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Watch Vivian Campbell in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: The luck of the Irish. You're a metal guitarist and you land a gig in Dio at age 20. That's pretty great. You had to figure it was going to be all downhill from there, right? Well Viv kept landing on his feet and getting himself into progressively more lucrative gigs. From Dio to Whitesnake, a brief stop in the Riverdogs, then on to the pop metal cash cow, Def Leppard.

Infamous for: A.L.D. Like too many others, Viv seems to have lost his balls and his interest in being a gunslinging lead player. Except where noted, this profile focusses on the pre-ALD Vivian Campbell.


Obvious: Back when Viv was still interested in being a guitar hero, his biggest and most obvious influence was Gary Moore.

Not so obvious: There are bits of Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, and Ritchie Blackmore in there, and as a young Irish rocker, Viv was definitely influenced by Thin Lizzy too. Mark Bolan was Viv's initial inspiration to pick up the guitar. Since ALD took over, his favorite band these days is Crowded House.


Blistering speed. I'll never forget the impact Viv made on me the first time I heard him. I was watching MTV and that low-budget video for Rainbow in the Dark came on. Viv popped out of that doorway with that cheap, Japanese "prop" guitar, and the solo I heard just knocked me flat on my 19 year-old ass. I was on the way to the record store to buy Holy Diver before the next video had begun. That moment is still etched in my brain. Viv was the fastest gun I had heard at that time, plus he was ballsy, melodic, and tasty!

Attitude and taste: He started off well and improved as he got older. Up until around 1992, Viv had embraced what he'd learned by listening to Gary Moore's rock/metal lead style. Sure he stole a few licks too, but usually he did a good job of making them his own. Viv was always able craft a good solo and inject it with a lot of attitude.


As with his former hero, Gary Moore, we have a tale of two Vivians.

Before 1992

Songwriting. He's not bad, and he'd probably be good under the right circumstances, but Viv has usually been the junior songwriting partner in all of his important gigs. Vivian's songwriting credits are not as strong as most of his contemporaries from the 80s.

Vibrato. Early on in Dio, Viv had the underdeveloped vibrato that you might expect to hear from any 21 year old. It was just like Viv himself: fast, nervous, thin, and uncontrolled. Further, Viv usually blazed through his solos so fast that he never gave himself a chance to breath much less milk a vibrato. A good example of this is the solo in Don't Talk to Strangers — which blazes — but where would you fit a vibrato? You'll see further evidence if you can find a copy of the Dio - A Special from the Spectrum video from the Last in Line tour. By the time of the Sacred Heart tour, Viv had toured a lot, had gotten his shit together and sounded much more seasoned in all aspects of his style.

After 1992

ALD plus complacency. What the hell is Viv doing? Look, I cannot fault him for taking the Def Leppard gig. It's a great gig. It probably pays quite well, and they only work once a decade. But beyond that, I don't get it. Viv is a way better lead player than Phil Collen, yet Collen seems to take most of the guitar solos. If that's the reality of the gig, fine, but is it really getting his creative rocks off? Viv should have gobs of time on his hands for other projects. So where are the solo albums? Where is the Riverdogs reunion? He's done the odd tribute album track here and there, but there are a zillion things he could do. Instead, he fronts this LA club band called Clock, and from what I understand, he doesn't play much/any lead.

So why is Viv creatively satisfied? Because he doesn't seem to care much about lead guitar anymore. In a November 1992 interview from Guitar School Magazine, Viv said: Look at a player like the Edge. I'm a big U2 fan. Coming from Ireland, I remember seeing U2 when they played bars and stuff. At that time I was totally stuck in the "if he can't play a solo he's crap" mentality. Buy my thinking has come full circle. You've got 22 or 24 frets and six strings, so with all the different sound colorations you can get, there's a lot more than can be dong besides whizzing through a bunch of scales.

Oh, please! Sorry Alex — I mean Viv — that shit doesn't flush around here. If a guy can't play a solo he may not be crap, but the guy who can play a solo (too) is a better guitarist than the guy who can't. What guys like Lifeson and Campbell can't get through their skulls is that with the talent they possess, they should be able to do both. You can come up with interesting rhythms and take a hot solo too. Viv possesses a lead guitar talent on a level that most players don't and and he's not using it. That's advanced A.L.D.


Viv showed up on Dio's doorstep with his only guitar — a black Les Paul (shown above). He used this guitar to record Holy Diver. Then, like most of his early 80s contemporaries, Viv soon switched to super strats with Floyds — a variety of custom painted Charvels, and later, the Buddy Blaze/Kramer Nightswan. Later still, he moved on to Andersons for his Strat-style guitars. These days Viv has come back full circle to mostly Les Pauls in the Def Leppard era.

Viv's tone in Dio was that typical, skritchy JCM800 (100 watt) tone with too much preamp gain. In Viv's defense, these were the amps he was given to work with, and even at the time, he didn't seem particularly enamored with them. Even with his Les Paul on Holy Diver, the tone is thin and kind of grating. The Last in Line is even thinner-sounding as Viv had switched to the Charvels with the Floyds by then. These were certainly the popular guitar-of-choice for live work at the time, but they didn't record particularly well unless you got a particularly good-sounding one.

It's funny, though. I really liked Viv's tone in Dio at the time, but when I listen to it now, I find that guitar sound very harsh, and abrasive. There's real lack of warmth to it. It was drier than the tones Warren DiMartini, and George Lynch were using at the time, but not as dry as Jake E. Lee's tone in Badlands.

Live, Viv used a Boss graphic EQ to boost his mids and a Boss Overdrive pedal. He ran a stereo rig, half dry, half effected, and like most of his contemporaries of the day, Viv got increasingly into rack mounted signal processing effects such as Lexicon delays and Eventide harmonizers.

In Whitesnake, Viv was using and endorsing solid state rack-mounted Randalls. By the time of Riverdogs and Shadow King, he was using a Tom Anderson V.C. Custom guitar, through a combination of Randalls, CAE preamps, and Soldanos. He used Randall cabinets, and a Bradshaw box to run his various effects. Viv's tone with this setup was much warmer, smoother and more pleasing than his Dio tone.

These days, Viv's come full circle back to Les Pauls and Marshalls. Unfortunately, his tone is buried in Def Leppard's indistinct wash of sound — a sound that's so edge-less and overproduced that it'll even make a Boston album sound raw.

Guitar Style

Before 1992

Viv was one of the new wave metal gunslingers who exploded on the scene in the early 80s. That group included guys like Warren DiMartini, Jake E. Lee, George Lynch, John Norum, John Sykes, Brad Gillis, and Jeff Watson. Viv was actually younger than most of these players.

A very unschooled player. In his earliest magazine interviews, Viv couldn't really articulate how he accomplished much of anything he did — from the scales and techniques he used, to how he got his tone in the studio. He obviously knew the basics on the instrument, but Viv was clearly an intuitive player who relied a lot on his ears. He was so young and green that in the studio, he left his sound in the hands of Ronnie and the producers — at least early on. By the time he was doing interviews in Whitesnake, Viv had formed his own ideas and claimed that Dio had wanted to control everything about him in the studio.

Rhythmically, Viv doesn't offer much more than the standard rock/metal fare of root 5 and root 6 bar and power chords plus the folk chords. He once commented that he used his pinky where most players use their ring fingers, and that his own third finger seemed more in the way than helpful.

Viv's lead style — particularly in Dio, was very aggressive and firey, though it was more ballsy than sexy. Characteristic Vivian Campbell trademarks included lots of squeals and pinch harmonics. He liked double stops, octave runs, and string skipping. The Gary Moore influence can be heard in Viv's frequent use of palm muting, staccato runs, and muted flurries.

Viv's solos were usually composed, and well thought out. He tended to start slowly and build to a crescendo. Again, in Viv, this approach clearly came from Gary Moore. One of the best early examples is the solo on The Last in Line.

By the time of the Riverdogs album,Viv had matured a lot. He was less metal and less frantic. All aspects of his technique became more refined and controlled. He retained his flash and speed, but was generally more tasty, bluesy, melodic and purposeful. He became more interested in melody and feel. He took his time more. His solos were shorter and more to the point. He'd get in, shoot his load and get out. At this point he was also using some wah — which he hadn't done in Dio.

Scale wise with Viv, you get mostly what you got with Gary Moore — Minor Pentatonic, Aeolian, some Dorian. In Riverdogs, freed from the gloom and doom vibe of Dio's music, Viv used a lot more Major Pentatonic — and very effectively.

Viv uses some legato on his Pentatonic licks but he was mostly a blazing alternate picker — particularly in Dio.

After 1992

Who cares? Really. Viv has become an accompanist in Def Leppard. Very occasionally, he'll will get a tasty moment, but more often you'll hear pathetic 4 bar solos (Goodbye, To Be Alive). The truth is Viv doesn't play much lead guitar anymore, and when he does, there's nothing there to excite or interest a Dinosaur Rock Guitar fan. You won't find any Def Leppard albums under Viv's Recommended Listening section.

In the same Guitar School interview from 1992, Viv said:

Phil is definitely the solo guitar player in the band. He always played the most solos. He's a much better soloist than me. He's got alternate-picking down to where he can really blaze over fast-tempo songs. I find it very difficult to play over high-speed songs, because I play more legato style. Therefore, I prefer to solo on ballads, mid-tempo songs and things like that.


What the hell has Viv been smoking? He's demented. Phil Collen is a solid player, but Viv's chops and early lead work simply pisses rings around anything Collen's ever done!


Viv doesn't use much finger vibrato compared to most guys. It never seemed to be a big part of his style. As stated earlier, in early Dio, Viv's vibrato was fast, thin, and uncontrolled. As he matured, he got the vibrato under control, but it's still pretty quick and not real wide. Kind of a quick, stinging vibrato. In the past, he used the whammy more, but was never a real whammy abuser. Now he's pretty much a Les Paul player.

Vivian Campbell in Action

Video file

Recommended Listening




Profile by Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.