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“Cheap Trick” and the Track to a Creative Legacy

Collaboration is instrumental to creating your greatest hit

Rick Nielsen playing his custom five-neck guitar.
Rick Nielsen playing his custom five-neck guitar.

For the first time ever, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has welcomed a different type of art — a dazzling collection of rock n’ roll memorabilia from the last 60 years of rock. “Play it Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” features guitars, pianos and an assortment of gear from acclaimed musicians.

Rock is one of the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century. The instruments used by musicians had a profound impact on this art form that forever changed music — and fans have long been fascinated with them.

Adding to the appeal of this exhibit is that many of the instruments look closer to works of art than usable instruments.

A guitar played by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen stands out in this aspect. Designed by Hamer Guitars, the custom five-neck has been a feature in his performances.

Multiple guitars inspired Rick’s idea.

After a period of playing live with multiple guitars strapped on simultaneously, he began collaborating with Hamer in 1981 to combine all of his needs into one extraordinary instrument.

It’s compelling that Rick’s guitar is showcased next to the greatest art in the world. It warrants exploration into the ingenuity behind its creation, which is rooted in collaboration.

Collaboration works best when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other side adds. We take ideas we’ve gathered, bounce them off one brain and into another brain and blend them together into some new shape.

Collaborate and realize your idea like Cheap Trick:

1. Understand your use case and solve the right problem

The idea for the guitar came out of early Cheap Trick shows. During a solo, Rick would play one guitar for a section and then swap it to play the guitar hanging underneath, stacking up as many as five at a time! Eventually, this part of the show gave birth to the possibility of building a multi-necked guitar, with the original concept being a six-neck that spun like a roulette wheel.

2. Reach out to experts

“It’s hilarious that somebody listened to what I said and actually did something,” Rick said. Every expert has been through the process of knowledge curation and collaborating with them exposes us to the wide range of expertise only they can provide. Hamer was never daunted and managed to put Nielsen’s ideas together to make it work.

3. Iterate on the design

The five-neck guitar designed by Hamer.

The guitar’s birth was first conceived on notebook paper by Rick during one of his scribble sessions. He brought the idea to Hamer Guitars to build. The original design sought by Rick was a circular guitar allowing him to spin the guitar from neck to neck. The conversation between them was ultimately left in Hamer’s hands and the design was scrapped by Hamer due to weight and logistical issues. Other people are solutions to obstacles and the biggest challenge is determining what obstacle they’re solving.

Other people are solutions to obstacles and the biggest challenge is determining what obstacle they’re solving.

4. Never lose creative hope

The support of other collaborators in the process is important. Rick worked with Hamer to create a visually unique instrument that is totally rock n’ roll. It’s proof that (sometimes!) crazy ideas actually do come true. As the Cheap Trick song goes, “Everything Works If You Let It.” They had no idea at the time that this guitar would become as iconic as it has. Sometimes you get lucky.

5. Reshape culture with creative courage

Be daring, awesome and strange. Hamer’s Frank Untermeyer said that “Rick was out of his mind, but in a wonderful way. We were used to the fact that they set all standards for going to the limit. For this guitar, we cut apart five double-cutaway Hamer Special bodies and laminated them together, and then sanded in between the necks to get that sort of swoopy look.”

6. Conversation is an art

Rule the art of conversation. Rick’s guitar is an instant conversation piece that was built out of necessity — but is also considered a work of art. Art is an invitation to have a conversation. If you don’t have the attention of your audience, you’re talking to yourself.

7. Rewind, refine and break ground continuously

Your best work emerges after years of practice, adaption and refinement. According to Rick, Cheap Trick remains one of the hardest working bands in the business because they “Can’t go out and be crummy now. I don’t think we were boring back then and I don’t think we’re boring now.” Decades later, they’re fiercely dedicated to making sure that people are still blown away by each and every live performance that they do.

Play it Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” is on view at The Met until October 1, 2019. Special thanks to Hamer GuitarsRick Nielsen and Cheap Trick.

Additional sources: clevescene.com and guitarplayer.com

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