Few bands can say they’ve created such a large catalog of legendary arena rock songs like Def Leppard.
Their use of catchy melodies, forward-thinking production techniques, and huge energetic live performances have made them one of the most popular rock bands of all time.
But even more notable is their guitar tone, which can only be described as quintessentially ’80s. Huge saturation, and big open chords all combined with fantastic lead work culminate to create the Def Leppard sound.
Want to achieve such a tone for yourself? Then keep reading as I’m going to detail exactly what you need to do to emulate the guitar tones of Def Leppard guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell.
Table of Contents
- Def Leppard Amp Settings
- Old and New School
Def Leppard has used a lot of guitars throughout their career, but the two most important brands that spring to mind are Charvel and Jackson guitars.
Both were huge guitar brands in the 80s and played pivotal roles in the creation of Def Leppard’s iconic sound.
Phil Collen PC1 (Jackson Signature Model)
After having worked with Jackson since the mid-’80s and used their instruments to write and record with for many years, he was eventually afforded the opportunity to make his own signature model with them.
Fundamentally it was based on the classic Dinky model with the non-pointed headstock.
The Phil Collen PC1 uses a mahogany body with a gorgeous caramelized flame maple neck which has graphite reinforcement for ultimate stability. There’s a DiMarzio Super 3 in the bridge, a DP116 in the middle, and PC1 Sustainer in the neck.
Being USA-made custom guitars, there’s a pretty hefty price tag that comes with these instruments. So something like an X series soloist can make a much more affordable alternative.
Gibson Les Paul Silverburst
While Vivian has used various guitars throughout his career, the one that’s seeing the most use these days is the Gibson Les Paul, specifically his stock Silverburst custom.
Vivian noted that he prefers lighter Gibsons due to his multiple back surgeries and the tune-o-matic style bridges felt best for him.
Silverburst Les Pauls can be difficult to find, but one production model that’s easily accessible is Adam Jones’s signature guitar or something like an Epiphone Les Paul works great if you’re not particularly hung up on the silver finish.
Def Leppard tuning has been a huge point of confusion for fans. While the intention was always to tune to E standard, due to some unfortunate circumstances in the studio a few instruments were recorded out of tune.
So you can use E standard as your starting point, but you may find yourself tuning 25-50 cents flat depending on the song. Just use your ear here!
Def Leppard were huge proponents of traditional tube amplifiers. However, they have not been averse to keeping up with the times and using modern technology as it’s been made available.
It’s not unusual to see them using top-end amp modelers to achieve their soaring guitar tones.
Blackstar Silverline Stereo Deluxe
Since its release, Phil started to use the Blackstar Silverline series of digital combo amps. Having mentioned that they allow him to get a sound that represents exactly what he’s going for almost instantly.
It’s a modeling amplifier with various voicings that range from clean and crunch all the way to overdriven. Not only that, but they have a range of in-built effects making it a fully functional rig in a box.
All of these voicings and effects can be mixed and matched, then split and assigned over 4 channels.
Fractal Audio Axe FX
In recent years we’ve seen both Collen’s and Campbell’s rack units begin to utilize the Axe FX II, which is another high-end digital modeling amplifier that can allow you to get any kind of tone you want, and then combine it with any effects and route it in any way you can imagine.
One thing that’s important to note is they will still run this in tandem with a Marshall JMP 1 pre-amp which feeds a Randall stereo power amp which then goes on to power the stage monitors.
So you have the Axe FX feeding the front of house, while the JMP-1 feeds the on-stage cabinets.
This means the tone you hear as an audience member listening to the PA is from the Axe FX, while what the band hears on stage (purely for monitoring) is the Marshall JMP 1.
Marshall JMP 1
Even before Vivian began to use modelers, they were fans of smaller-format rack setups. One unit that saw heavy use was the Marshall JMP 1 which is a programmable preamp designed to emulate the tonal qualities of the bigger Marshall heads.
One thing that’s unique about their JMP 1’s specifically is that they were modded by Voodoo Amps to sound darker than normal. This might seem odd as they are not particularly known for being harsh or fizzy.
The main reason for this is that they were not using cabs at that time and instead ran through speaker simulators which naturally introduced a lot of brightness to the tone, so the mods helped to counteract this a bit.
Rack pre-amps are less popular (and as such are less available) these days. So if you want to emulate this sound for yourself the Victory Kraken Preamp offers the same classic British tone and distortion but in a pedal format.
Marshall JCM 800
The Marshall JCM 800 is a legendary British amplifier that offers a no-fuss route to great overdriven tones.
Although Def Leppard has leaned away from big tube amps over time, back in the very early 80’s around the Pyromania album cycle the JCM 800 was Phil Collen’s amp of choice.
The JCM still carries its high price tag, so Marshall offers a bunch of small affordable solid-state combo amps such as the Marshall MG30GFX which offer surprisingly comparable tones considering the cheap price tag.
Def Leppard Amp Settings
Dep Leppard encompasses that typical 80’s scooped mids shred kind of tone you’d see many of the Shrapnel records guitarists use.
So you can have a lot of fun cranking the gain and introducing a bit of the extra hair on the top end to make a larger than life guitar tone.
Gain: 8 – A very serious boost to the gain here is going to get you all the sustain, saturation, and life that you need to fill up a venue. But you’ll need to stop before hitting 10 so you can retain a certain degree of articulation and clarity in the sound.
Bass: 4 – Def Leppard’s tone is not particularly bass-heavy, but there is a fair amount of girth to the sound. So you want to let the bass guitar handle the majority of this area.
Mids: 3.5 – This is where things are going to get distinctly Def Leppard-y. Scooping out the mids is going to give things more of that hi-fi sound we associate with their style so much.
Treble: 6.5 – Despite scooping the mids, we’re not actually looking for a dark tonality. It needs plenty of hair, grit, teeth, and attitude which we get back with a healthy top-end boost.
Most of the rhythm section here is playing chords on the higher strings. So you can introduce some more mids and roll back the gain a bit to get some extra clarity and help the chords be a bit more distinguishable.
Rock of Ages
Unlike a lot of their other songs, Rock of Ages has a much more stringy quality to the sound. So once again you can pull the gain way back and up the treble.
As Def Leppard are very open to using amp modeling technology, most of the time their wet modulation effects can simply come from those units and be controlled via a footswitch.
However, if you go back further into their career, before the advent of high-end modelers, you will see some rack effects being used.
TC Electronic 1210
This is an interesting unit that essentially combines 3 effects into one.
The first two effects are a chorus and flanger which are commonly used for this style of music and work great for injecting extra life into a solo or rhythm section.
The third effect is a stereo expander which helps you spread a mono guitar signal by doubling it, delaying one side slightly, and then panning both signals out.
This can be great when used live as it allows a single rhythm guitarist to fill up the whole stereo field while the second guitarist is doing a lead or solo down the center.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find a hardware version of this nowadays, there is a great TCE TC1210 plugin available that mimics the analog circuitry of the original.
TC Electronic D-Two Delay
Another classic delay sound that was popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Phil would use two of them to achieve interesting delay patterns you couldn’t achieve with a single unit.
Sourcing these today is also very challenging but TCE makes some great modern pedals that can serve as fantastic alternatives such as the Flashback 2 delay and looper.
While most modelers these days have full effects suites built straight into them. In the earlier days of Def Leppard, they would use multi-fx units in place of them.
The Intellifex was just that, an all-in-one effects processor that was digital and easily controlled by something like a midi footswitch.
These days the rack format is far less popular and lost the battle over floor units, so the Line 6 POD carries a comparable set of effects provided you don’t mind sacrificing the rack format.
Rockman Acoustic Guitar Pedal
Def Leppard used some acoustic guitars in the studio but didn’t always have to have acoustic guitars out on the stage with them.
So the Rockman Acoustic Guitar Pedal was designed to emulate the sound of an acoustic guitar through an electric. While the sound is not exactly perfect, for many guitarists it’s acceptable enough to be worth not dealing with real acoustics on stage.
The Rockman Acoustic has been discontinued for a long time, but Boss offers a great modern acoustic simulator pedal with the Boss AC-3.
Old and New School
I’m always impressed with how Def Leppard has evolved over the years. Unlike other bands who land upon a set of equipment and use it throughout the entirety of their career. Def Leppard has done a great job of utilizing modern technology to keep their setups current and convenient.
This is great for us as Def Leppard fans as it’s very easy to go and achieve these same tones using modern equipment you can find at any guitar store today.
I hope you find the information shared today helpful, and have fun making some of these classic arena rock tones for yourself!