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How I Built My Own Phil Collen DT-555
18 SEPT 2015


DISCLAIMER: Mr. Sparber is sharing his experiences in converting his own Ibanez DT-555 into a more accurate replica of Phil Collen's famous DT-555. Neither Mr. Sparber nor TheDestroyerGuy are recommending or suggesting that you make any of these modifications to your own - or to someone else's - guitar. If you attempt to duplicate Mr. Sparber's modifications, you do so at your own risk. Neither Mr. Sparber nor TheDestroyerGuy are liable or responsible for any damage you inflict upon your - or someone else's - guitar, electronic devices, or body should you attempt these modifications.


Front Lane's DT-555

This is the main body of info I've gathered through years of obsessiveness...and some pics to illustrate some of the finer points of the modifications that I can identify on Phil's original instrument.

It's worth noting that Phil had at least four (4) different DT-555 Destroyers, as he states on his www.philcollenpc1.com website, however, they all had cosmetic and functional differences from each other.

Here, I am concerning myself with his main axe: the one he had made for him in 1980 while still in Girl. The one that was his main stage and studio guitar through 1984 or so. You know...the one used in the studio to track his solos on Pyromania with. The one in the classic videos from the era.

Kahler Advertisement

So, I'll start at the headstock and move my way down to the body.

HEADSTOCK

As far as I can tell, the tuners on Phil's main instrument are the stock Ibanez "Smooth Tuner II" machineheads in gold. These are fairly common and show up on eBay every so often.

The locking nut he has on this guitar is the Gibson/Kahler 5501 model. This model is extremely scarce, especially in gold. It was designed for Gibson guitars to fit around the truss rod cover, and it uses an individual locking screw for each string. As these are nearly impossible to find, mine has the more standard gold Kahler model with three locking screws.

Gibson String Lock    Kahler String Lock

It's obvious from pictures that Phil's main axe does NOT have the black composite nut that the production models had. His appears to be a custom made bone nut so I made a bone nut for my own instrument.

NECK

Phil's guitar had his name inlaid at the 12th fret. Mine, obviously, does not.

I've seen no hard evidence that his guitar's neck, fretboard radius, inlays (except for his name), or frets differ from the production models.

BODY

Phil's guitar uses a Kahler flat mount tremolo unit in gold. Kahler made two main models back in the day.

I have a vintage 2320 model Kahler tremolo, not the modern version, but I've found that a modern model 23xx, 4300, or 73xx Kahler tremolo would give the same look. The original 80s Kahler flat mount tremolos (like mine) had a flat edge along the backside of the fine tuners. The modern reissues have a curved edge there. The differing model numbers seem to correspond to different materials in the tremolo but the basic design is the same. These use four wood screws to bolt directly to an existing body routed just for this tremolo. See the image below left.

The Kahler tremolos that Phil's guitar did NOT use are the 22xx, 4200, or 72xx models. These are the tremolos made to retrofit Gibson instruments. They're easily identifiable by the "wings" at the back end to grab onto the existing Gibson's "Stop Bar" studs. That's NOT what I wanted. See the image below right.

Kahler x3xx Series    Kahler x2xx Series

By the few brief glimpses I've gotten of the back of his guitar (mostly through live vids) there seems to be NO rear cover plate or tremolo cavity at all on his custom DT-555. According to Phil, his tremolo unit was installed by Dave Storey of Kahler, who invented that bridge.

On mine, I had the whole tremolo cavity filled in and capped, all existing holes from the stock Ibanez Pro Rock'r tremolo filled in, and had the body refinished completely so that mine looks "as built" with its Kahler. Billy Penn from www.300guitars.com actually did the refinishing work.

Plugged Trem Cavity

Capped Trem Cavity

NOTE:

By just slapping the Kahler tremolo straight onto the body of a stock DT-555, the saddles will have to be set incredibly high to maintain any sort of decent action. This adversely affects feel and tremolo functionality. Kahler does (or did?) make a shim to correct this for certain installations. Mine has a custom-made, hardwood shim painted black to maintain the look of the instrument and provide the most solid body contact. As an aside, I can note that with all of that wood added back to the body of my own DT-555, I did notice a slight improvement in tone and sustain.

Sanded Body Front

Painted Body Front

Trem Unit Shim


STRAP BUTTONS: yes, believe it or not, there were a couple of changes here as well. For reasons that I've yet to discern, Phil moved both strap buttons to non-stock locations on his Destroyer.

The forward strap button was moved to the upper diagonal bout from the back of the neck heel. The rear strap button was moved from the lower bout (about 4" above the output jack) to the upper rear bout: above the little jog where the body widens out. My forward button is where Phil's is. My rear button is in the stock position. Why? Well, at the time of refinishing, I simply hadn't noticed that yet! I'll move it eventually, but for now I like the way it balances.

Forward Strap Button    Rear Strap Button


In addition, most photos I've seen seem to point to his using an early version of the Dunlop "plunger" style strap locks instead of the stock Ibanez strap buttons. While most pictures look like Phil is using the Dunlop strap locks, I feel I can't be certain from these pics alone. However, that being said, I do have pics of Steve Clark and his guitars from this era (in Ross Halfin's most EXCELLENT Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History photo book*), and Steve is certainly using the Dunlops, so that clinched it for me. It's hard to tell if Phil's locks were gold or not (I'm not sure if gold plating was even an option on these back in the day), but to satisfy my O.C.D., mine are gold.

CONTROL KNOBS: Phil used the factory brass Sure-Grip II knobs that came on a stock DT-555.


* Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History (Hardcover)
Author: Ross Halfin
Publisher: Chronicle Books (May 18, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0811879305
ISBN-13: 978-081187930


ELECTRONICS

The neck and middle pick-ups on Phil's DT-555 are the stock V-2 models. He's said in several videos and interviews that he only uses the outer two pick-ups.

On Phil's DT-555, an aftermarket cream colored DiMarzio Super Distortion Humbucking Pick-up was installed into the bridge position. It's obvious the V-2 bridge pick-up has been changed out because the two upper height adjustment holes in the mounting ring are empty and clearly visible in almost all photos of the guitar.

His guitar seems to deviate from the stock DT-555 wiring. In this Premier Guitar Rig Rundown, at the 26:42 mark, Phil describes the middle pick-up selector position on his original Destroyer as being "all three, or just the middle pick-up".

Well, as we all know, stock DT-555s won't do this. The middle volume control merely blends the middle humbucker into whatever pick-ups are selected by the master pick-up selector switch: the middle pick-up can't be selected alone. I did, however, get my guitar to do what Phil's does by simply reversing the wires going to the outside (non-grounded) and middle lugs of the master volume pot. This is similar to how Fender "J Basses" are wired. However, there are drawbacks to this arrangement. As the "hot" output to the jack now always sits above ground by the value of the pots (even with the knobs all the way off) there will be some noise. Also, if the pots are not in perfect shorting condition at ground, there will be a bit of volume bleed-through, even with the pots all the way counter clockwise. I tried this arrangement, didn't like it, and put it back.

Front Lane's DT-555

Back Lane's DT-555

Body Front Lane's DT-555

Headstock Front Lane's DT-555


ACCESSORIES

Phil looks like he used a strap with circular studs on this guitar. I have a pretty close replica of this strap.

He has always used metal picks.

He currently uses ultra heavy strings: 12s or 13s. I'm not sure if he used these gauge strings back in the day or not. On my Destroyer, I'm set up for 10s.

Phil says live and in the studio back then he used "two 50 watt Marshalls". Whether or not these were the non master volume 1987 or the 2204 master volume models, I'm still not sure. One thing I do know: the sound of that Ibanez through his Marshalls changed my life!



DISCLAIMER: Mr. Sparber is sharing his experiences in converting his own Ibanez DT-555 into a more accurate replica of Phil Collen's famous DT-555. Neither Mr. Sparber nor TheDestroyerGuy are recommending or suggesting that you make any of these modifications to your own - or to someone else's - guitar. If you attempt to duplicate Mr. Sparber's modifications, you do so at your own risk. Neither Mr. Sparber nor TheDestroyerGuy are liable or responsible for any damage you inflict upon your - or someone else's - guitar, electronic devices, or body should you attempt these modifications.



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Page contents last updated: 18 September 2015
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