Phil Collen is the lead guitarist of the legendary rock band Def Leppard. His new book from sister company Simon & Schuster Adrenalized: Life, Def Leppard, And Beyond is available wherever books are sold.
When it comes to getting your first guitar you’re usually feverish to get a hold of something and make a sound so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a ‘cheapo’ thing. You just want to get your ideas out. It’s about self-expression, artistic expression.
There’s a lot more that comes with it because obviously you want it to look cool. My first guitar was a red Gibson SG, which I pestered my mum and dad for from the ages of 14 to 16. They went into debt to get me that guitar and I paid them back. I loved Fenders and Gibsons and Guilds and all these beautifully, amazingly American guitars. I wanted an electric guitar. It had a look. It’s almost like a Ferrari or something. It had these curves and great lines. I didn’t realize it until much later that part of the appeal to me was that it was a piece of art but of course I didn’t realize that at 14. I just wanted to play guitar. It’s escapism, like flying. For me it was like getting a jet plane or a rocket and I could fly. That’s what it felt like. I still have my first guitar. And it still flies.
You don’t have to spend tons of money on getting your first guitar. There are people who say you have to have all these bells and whistles on your guitar but no, you don’t. Those are just options and all of that other stuff takes you away from the true purpose.
Pay Attention To The Set Up
You can get a really crappy guitar but set it up right – the intonation, the bridge, the neck, the frets and the pickups. A well set up cheap guitar can be way better than an expensive guitar that’s had no attention paid to its setup. Bear in in mind that it’s better to spend a little money to get it flying.
Play everyday and learn stuff that you like the sound of, not a thousand chords that you’re not crazy about. When I started I didn’t even learn whole songs. I just learned parts of lead lines I liked and chord sequences that I thought were great. I should add that you should sing along to everything. It will just make your guitar playing better and it will also end up giving you more confidence. That way you’ll be inspired all the time in different directions.
It’s so easy to ‘self-teach’ especially with the internet. I used to put records on and play along to them. Now you can have the most amazing guitar players in the world show you anything you want just punching something in on YouTube. For example, I had a hand operation when my tendon tore off the knuckle bone. I couldn’t play guitar straightaway so I went on YouTube and found a tutorial by Joe Walsh on how to play slide guitar. The result was a killer slide I ended up putting on Delta Deep’s ‘Bang The Lid.’
Don’t be purely karaoke. Learn to play music but don’t be a carbon copy. Make sure it’s about you and your expression.