I Want You To Want ‘Us’: Collaboration Works

The only powerpop band that matters, Cheap Trick, offers seven lessons from The Met

Rick Nielsen's five-neck Hamer Guitar
Rick Nielsen’s original 1981 five-neck Hamer Guitar on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Pamela Sisson for Fine Art Globe)

As readers of Fine Art Globe know, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently 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 just plain art—from acclaimed musicians.

The instruments used by rock 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 more like works of art than tools of performance.

A guitar played by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen stands out. Designed by Hamer Guitars, the custom five-neck has frequently been featured in his performances. He had three of them, but the orange one above is the original orange one that the company manufactured for him. One can almost hear Mike Damone selling Trick tix by extolling “the charisma of Rick Nielsen.” After a period of playing live with multiple guitars strapped on simultaneously, he began collaborating with Hamer in 1981 to combine his needs into one extraordinary instrument.

And now, Rick’s guitar is showcased next to the most lasting art in the world. How did this happen? Collaboration.

Print ad from 1998 showing Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick with one of his three Hamer 5-neck guitars.

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

  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 as many as five at a time. 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.

  1. 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. Hamer brought its core strength—design and manufacture—and managed to implement Nielsen’s vision.

  1. Iterate on the design

The now-iconic 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 sometimes the biggest challenge is determining what obstacle they’re solving.

  1. 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 crazy ideas actually do come true sometimes. 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.

  1. Be daring, awesome and strange. 

Hamer’s Frank Untermeyer said, “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.”

  1. 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 only talking to yourself.

  1. Rewind, refine and break ground continuously

Your best work emerges after years of practice, adaption and refinement. According to Rick, the reason Cheap Trick remains one of the hardest working bands is 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 remain dedicated to making sure that people are still rollin’ numbers, rock n rollin’ for each and every performance.

Rick Nielsen five-neck Hamer Guitar
Another look—one’s a 12-string, one’s fretless, one’s got a whammy, and so on. (Pamela Sisson for Fine Art Globe)

Pamela Sisson

Pamela Sisson is an art director, photographer and writer in New York City.

One thought on “I Want You To Want ‘Us’: Collaboration Works

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *