Cheap Trick lead guitarist Rick Nielsen has one of those gear collections that attracts a lot of attention. Like, say, the attention of History Channel's American Pickers, the hosts of which stopped in to Nielsen's Rockford, Illinois guitar gear museum to check out his hundreds and hundreds of guitars, including that famous five-necked checkerboard guitar that he played onstage alongside locals The Easthills and Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band at a show in Terre Haute last year.
We grabbed a bit of Rick's time to chat about his reality TV show experience and other collectors he admires – including our own gear-crazed collector, Colts owner Jim Irsay.
NUVO: Tell me about the American Pickers experience.
Rick Nielsen: Those guys were terrific. They contacted me first, and then they had two guys who came out to my house. At that point, I had a museum. They came there and said, 'This is perfect. This is perfect for [hosts] Mike [Wolfe] and Frank [Fritz].' Then about a month after that, they said, 'They're coming on Tuesday' – or whatever day it was.
We hit it off immediately. Mike and Frank never even came to my house. They went to my museum and then a few of the warehouses. Then we became fast friends. I've hung out with Mike a number of times in Nashville, and then Frank came to see us about two weeks ago. We played in Dubuque, Iowa, and he showed up. We're friends for life. Pretty cool!
They're great guys. I took 'em out to dinner. We went out to dinner right after, and I took them to one of my favorite Japanese restaurants. And I bought! [laughs] It was their whole crew, about a dozen of them.
NUVO: In Indianapolis, we have our own guitar-crazy collector, Jim Irsay, who has a huge amount of guitars. What other guitar collectors have collections you admire? I envision some kind of society of guitar collectors …
Nielsen: For a while there, there were a lot of collectors. I knew mainly the collectors that were musician collectors. That was very, actually, fairly rare. Randy Bachman [The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive] had a huge collection of guitars. Now, you've got Joe Bonamassa – he's way into it. As musician, to be able to go out and get all these guitars … [well] I did it when they weren't so expensive! The collectibles weren't that expensive. It was never about how many I could have. It was about stuff I would look for that I didn't have. Then before you know it, it got out of control. It's still kind of out of control. But the people that I liked, and that I actually did a book for, was John Entwistle [The Who]. I stayed with him for a couple of weeks in his castle in England. I did his book; it was released after he died.
There's a French guy that lives in London whose name is Armand Serra. He has a book called EXP. It's a two-volume set of his collection. His collection is unbelievable. Besides having cool stuff, he has the guitar that Jimi Hendrix had, that Keith Richards had, the Rolling Stones' amps, Ginger Baker's drum set. He doesn't just have a drum set; he has the Ginger Baker drum set. I know a few of those guys. …
I did a thing for the Washington Post; they called me up right before the sale of the Holy Grail, supposedly, the [1954 black custom] Les Paul. I said, “That's not the one.” [Jim Irsay] ended up buying it, but not for the two million dollars the guy was asking for.
NUVO: No, [he bought it for about] $335,000.
Nielsen: And he just bought the Prince guitar, too.
NUVO: And the Bob Dylan Newport Folk Festival guitar.
Nielsen: Yeah, that one was on Antiques Roadshow, that one. It was on one of those shows. He just bought the Prince Yellow Cloud. I think he paid $140,000 for it. I thought, as far as iconic things go, that was cheap! I'd like to see his collection. I'd like to see his collection of money!
If you go:
Cheap Trick with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Heart
Sunday, July 17, 7 p.m.
Klipsch Music Center, 12880 E. 146th St.,
prices vary, all-ages