August 12, 2015 in Blog, Historic Fenders

Mike Campbell – Broadcaster Breakdown

mediumTom Petty’s six-string savant Mike Campbell has built an impressive career of weaving his tasteful licks and phrases all over Petty’s classic rock anthems. Campbell’s signature sound and restrained blues-rock phrasing has inspired countless guitarists and musicians all over the world, this coupled with a stinging overdrive tone and his trademark bending and open-string licks. In many ways, Campbell has become the standard in which a modern rock guitarist plays their instrument. From the ringing diads, triads, and double-stop fills heard during verses and choruses, to the biting and soaring lead tones he uses during solos, Campbell has shown plenty of players how to weave around the vocalist during the song, and take the wheel during the solo.

One important ingredient of Campbell’s sound is his affection for using a specific vintage Fender, which has been his workhorse since the mid-1970’s. Campbell purchased his famous ’50’s-era Fender Broadcaster in Hollywood during recording sessions for Tom Petty’s first album in 1976. This is the same guitar famously heard on popular Petty anthems such as ‘American Girl,’ and ‘Breakdown’ from the debut Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album. According to Campbell, this is the guitar heard on every hit that Petty has ever released, including huge singles such as ‘Free Fallin,’ ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance,’ and ‘Refugee.’

After listening to these classic singles, you can definitely hear a common thread between these songs, even though there are decades separating their recording sessions. Careful listening will reveal the signature Broadcaster bite on each of these tunes, and it’s a treat to hear these songs, sounds, and solos knowing that the majority of this music features the same guitar. While the guitar remained the same, Campbell did record and perform using a variety of amplifiers and effects, although his use of effects and signal processing is sparse and rather limited.


According to Campbell, his Broadcaster was used extensively in the studio and on tour, until one fateful trip to Japan when the guitar arrived to him soaking wet with moisture from the salt air during the overseas transport. Campbell retired the guitar from the road shortly thereafter, and only used the guitar in the studio. Recently, Campbell has taken the guitar out of retirement and it has returned to the stage during recent performances and tours.

The exact history and date of this guitar is surrounded by mystery and speculation, as Campbell refuses to remove the neck from the body, or modify the guitar in any way. Reportedly the guitar was in need of a fret replacement, and although this modification/repair was allowed, the guitar is supposedly in well-worn, but all-original condition. That’s a testament to Fender’s craftsmanship and design, as this stock guitar has seen thousands of hours of use and abuse, and has toured the world numerous times. Campbell has completely put this guitar through the paces, and it continues to deliver, session after session and night after night.

There’s nothing like a Fender.


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