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Rockford Art Museum (A weekend in the Midwest) - 8-11 March 2002

With no new CT dates until the UK tour in April, I decided to have a short CT related trip over to the Midwest. In fact, it was to be a "Nielsen" themed weekend, covering food, live music, and a museum visit!

I had to be up at 3am on Friday 8 March, to get my 6.10am flight to Amsterdam and then connect on to Chicago. Whilst at Schipol Airport, I finally used some of my accumulation of KLM miles to upgrade to Business Class for the transatlantic flight. I could get used to such luxury, we arrived 20 minutes early and my luggage arrived too! Chicago was cool, but dry and mild.

Chicago friend Patricia met me at O’Hare Airport, and after meeting up with Rhiazann who’d driven down from Wisconsin, we all drove to the gourmet pizza restaurant that Rick N has an interest in. Piece is at 1927 W North Avenue, Chicago and it was fairly quiet at 4pm when we got there (in between the busy lunch and evening periods). The restaurant/bar was nice and airy with lots of exposed brick, and the small onsite brewery could be seen behind the long bar. We ordered a large pizza between the three of us… and when it came it could have fed double the number! The waiter struggled with a 2ft by 1ft tray covered with pizza!   Great pizza, and good microbrew beer too, well worth visiting though there's no hint of CT. They also sell Piece t-shirts, though not the large white logo on black as worn on stage by Mr N… I was told that only 10 of those had been made, and all given to him! But be sure and ask for your logo button!

I spent much of Saturday out and about in Madison, shopping for CDs and running other errands. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees overnight, and the strong biting wind blew the occasional light snow flurries horizontal to the ground. Brrrr! We left Wisconsin in the evening, and drove for 3 hours to Iowa City, reaching the Green Room on Gilbert St about 45 minutes before Harmony Riley were due to play. A typical bar in a university town, a fair crowd was there to see them come on stage to play around 100 minutes (across two sets) of old and new original material. Their second set ended with a very cool rendition of Baba O'Riley which segued into the latter, instrumental half of Need Your Love, a monster ending to a nice performance from the young Rockford based band. It was a long cold drive back to Wisconsin, getting to bed well after 5am.

Sunday 10th March was bright, and after barely enough sleep we headed down to Rockford to see the Customised Culture exhibit, featuring 34 of Rick Nielsen’s famous custom guitars, at the museum there.

Customised Culture - Cars, Guitars + Low Brow Art
Funderburg & Keller Gallery, Rockford Art Museum Feb 15 - April 21

The Rockford Art Museum is on North Main, close to the river and just mile north of the Coronado Theatre. Rick had kindly offered to meet us at the Museum and he arrived there at the same time as we did.

The Customised Culture exhibit occupied the two Gallery rooms to the left of the lobby. Entrance is free, though there is a donations box. A few customised "rods" took up the floor space, while the walls displayed a varied selection of pop culture art (much of it the sci-fi pulp sort featuring alien women with extraordinarily large and improbably shaped breasts) and guitars collected over more than a quarter of a century by our favourite guitarist. (At least one example crossed between the genres – more on that later.)

Rick volunteered the "50 cent tour" of his guitars, noting that it was Guest Curator Robert McCauley (mentioned in Bill Rich’s "Guitars of the Stars – Vol. 1") and not he that had chosen which guitars to exhibit.

The list of guitars follows, some with a comment or two of Rick's. As we started the tour, we were joined by other small groups and families who just happened to be at the exhibit that day – an unexpected bonus for them! Rick was gracious as always, making a point of including the little kids in his talk. (Note: Many of these guitars are pictured in Bill Rich’s book and the relevant page number is shown in brackets. A half-dozen or so are also online at the Cheap Trick site. They’re marked with a double asterisk and can be seen at

As artful as the photos are, they don’t show some of the work on the neck and sides of some of the guitars, and then, of course, there are some later acquisitions…)


Gold 1958 Gibson Flying Vee (p50)

Red 1959 Gibson Flying Vee (p51)

Red 1986 Hamer Birthday Gift (p148) – A pink and feminine-looking guitar, made for his wife as a birthday present.

Japanese Fernandez Paisley - Great and new looking though the design wasn't really paisley. More like psychedelic flowers in MANY colours, including Day Glow. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t have it under a black light, which, Rick explained to one of the youngsters, was the coolest way to see it.

Sparkly Green Fender Strat w/gold pick ups & hardware etc, originally made for Robert Cray - "He didn't want it, so they asked me if I did."

1985 Miller Beer Hamer (p147) **

1983 Kramer Axe (157) For those who don’t have the visual aid, a real AXE – modelled on some b-movie executioner’s weapon. A gift to Rick from Gene Simmons of Kiss.

1967 Labae 2x4 (p110) -- pretty battered, as due to its unusual rectangular shape, it has no case. Built in (I think) Green Bay, Wisconsin.

1968 Fender Paisley Telecaster with double stringbender (Pressing the neck or tail results in a different bent note.) (p93)

1966 blue Fender Swinger (p99)

1980 Hamer lap (p150), developed to use whilst travelling (to fit in overhead compartments & under seats), features a full-length neck and a body no bigger than a hand. "These days I just take a computer."

1978 (79/) Greco (p143) designed by a Japanese fan w/inlaid bow ties on neck. "They held a competition, and I liked this one. I had to change the head a little, and I used to wear bow ties a lot, so I had these bow ties put on the neck… The kid who designed it got one, and I got one."

1979 Green Hamer Explorer Coffee Table (p128) Not only sounds nice, but a great read. Rick picked out the news clippings that were transferred to the surface… the neck features a lot of the early songs on the neck in various typefaces, also a RN caricature on the back. Among recognisable song names - Surrender, et al. - is the word Ecstasy.

Charvel Dream Police girl painted by Shannon McDonald – This was the one that fit in with the pulp babes theme, sporting a bare-breasted Vargas-type dream girl.

1979 Checkerboard Hamer Flying Vee (p134)** More or less the definitive Rick Nielsen guitar, and pictured in Rolling Stone.

1994/5 Hamer WUWAM clown -- Cool graphic of the clown, a variation on the album cover. ("I know a lot of people hated that cover, but I always liked that graphic." It does look better than the album cover!)

1990 Hamer Busted (p154)** blue w/ Uncle Dick caricature etc.

1982 Gibson flag (p 153)** inlaid with chip of Mother of Pearl on Kalamazoo, where the Gibson factory was at the time. Rick asked for the dot as a custom thing; it wasn’t part of the original design.

1985 Synthesiser Sax guitar (p155). Back in the days when CT was experimenting with synth sounds, Rick had this designed as a sax, because "a synthesiser shouldn’t look like a guitar!" The mouthpiece actually lets the user make sounds.

1980 Hamer Beatles (158)** Seen in person, this has the Beatles' names on the bottom side, CT's names on top. Peer along the wall for the full effect!

Hamer One on One - This displayed the mirrored back, rather than the front. I never even knew this had a mirrored back, designed to be flipped up to reflect stage lighting like a disco ball.

Hamer orange 5 neck (p162)** The original of the two 5-necks that Rick owns. This one has now retired, and the checkerboard version (with larger body) is now played at every show. "Yes, the checkerboard is bigger. I decided I wanted it even bigger, more outrageous."

Fernandes triple neck – Three full bodies and necks, fastened together into a huge arrowhead shape with diamond-shaped metal plates. It arrived in pieces (a gift, I believe) and Rick had to assemble it himself. It looks completely unplayable at one end, and utterly lethal at the other.

Blue Greco RN model - (p 142) "This is actually a pretty famous guitar," remarked Rick. On the back cover of your Budokan album (the original) Rick is holding up this guitar – though it looks yellow in the reflected stage lights.

Fender checkerboard Baja - part sparkly red/purple check, b/w check plate. "This is a custom finish, and they don’t normally do custom finishes."

1990 Batman (p146) - #33 of 50. The set were a limited edition promo run.

1990 Joker (p146) - #33 of 42. This has a button on the face that can be pressed to make the Joker laugh.

James Troussard Steel Paul – "This looks like it’s all beat up, but actually, it’s made completely out of metal," Rick explained. The odd colouring was actually a patina. No idea how it sounds, but it was a real work of art!

1978 Japanese Yamaha Girl – A gift from a Japanese fan, who airbrushed the cream body with traditional Japanese woman (classical Geisha) graphic.

1980 Gibson Moderne-Korina (p52) An unusual modified vee-shape.

70's Beckvar with elaborate inlaid wood and ivory (152)** Another piece that looks more like a work of art than a working instrument. Rick notes, "Made by someone with WAY too much time on his hands!"

1965 Fender Strat seafoam green (p85) Rick took this to a Jimi Hendrix show in Madison, WI, hoping to get the great man to play it. Rick was a little surprised when he did, and more surprised that it survived intact!


The exhibit is really cool, and worth visiting if you are in the area! It was a buzz to see so many of Rick's guitars that are never or rarely seen in public. The "50c tour" was very cool too, though I can't guarantee that that particular guide will be on duty <LOL>! In fact, there isn't a tour guide, and no photography or video is allowed, which is a shame.

After leaving the museum, Rhia and I headed up Auburn St., then Spring Creek, and eventually found ourselves at the JMK Nippon Japanese restaurant at the corner of Spring Creek and Perryville, not far from the Cherry Valley Mall. We had a wonderful meal of various appetisers, including a catchy concoction of steak and scallions called "Rick’n’Roll," named, we had on good authority, for a certain well known local musician! The food was fabulous -- subtle, complex and impeccable, highly recommended! (Reservations suggested, more details here: We decided to leave the Beef-a-Roo on nearby East Riverside (with CT shrine) until next time!

I flew home from Chicago overnight on Monday 11th into Tuesday 12th, in the usual economy seat and managing not one wink of sleep! Caught my connection back to Leeds/Bradford OK, we arrived on time and my suitcase was 3rd on the baggage carousel! I quickly reached my car, drove into Leeds, showered, and was at my desk before 11am. I was glad to go home 5 hours later, to unpack and sleep!

Despite no Cheap Trick shows this time, it was a very cool (though intense) weekend! Piece was great, Harmony Riley were well worth the long drive to Iowa City to see, and the guitar exhibit at the Rockford Art Museum was worth the whole trip! Many thanks to Rhia for her hospitality again (and for all her help in compiling the guitar list/comments above!), and MAJOR thanks to Rick for popping to the Museum to say hello and give a personal tour of his guitars on display!

Kim Gisborne - 13 March 2002


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