An Interview with Phil Campbell of Motorhead

They are Motorhead and they play rock and roll. Over the years, the boys in Motorhead have lost their love, their guitars, and their wallets more times than most bands. But one thing they have always held on to is integrity. Devoid of all the bullshit and drama of the modern music industry, they have embodied all that is real and pure about rock and roll.

Phil Campbell has played guitar with Motorhead for 27 years now (Motorhead itself has been around for 36 years). He has blazed new trails in the world of metal guitar playing time and again. His signature soundscape of soaring leads over raw, relentlessly heavy guitar rhythms has become the definitive sound for genres like thrash, speed metal, and heavy metal.

In the following interview, Phil discusses the band’s 20th studio album, the gear that sculpts his guitar tone, his extensive guitar collection, as well as the future plans for Motorhead. Let’s go over the gear you currently use in your live rig.

Phil Campbell: My number one guitar I’ve been using for quite a while is my LAG Explorer which they just made a signature series of. For amplifiers, I use JVM 210H Marshalls. I’ve got six or seven other guitars that I use on stage; I’ve got a PRS, a couple Les Pauls and a Parker Nitefly. For pedals, I just use a BOSS Digital Delay and an MXR Phaser. It’s a pretty basic rig, really.

My father was ill so I flew out from Los Angeles and I did all of the guitar parts in Wales. I used the Marshalls in junction with a Bogner Uberschall Amplifier; I used Blackstar Pedals on the album as well. I only used two guitars on that album; I used my Les Paul Silverburst for the rhythm and a Gibson 335 Reissue for most of the leads the leads. It is normal for you to only use two guitars on an album?

Campbell: No, usually I would use at least a dozen. But I wanted the guitar to sound basic and raw. It was the first time I had recorded by myself, separate from the band. I was quite focused. I would go see my dad in the morning and then go to the studio during the day and then visit my dad again in the evening. It was definitely different. I had never heard of LAG guitars before, why have you stuck with them over the years?

Campbell: They’re a French company and they came to me about twenty years ago and they showed me this guitar that they had made for some guy who didn’t want it. But I played it and I’ve kept it ever since and it’s been my main guitar for the last twenty years. Kids sometimes used to come up to me and ask where they can get a guitar like that and now LAG has started making a signature model based on mine and I think they’ve sold about 200 all together. It’s got one volume control, two Seymour Duncan pickups, and a switch so it’s pretty basic. I would imagine that the guitar didn’t come with Seymour Duncan pickups. At what point did you put those in?

Campbell: I put those in almost immediately and I’m not sure what model I have in the guitar right now. Most of the guitars I have now have Seymour Duncans in them. What has made you hold on to that LAG Explorer all these years?

Campbell: It’s just got to be easy to play. I’m not sure what it is about the tone that I’m drawn to. It’s like a girl, some you’re attracted to and some you’re not. I’ve just kept the guitar I’m attracted to, I guess. I’m told that you’ve had a lot of guitars stolen over the years. Are there any in particular that you really miss?

Campbell: Yeah, I’ve lost a few over the years. I bought Brian Robinson’s Les Paul, the one with the white scratch plate that he used on The Thin Lizzy album, “Live and Dangerous” [Brian was also a member of Motorhead in the early 80’s] and that got stolen. But I’ve got over 200 guitars left. What are some of the highlights of your guitar collection?

Campbell: I’ve got the Scotty Moore Number 1 guitar, they only made 12 of them and mine is the #1. I’ve got a Gibson 125 from 1961 which is really nice. I’ve got a ‘66 SG in Pelham Blue, all original. I’ve got an acoustic Gretsch New Yorker from 1948. Brian May is sending me a black version of his “Red Special” guitar and I’m looking forward to receiving that. Where do you find all of these guitars? Do you ever shop for them online?

Campbell: I got the ’66 SG online but mostly I get them from companies who send me guitars to try out on an album or something. I always go into the second hand stores; there are things you can find there that you’ll never see on ebay. You’ve been with Lemmy for 27 years now, that’s longer than I’ve been alive and I’ve got tinnitus already. What the hell?

Campbell: It’s lucky that I can hear you at all now at the volume Lemmy plays. I don’t wear earplugs because they just fall out. I tried the in-ear monitors but its too loud for that even. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Lemmy over the years?

Campbell: Just to be true to the music. We don’t write music for certain sects of fans, we don’t write songs for record companies. We just write what we think is the best music at the time and then we record it, put it out, and hope that people will like it. We learned to stop taking advice from people. I used to look at different musicians and I’d ask what do you think of that guy? And one guy would say it was shit and somebody else would say it was really good. I was always stuck in the middle wondering which was true. But the truth is that you’ve just got to feel it and stick to it. Did you always see yourself as a rhythm player or a soloist?

Campbell: I always wanted to be a soloist since I was a kid. Jimi Hendrix playing on the “Hendrix in the West” album - that’s what turned me on to the guitar. I like playing rhythm too, it’s an art form in itself, but I also like to play the leads. Normally at this point I would ask if you had plans for releasing another album but that’s a redundant question for you guys. You just keep on putting out albums. Is there a chemistry to that or do you just put out albums when you feel like it?

Campbell: We try to put out an album every 18 months. For the next album I’d like to do something a little different maybe a covers album. We’ve done covers in the past, we’ve done Judas Priest and Twisted Sister, and I’d like to do something wacky like a James Julia song or something like that. At what point did you realize that you loved music and wanted to pursue it professionally?

Campbell: It was probably when I was about 10. I started playing when I was about 8 or 9 and when I was about 10 I realized what other people were doing for jobs and I didn’t really want to do that so I turned to music and practiced hard and I hoped to get good enough to be able to join a band. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do it for this long.

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