Def Leppard’s Collen Explains Why He Uses These Super-Thick Strings Most Guitarists Couldn’t Play

Def Leppard guitar champ Phil Collen talked about his approach to playing the axe, explaining to Nikki Sixx:


“Aggression. I use metal picks, they’re brass now.

“Heavy strings, I hit it, I attack it. 13s. It’s an aggression and violence. It’s a weird thing, but I’m getting something out.

“It’s kind of fun. And it’s really present, the sound of the guitar. [I can play fast with that] Shred like crazy. [Laughs]”

Asked on how long it took him to get up to 13, Phil replied:

“I was always aggressive. Gary Moore was opening up for Def Leppard. This is in the ’80s, and I got to jam with him in the dressing room.

“He had this famous Peter Green Les Paul [now owned by Kirk Hammett]. I said, ‘Whoa, it that that guitar?’ And he said ‘Yeah, wanna play it?’

“So we sat down for an hour, and I got a blister on my finger. And he was using 10s. I was on 9s at the time.

“I was like, ‘I gotta get 10s’ after that. And it just felt too easy. On one of the guitars I’m on 14s already, a Telecaster. It changes the sound. It’s really fat and you can really dig into it. It’s lovely.”

Asked on what his first guitar was, Collen replied:

“Gibson SG, 16th birthday. I went to see Deep Purple, my first concert. My cousin Dave took me. ‘Machine Head’ [album tour]. So ‘Highway Star,’ ‘Smoke on the Water,’ all of that stuff. Crazy!

“Front row. And it’s like Ritchie Blackmore smashing his Strat. I’m like ‘Oh my God.’ So for two years I’ve pestered my mum and dad, and I finally got it for my 16th birthday. Red Gibson SG.

“My life changed. It was all I wanted to do and it’s all I did do. I’d come home from school, I’d just practice and play.

“And before I’d be air guitaring. I loved Hendrix and all of that stuff. And then it kinda met in the middle, I actually learned how to play a little bit, and before you know you’re just in bands and stuff.”

Asked if he ever took lessons, Phil replied:


“Absolutely [I was moving the needle back on the vinyl]. I never really learned songs. I was really impressed when I got to the States because all these bands have played these songs, cover bands.

“And we didn’t really do that. We’d write our own stuff, straight off the bat. The punk stuff that happened in the ’70s, they were just like writing their own thing. But yeah, absolutely, you put the needle on the Zeppelin record and you like that bit. Or The Who…”

Asked on what his practice routine is like these days, Phil replied:

“I don’t practice, I play guitar all the time. And I sing all the time. We’ve all got better every year. I can sing way better than I did last year. Play way better, as well.

“I’ve just done this G4 thing in Monterey with Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert. It was humbling for me, just learnt so much. I was a bit scared at first…

“But I’ve done some songs, ‘Mistreated’ by Deep Purple, and ‘Hysteria,’ and everyone was like, ‘Whoa, we’re such fans of this!’ So that kind of changed. But it was so great.

“Tommy Emmanuel, who’s incredible, and Paul Gilbert, just being on stage with him… I went away with way more than I went there with. Actually learned a lot just from being around those guys, it was amazing.”


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