Making Hysteria – Creating History

Hysteria Album Artwork

STEVE CLARK should be regarded as one of the most influential guitarists of the 1980’s. His legacy is showcased on the work of Def Leppard from their humble beginnings in hometown Sheffield, until the international multi-platinum, state-of-the-art Hysteria album where the band’s career peaked at the top of the planet.

Although it’s never stated anywhere, it is without a doubt that Steve Clark was one of the finest songwriters of the 1980’s. Clark – a classically trained musician, had ideas. Ideas that were different and unusual, musically complex, and interesting. He had a great musical brain.

To date, Hysteria is an album that stands alone in it’s field. There is no other recorded album that sounds anything like it. It is unique and it is undoubtedly different. It’s a modern rock masterclass, with a classical influence and produced to the highest of standards.

The composition, structure, and arrangement of the music on Hysteria is very different to most other rock albums, which is primarily down to the musical genius of Steve Clark who is regarded by many as the life-blood of Def Leppard, and multi-talented producer Robert  John ‘Mutt’ Lange. I don’t take anything away from the other members of Def Leppard at all here, as all of them contributed to this amazing album. (e.g: It was Joe Elliott who presented the African Burundi style drum rhythm for the track “Rocket”). But I personally believe that the main reason this world has a Pyromania and a Hysteria to listen to is because of Steve and Mutt.

When you listen to the songs, it’s wonderful to try and pick out all the different guitar parts that merge, compliment, support, enhance and flow into and out of each other every time you listen. When Steve was asked once what the band’s approach to this album was musically, he replied with: “We approach things more like a classical orchestra…”

THE HYSTERIA SOUND:

And so people often ask: “How do you get the Hysteria album sound?”

This is a question which is near impossible to answer because of the fact that, in the studio, the band used many different instruments, gadgets, effects and amps to get certain sounds for certain bits of certain songs. As well as taking into account the unique and unconventional way in which certain guitar chords and notes were recorded, layered, multitracked and overdubbed. Steve and Phil would record pieces of music string by string and note by note to achieve the ultimate in clarity.

Those hours of sweating blood and tears in the studio produced some of the most mind-blowing and mystifying sounds and tones that have ever been captured on a record. The ultra clean, warm, liquid sound of the solo on “Love Bites” for example is something I have never heard any other guitarist get close to tonally. The album is awash with a plethora of guitar parts and tones to keep six-string fanatics busy in their attempts to re-create them.

Thanks to the recent release of his book Fabulist Icons – A Fragment of Rock and Roll Life, Mike Rogers, a former guitar tech for Def Leppard from 1982-1987 shared his story of living and working with the band through the “Hysteria Sessions” – one of the most painstakingly difficult and frustrating times of their career. He explains about many pieces of the puzzle that make up the ‘sound jigsaw’ for this album through the pages of this book, accompanied by some gloriously fascinating photographs provided by photographer Una Williams.

THE MINI-STUDIO:

Mike reveals that Phil Collen and Steve Clark each had mini portable studios constructed in 1984 which became one of the main tools for recording demos, ideas and experimenting with some sounds.

Phil’s mini-studio (pictured in the photo opposite) contained the following pieces of equipment:

  • Yamaha CS01 analog mono-synthesiser – The CS01 is the perfect mono-synth for bubbly and growling bass –  vintagesynth.com | The sound of the oscillator is however, real analog and “phat sounding” in a typical Japanese way, and it retains the classic analog sounds of the early 80’s – synthvibrations.com
  • Oberheim DX Digital Drum machine – A budget version of the famous Oberheim DMX model with different sound-set and a better pitch tuning management – polynomial.com
  • Fostex X15 Multitracker – In 1983 the X-15 was the first cassette-based four track that was truly portable – it ran on batteries. The size, weight and functionality quickly gained it the ‘musicians note pad’ nickname and its epitaph is that to this day it remains the No 1 best selling four track the World has ever seen – fostexinternational.com
  • Fostex Model 6301 Personal Speaker Monitor x2
  • Rockman (original) and/or Bass Rockman (original) – The original Tom Scholz Rockman includes an amplifier simulator, stereo chorus and echo. It has two clean sounds, along with “Edge” and distortion modes. The two clean modes are differently EQ’d, “Clean 1” targets the electric guitar, while “Clean 2” is recommended for a wider range of use, including acoustic guitar, keyboard and vocals. The “Edge” setting produces what is described as “subtle” distortion, that will clean up when playing softly. The chorus and echo are tied together, both being on when the switch was set to normal. The chorus or echo can be disabled, but not both at the same time.
  • The Bass Rockman features clean and distortion modes that include chorus. Dry output is available when the chorus switch is set to “off”. There are three EQ presets for what is described as “Fat”, “Mid” and “Bright”. There is a high frequency clipper, recommended for use with a pick or “snapping” the strings. There is a high frequency compressor and sustain switch, primarily intended for changing the sustain of the bass in different ways – wikipedia.org
  • Boss Chorus and Boss Delay pedals

While researching the above pieces of equipment on the internet, what I found interesting was that Fostex still to this day continue to produce the 6301 Speakers.

Steve’s mini-studio sported pretty much identical equipment, except his had different monitor speakers to Phil’s.

Joe using Steve's mini studio
OTHER EQUIPMENT:

Of course if you were to compile a list of  equipment and gear that was used for recording the Hysteria album, it most likely could’ve reached the moon. Such other items included Gallien-Kruger speaker cabinets and amplifiers, a range of guitars from Gibson, Ibanez, Hamer and Fender. Of the Fenders both Stratocasters and Telecasters were used. Some of these guitars were fitted with Kahler tremolo systems. Mike also describes in his book how he would be kept very busy at the studio as Mutt Lange would request various different changes of strings and changes of pick-ups, several times a day, to trial a range of sounds and tones!

An EBow was also used for specific parts of the Hysteria album, most notably on Steve’s wonderful intro to Gods of War.

About the photo to the left, Mike Rogers explained: “Joe is using Steve’s mini studio unit. This only caught up with us when we were at Wisseloord studios. You can see that Steve’s unit has different speakers to Phil’s unit, which had Fostex powered speakers. We tried to be versatile rather than make a duplicate. 

In the picture you can see a blue metallic box. This little transformer, loaned by the studio, raises the local 110 volt mains supply up to our equipment norm of 240 volts. Joe spent hours in just that setting, going through roughs of the days recordings or working on vocal ideas to backing tracks.”

Trying to achieve the Hysteria album sound is certainly not the easiest thing to do for obvious reasons, but with some patience and experimentation you can probably get something that will sound quite close.

A further reference to the Hysteria sound is an excellent analysis video by bwm5150, which is titled “String by String – A Def Leppard recording process?” Click HERE to view it.

MAIN SOURCE: Fabulist Icons – A Fragment of Rock and Roll Life by Mike Rogers.

Special thanks to Una Williams for her kind permission to use the photographs on this page. Hysteria album artwork by Andie Airfix.

Article by STEVE CLARK GUITAR In Loving Memory.