A guitar Samaritan

Cheap Trick. Picture: Supplied

Rick Nielsen is a guitarist's guitarist. The unofficial title is not just due to the killer riffs the 65-year-old Illinois native has laid all over Cheap Trick's songs for the past 40 years, but also the times he has lent guitars from his vast collection to musicians in need.

The first such incident occurred way back in 1969 when Nielsen's all-time hero Jeff Beck broke his guitar on tour in Chicago.

Long story short, the young boffin flew to Philadelphia with six guitars to make sure the British blues-rock guitar god had a suitable replacement.

"I still have my ticket," Nielsen says from his home in Rockford, Illinois. "Back then it was a $21 round trip."

The future Cheap Trick guitarist and Yardbirds legend jammed together -"I remember it was all night but it probably wasn't" - and Beck ended up handing over $350 for a Les Paul.

"That was five or six years before Cheap Trick even existed and eight years before our first record came out," Nielsen says of the cherished memory.

Cheap Trick had released five studio albums and were firmly established as one of the top US rock groups in 1980 when Australian hard rockers the Angels' truck was stolen in Chicago.

As founding members John and Rick Brewster recall: "All our guitars, brand-new PA and our tour manager's washing went with it".

Once again, Nielsen came to the rescue.

"Luckily, they didn't get their stuff stolen in Florida because I wouldn't have gone," the rocker laughs, "but it was only 70 miles away from where I lived. I loaded up whatever vehicle I had and drove into Chicago. I wanted to see the guys anyhow."

The favour built the foundations of a long friendship between Cheap Trick and the Angels, who tour Australia together early next year. Cheap Trick last played Perth in 2008, on a double-bill with Def Leppard.

"One of the reasons we're coming down to Australia is I'm hoping to get my gear back finally," jokes Nielsen, whose favourite Angels song is 1980 single Marseilles.

From the Jeff Beck Group in the late 60s to Aussie rockers in the 80s, Cheap Trick's axe-wielding comic continues to be the go-to guy for big-name musicians. Foo Fighters are the latest to recruit Nielsen, who plays guitar on Something from Nothing, the opening track of the US rock giants' eighth studio album, Sonic Highways.

Frontman Dave Grohl describes the album, due in November, and accompanying HBO documentary series as "a love letter to the history of American music".

Sonic Highways was recorded in eight cities with Nielsen, who previously worked with Grohl on his Sound City documentary, tapped to represent Chicago alongside blues guitarist Buddy Guy.

"We hit if off a long time ago because Nirvana (frontman) Kurt Cobain was a big Cheap Trick fan," Nielsen says. "And then Bun E. (Carlos, drummer) had a back operation and we were looking around (for a fill-in). I called Dave's manager to see if he would drum for us and - bad news for him - he started that band that nobody's heard of, the Foo Fighters."

While new fans may discover this quirky guitarist via Sonic Highways, long-time devotees know Nielsen for his flipped-up cap, wacky on-stage antics and many, many guitars - most of them customised with multiple necks.

"Well, getting a five-neck is ridiculous, so I have three of them," he laughs before considering the prospect of a six-necked guitar. "That's stupid."

Cheap Trick had plenty of rock'n'roll hits, notably I Want You to Want Me from 1977 classic album In Color and late-70s favourites Dream Police, Surrender and Voices.

However, one hit rules them all and hangs around the band's collective shoulders with more weight than a 10-necked guitar - 1988's soft-rock smash, The Flame.

Nielsen concedes he never liked the song but it was the best of a bad bunch foisted on the group by their record company and pushy producer, Richie Zito.

"It's a hit and I'm glad we had it," Nielsen says. "Robin (Zander) sang it great, people love it and we sound good doing it. We recorded probably about 300 songs or something like that," he continues.

"We're Cheap Trick and the majority of people know about three songs and the real huge fans know about eight. There are 292 songs people have never heard."