Def Leppard Hysteria

Def Leppard were established in 1977 and eleven years later in 1988 had reached the pinnacle of their career. Nobody can argue the fact that the Steve Clark era was the best and most successful era in this band’s lifespan. During that time there were four studio albums and it is remarkable how each of those albums were so different from one other. It truly was something of a developing, maturing, progressive musical journey which climaxed with the immaculate, state-of-the-art Hysteria album of 1987. Aside from that, Steve Clark can be regarded as one of the most influential guitarists of the 1980’s. He certainly should be.

Many people today still grumble about how Hysteria was far too polished and over-produced. I’ve often read articles and heard interviews over TV and radio broadcasts, from a range of different people, both fans and critics saying the same thing. Terms like ‘pop-rock’ and ‘bubblegum music’ have been heavily used to describe this album. But I’ve never quite understood exactly why. Out of all those descriptive words or terms, I’d say that you could perhaps use “polished” when discussing said album, but not really the others. Not for this particular album.

On Through The Night was over-produced. Which is why it doesn’t quite sound as good as it perhaps could have. But that doesn’t take away the fact that the debut album hosts a great bunch of melodic, energetic, hard rock tunes.

Hysteria was absolutely not over-produced in my opinion. Hysteria was perfectly produced. It was never intended to sound like On Through The Night or High ‘n’ Dry, nor Pyromania. It is however more ‘polished-sounding’ that it’s predecessors. But that’s the difference. It’s clean, it’s hi-tech, it’s bouncy, it’s digital. However, the guitars are still real guitars, and they are arranged and presented to the listener in such a pleasant and interesting way. It’s different… very.

Hysteria was (and still is) the ultimate modern people-friendly hard-rock album that Steve and co. sweated blood over to achieve what they had always hoped and dreamed of from the beginning. It’s unique because to this day there is no other hard rock record that sounds anything like it. It is a stand-alone record of it’s own kind that doesn’t really compare to anything else. It was released in 1987 after being pieced together using the latest studio equipment and technical gadgets around at the time in the mid 1980’s. To this day it still sounds state-of-the-art.

Whether you like it or not, it is a modern musical masterpiece.

The structure, composition and arrangement of the music is entirely different to any other rock album I know of and this I believe, is primarily down to the musical genius of Steve Clark and Robert  John ‘Mutt’ Lange. When you listen to the songs, it’s wonderful to try and pick out all the different guitar parts each 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…”

Another question that is often asked by people is “How do you get the Hysteria album sound?” A lot of guitar players and musical people in general are often curious to know what type of guitars were used, effects, amps etc. 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 the way certain guitar chords and notes were recorded, layered and overdubbed.


Thanks to the recent release of his book Fabulist Icons, Mike Rogers, a former guitar tech for Def Leppard from 1983-1986 shared his story of his experience with living and working with the band through one of the most painstakingly difficult times of their career. He provides many pieces of the puzzle that make up the ‘sound jigsaw’ for this album through the pages, accompanied by some gloriously fascinating photographs provided by photographer Una Williams.

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 to the right) contained the following pieces of equipment:

  • Yamaha CS01 analog mono-synthesiser – (The CS01 is the perfect mono-synth for bubbly and growling bass – | 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 –
  • Oberheim DX Digital Drum machine – (A budget version of the famous Oberheim DMX model with different sound-set and a better pitch tuning management –
  • 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 –
  • Fostex Model 6301 Personal Speaker Monitor x2
  • Rockman (original) and/or Bass Rockman (original) – (The original 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 –
  • Boss Chorus and Boss Delay pedals
Steve Clark, Mike Rogers, Phil Collen 1984

Mike Rogers flanked by The Terror Twins in 1984 with Collen’s Mini studio


Other equipment and gear used for recording the Hysteria album consists of the studio equipment, mixing desks etc., Gallien-Kruger speaker cabinets and amplifiers, Simmons electronic drum kits, Roland and Moog equipment, 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 described 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!

I have noted in some Ross Halfin photos taken at Wisseloord Studios, that the band had many different amps at their disposal, including Marshall, Fender, VOX, possibly a Boogie and possibly others.

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

Trying to achieve the Hysteria album sound is certainly not the easiest thing to do for obvious reasons, but there are ways to get your guitar sounding quite close.

Special thanks to Una Williams and Mike Rogers for the kind permission to use the photographs above. Hysteria album artwork by Andie Airfix