studio. So I drag out all the good stuff. My insurance people are ready to kill me! But I haven't had anything stolen since 1974.
GC: How many are you taking out at a time?
Rick: Right now, I've got about twenty.
GC: Do you use certain ones for certain songs?
Rick: When I need a Tele sound, I use a Tele. When I want a Hamer sound, I use a Hamer. When I want a Les Paul sound, I'll use a Les Paul.
GC: Are you using all 20 every night?
Rick: I use about 15 a night. Tom & Robin use a whole bunch of stuff, too. I used to hit the guitar so hard that I would knock it out of tune so I'd have my guitars up there instead of having a tech. Since I collect them, I like to bring them out. If you look at pictures of us on stage back around the first & second albums you can see lots of old guitars up on stage. When the guitar would go out of tune, rather than stop and tune it, I'd just pick up another guitar. One thing led to another and I kind of got used to switching every song.
GC: What inspired you to use the double neck or multiple neck guitars? Is it more for functionality or is it more for the outrageous look?
Rick: A little of each. I never wanted to be like anybody else, but I also didn't want to be just some wacko. I'm not the best guitar player in the world, but I'm not the worst. I'm not the best songwriter in the world, but I'm not the worst. You know you add all the pluses and take away all the minuses. I always enjoyed how it looked and the sound. This one looked cool with that and that one reminds me of this. It was kind of unconscious. It just kind of evolved on its own over the years.
GC: What are the differences between the necks on one guitar aside from like a 12-string version?
Rick: On my five-neck guitar it's a 12-string, 6-string, 6-string vibrato, another 6-string with Tele-sort of single pickups, and a 6-string fretless so they're all completely different. They're all tuned to E, nothing odd.
GC: How is the fretless working?
Rick: It's very difficult! It's the bottom neck so I need to get some sort of arm extensions.
GC: What kind of amp rig are you running live?
Rick: I use my old Fender Deluxes with Electro-Voice EVM-12 speakers and also a Fender DeVille that runs into a Marshall 4 x 12. It's a Fender head and Marshall cabinet or an Orange cabinet, whichever one I feel like using. I'm also using a Gibson Goldtone, which is a great amp. It just has 3 knobs: volume, tone & reverb. I don't even really like reverb so I'm only using 2 knobs, which I think is great! I used to see these guys using Fender Deluxes back in the '70s and they just sounded so good. I used to see them in the studio and they didn't have to goof around with those amps at all in order to get a great sound.
||GC: So you think you are a less is more type of a guy?
Rick: Oh definitely, always. My only real effect is a Dunlop DCR-ISR crybaby rack wah. It's in the rack, but I got the pedal on the floor. I really only use it on one song. But my pedals kept going out. This one's cool because it only has one cord in instead of one in & one out. I've never been an effect pedal type of guy. I have probably 50 or a hundred pedals, but I just use them more or less to try out stuff when I'm recording.
GC: Tell us about your home studio.
Rick: I have a Mac Titanium PowerBook G4 running MOTU Digital Performer. I also have SampleTank and Ableton Live. I use the MOTU 828, it's FireWire so I don't have to have any sound cards or anything. I have a double rack mount shoulder bag, because the MOTU 828 is a rack mount and I shove a little M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard in there. I also use a lot of different stuff from BitHeadz. On our new record we took some of my ideas that I had on my computer and just dumped them into a Pro Tools setup or Digital Performer--some of it's on the finished tracks. That stuff came right out of my living room or my hotel room!
GC: Does your guitar collection come in handy when recording in the studio?
Rick: I think we had like 50 guitars in the studio the last time we recorded!
GC: Was the last record mainly digital stuff or did you track certain things on analog?
Rick: We did digital and analog. If you're monkeying around with a part, it's digital. There's not that many people who want to pull out a razor blade and start cutting tape any more, even though they know how to do it!
GC: In order to be able to edit, you'd always do things digitally?
Rick: Pretty much. We did some tape, too. Always drums and for the most part, the bigger guitars we'd do on analog. There's really no rule of thumb except for probably the drums. Sonically you goof around with everything anyhow--analog or digital.
GC: What's the decision making process as far as what guitars to bring into the studio? How does that contrast with what you use live?
Rick: We've been around for a while so we kind of know like, "We need a crashing 12-string Rickenbacker sound here" or "This would sound good on a Gretsch, but it would sound lousy on a Les Paul" or "We need a Hamer or a Fender" or "This one needs a 12-string bass" or "No this one needs flat wound strings."
GC: So are there guitars that are too precious to bring on the road that you'll bring to the studio?
Rick: Yeah, I've got some stuff like that. I've got an 1864 Martin Nylon String guitar, stuff like that. I'm also working with Taylor on a Rick Nielsen model--they're only making 100 of them.
GC: I understand you do the majority of the songwriting in the band. Do you have a song writing process?
Rick: I was originally writing maybe 80%, but through the years that's been changing. For this record, Robin, Tom & I worked on all the cuts. Maybe on next record, Robin will write all of them or Tom will or I will. Nothing is set in stone. We had 40 songs going into this record and we let our co-producer pick the ones he thought would make a good album.
GC: Is it much more of a collaborative thing these days?
Rick: Yeah, kind of. We've worked together so long and I don't even have time to go off alone & write a song by myself. Robin doesn't either, so if you've got an idea, you bring it to the table. I think we wrote 90% of this one that way, but you can usually tell whose idea it was originally by whose name goes first in the credits.
GC: Have you or do you shop at Guitar Center at all and what do you think about it?
Rick: I've bought stuff there for years. I've bought stuff for my two sons that are also in bands. And actually my neighbor wanted a set of drums so I sent him to Guitar Center. Another guy wanted a set of turntables and I sent him over as well.
GC: When your sons said they wanted to have a band, was there any sort of advice you gave them?
Rick: They don't ask me too many things! They just want to do stuff on their own. We've had them on tour with us and they're a good band, good players. Just like anyone, they've got to make their own mistakes. We're still making them! They're always going to be Rick Nielsen's sons. They can't help that, but they want to make stuff on their own and they do. The oldest of the two has done music for commercials and he's done stuff for ESPN. It's all little stuff, but you start adding it up, and before you know it, you'll have a resume like Cheap Trick. This is our 28th album! How ridiculous is that? We're going to play for you guys out in Vegas!