Makin' Some Noise With Mike Campbell

The following article first appeared in The Official Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Fan Club Newsletter, Vol.2, No.1 (Summer 1996). Cathy Buffington generously gave us permission to reprint it here. (Thanks CATHY!)

*This is NOT a recent interview - it took place in 1996.

Steve Winstead, Mike's guitar technician was kind enough to answer some questions about Mike and his guitars for all of guitar-lovin' Mike Campbell fans. I also had the opportunity to ask Mike, himself, a few questions.In addition, Robert Dye of Guitar World magazine interviewed Mike a few years ago, and generously shared some of Mike's comments with me for this newsletter.

Cathy Buffington: What exactly do you do for Mike?
Steve Winstead:
I'm a guitar tech.

CB: In addition to going on tour, do you work with him while he's recording, too?
Michael is pretty much self-sufficient. He goes out and does like this thing with Johnny (Cash) or, like during the Wildflowers record Bugs needed some help because there were a lot of guitars out. Sometimes they start doing basics and they're tracking stuff and need an extra hand. Bugs is there year 'round. I just get called in on special occasions.

CB: Does Mike use the same guitar to record a song that he uses to perform it on stage?
Not necessarily. For "Breakdown" and "American Girl," I think he used a Broadcaster which he got, I think in the mid-to-late '70's. That's pretty much all the first, second, third record, you'll hear a lot of that guitar from Michael. That guitar is worth a lot more, so it doesn't go out. He used it at Hollywood (the Hollywood Bowl). The Way these guys are, they'll pick up a guitar and yeah, that's the sound they want, but they don't necessarily bring that guitar out on the road to duplicate it. It just depends.

CB: Do Mike and Tom have any favorite guitars now?
Tom likes that Toru Telecaster. And Michael, well, I don't know. He kind of changes - like he'll get a guitar and that'll be his favorite for a week or two and then he goes back to different things. I'd say his Broadcaster for sure, because it never goes out.

(From Robert Dye of Guitar World) Mike Campbell: It's hard to say which guitar is your favorite guitar. It's like trying to answer 'which is your favorite kid?' The Broadcaster is real special because it's one of the first guitars I ever used. There's two or three guitars I have that, if they were gone, I'd never find anything to sound like them. (The Broadcaster) it's a 1950 or '51. They started calling them Telecasters in '51 or '52. I got it when I first came to L.A. in 1975. I got it at Nadine's Music for about $600. It's probably worth around $25-30,000 now. I used it on the first two albums quite a bit. I played the guitar parts to "I Need To Know," "Hurt," "Breakdown" on it. I came up with the riff to "American Girl" on the Broadcaster. Tom played my Stratocaster for his parts on "American Girl." He plays my guitars all the time, particularly the Strat. I still use the Broadcaster in the studio. Actually, Tom used it for rhythm parts on "Mary Jane's Last Dance." I don't want to take it on the road anymore because about 10 years ago, we were on a boat in Japan and I took it out of the case and it was soaking wet, the salt water got on it.

CB: Does Mike modify his guitars to play them?
He's pretty good at just taking a guitar as it is and playing it. He can adapt to pretty much any guitar - string height and that kind of stuff - everything.

CB: Are there any special tunings he likes to use, such as open D or G?
Yeah. Open G for "I Won't Back Down" is about it for this tour. Tom has some stuff where he kapos the first fret - like an Open F which is just a regular E tuned with a kapo. That's for "You Wreck Me." I think it's just for ease instead of having the guitar tuned to a different tuning. He just tunes it to Open E then kapos his first fret.

CB: What does he use to tune up - is that you?
Yeah, I use a Yamaha PT4.

CB: What kind of strings do Mike and Tom use?
They were using Ernie Ball but they've started using D'Addario XL110s.

CB: Do Mike and Tom change strings often?
The twelve-strings - it's pretty rare that you change twelve-strings. They (Mike and Tom) don't like a really bright clean sound. Once a string gets older it settles in and sounds a little better. This tour I've been changing on Michael's doubleneck because he was banging his Ebow. He did an effect thing so we had to change more for that.

CB: Did he use any pedal effects?
He used a Rat Pedal for distortion, and old Cry Baby wah-wah, and delay was a Roland SDE-3000. Sometimes he used an MXR Dynacom for twelve-strings, but not much.

CB: What kind of amps did Mike use on the tour?
There's a late '60s Vox Super Beatle, a '62-'63 Fender Bassman, the '62-'63 Vox AC-30 and a late '60s Kustom Model 250. For "You Don't Know How It Feels" he used a Fender Deluxe with a Fender Vibratone which is a swirly kind of thing.

CB: When Mike changes guitars during a song onstage, is that always prearranged or does he ever just holler out for a different guitar?
Only if it gets out of tune (laughs)& bite your tongue!

Steve surprised me during one of our phone conversations about Mike's guitars in early May...

SW: Cathy, here, get it straight from the horse's mouth. (laughs) Let me rephrase that& here's Mike.
Mike Campbell: Hello

CB: Hi. Steve and I were talking about your guitars from the tour, is it okay if I ask you a few questions?

CB: Can you tell me about your Black and Gold Custom Rickenbacker? (Love Is A Long Road, Listen To Her Heart, You Don't Know How It Feels, American Girl)
They made it for me.

CB: Did you design it?
Yeah, well, it's based on a John Lennon-style body. And we made it semi-hollow inside and we put a hotter pickup in the treble position and we made the neck a little bit wider. It's a one-of-a-kind.

CB: How long have you had it?
Oh - eight or ten years, I guess by now.

(From Robert Dye of Guitar World)Mike Campbell: The Rickenbacker Company was making Tom a guitar around 1989 and they asked me if I wanted one. So I had them make me a unique one. It's a semi-hollow body with a wider body than most Ricks. The treble pickup is hotter than normal. Most Rickenbackers are good for rhythm but not solos. But with mine, I can actually play solos and it sounds good. It has a lot of bite. I use it for most of our live set.

CB: Do you keep different guitars for personal use in your room or on the bus while touring?
I usually buy 'em when I'm on the road. I bring the ones for the big shows and on days off I'll go out and buy guitars to have in the room.

CB: I was just forwarded a fan letter from someone who sold you a Stratocaster this last tour.
A perfect example.

CB: Can you tell me who your first guitar influences were?
Yeah, probably the first one would be Scotty Moore, with Elvis. Then Luther Perkins from Johnny Cash. Then, of course, after that would be the Beatles and Stones, Beach Boys and all those 60's groups.

CB: During the tour you were into a surfing thing with "Diamond Head" - are you into any kind of different mood now?
Mood - uh - mood - I'm in a different mood every day! (laughs) Well, we've got this one song that's sorta got that sorta attitude on it on this album. A little bit of a surf-punk approach.

CB: Is the album almost done?
I wish. It's close, yeah, it's pretty close