Rick Nielsen

Richard Alan Nielsen (born December 22, 1948) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, best known as the lead guitarist, primary songwriter, and leader of the American rock band Cheap Trick. He is well-known for his numerous custom-made guitars from Hamer Guitars, including his famous five-neck guitar.

Rick Nielsen
Nielsen playing at Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" show in Milwaukee, February 2011
Nielsen playing at Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" show in Milwaukee, February 2011
Background information
Birth nameRichard Alan Nielsen
Born (1948-12-22) December 22, 1948 (age 72)[1]
Elmhurst, Illinois, United States[2]
GenresRock, hard rock, power pop
OccupationsMusician, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, bass guitar
Years active1965–present
Associated actsCheap Trick, Fuse, Sick Man of Europe, Foo Fighters


Nielsen was born into a musical family, with both parents being opera singers. His father, Ralph Nielsen, also directed symphonies, choirs and recorded over forty solo albums. During Rick's teens, the family owned a music store in Rockford, Illinois, and he learned to play a number of instruments. After playing drums for six years, Rick changed direction, learning how to play guitar and keyboards.

His first school band was The Phaetons, which mutated into The Grim Reapers (which later included Tom Petersson in its line up). The Grim Reapers became Fuse which released one poorly received studio album before disbanding in 1970. Nielsen joined Nazz for a short time (replacing Todd Rundgren) before forming the short-lived Sick Man of Europe in Philadelphia in 1972 with Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos joining soon after. In 1973, Nielsen, together with Carlos, formed Cheap Trick. Petersson joined later that year, and Robin Zander joined in the fall of 1974. Nielsen wrote almost all of the songs for Cheap Trick's first few albums.

Nielsen has enjoyed many highlights with Cheap Trick, including having a #1 US single, "The Flame." Nielsen and Carlos were invited to record a session on August 12, 1980, with John Lennon for his upcoming Double Fantasy album. Their contributions did not appear on the released album, only becoming officially available in 1998.[3]


Nielsen's on-stage appearance is influenced by Huntz Hall of The Bowery Boys; he wears a flipped up old style ball cap, his face resembles Hall's, and some of Nielsen's on-stage antics have been compared to Hall's.[4] Nielsen is also well known for wearing a bowtie.

Nielsen's image moved away from the cartoonish look of the ‘70s in the mid 1990s, when he sported a mustache, goatee beard (often with a long braid) and dark glasses which gave him a mildly sinister look. That image changed again on March 9, 2001, when he shaved the beard and mustache off during the encore break at a show at hometown Rockford's Coronado Theater.[5] Since then, Nielsen has retained the clean shaven look, together with designer suits. In the late 2000s, he started wearing bowties again on stage.

TV and movie appearances and radio broadcastsEdit

Nielsen has made countless TV appearances and radio broadcasts over the years with Cheap Trick, on music shows around the world, as well as American late night shows with Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

Outside of Cheap Trick, Nielsen's credits include appearing as a hijacked car driver in the 1987 movie Disorderlies.[6] He and his wife appeared on HGTV's "Homes of Note" in the early 1990s.[7] In 1997, he appeared in Michael Moore's documentary The Big One. Nielsen appeared on an episode of The History Channel's show American Pickers Season 8, Episode 9, that originally aired on March 11, 2013. The show followed the standard format with the show's two stars, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, picking Nielsen's various storage units full of items he has acquired through his years on tour.[8]

On April 6, 2013 Nielsen appeared on an episode of NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! show as a guest on the segment called "Not My Job".[9]

In 2013, Nielsen appeared in Dave Grohl's documentary Sound City. In 2014, he appeared on the first episode of Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways, which focused on the city of Chicago.[10] On October 17, 2014, Nielsen appeared on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman, playing with the Foo Fighters.

In 2016, Nielsen made an appearance on the 75th episode of Live from Daryl's House with Robin Zander, and Tom Petersson. The episode aired May 5 on MTV Live and May 15 on LFDH.com.

Work with other artistsEdit

Rick has guested on albums by artists such as Glen Campbell, Buck Satan and The 666 Shooters, The Yardbirds, John Lennon, Hall & Oates ('Alley Katz' from the 'Along the Red Ledge' LP), Mötley Crüe, Foo Fighters, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, Material Issue, House of Lords, Hanson and others, while Nielsen-written songs have been recorded by artists such as Rick Derringer, and House of Lords.[3]


Rick displayed 34 of his guitars at a free exhibition "Customised Culture – Cars, Guitars, and Lowbrow Art" at the Rockford Art Museum, in Rockford, Illinois in February and April 2002.[11]

On April 23, 2012, Nielsen and the Board of the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford unveiled plans for "Rick's Picks: A Lifelong Affair with Guitars and Music”, an ambitious exhibit displaying Nielsen's passions for guitars, music and rock & roll. The exhibit ran from August 11, 2012 to April 14, 2013, attracting people from all over the world. Visitors were able to see a huge collection of Nielsen's guitars, personal items, stage clothing and Cheap Trick memorabilia, and listen to rare audio material.[12][13][14][15][16]

Nielsen involves himself widely in the local community in hometown Rockford, for example, being involved with the Rockford Icehogs charitable foundation.[17][18] In addition, he was a major supporter of the renovation of the Coronado Theater, and one balcony seat is covered in black and white checkerboard in his honour.[19]

Nielsen is co-owner of Chicago's Piece brewery and gourmet pizzeria.[20]

Rick Nielsen is a celebrity spokesperson for ROCK'N Vodka.[21] ROCK'N Vodka also partnered with Rick Nielson, Josh Bilicki and Insurance King[22] at the Daytona International Speedway on August 15, 2020 where Bilicki drove the Insurance King and ROCK'N Vodka car during the Daytona Road Course and placed 12th.[23]


Nielsen has owned about two thousand guitars over the years[24] and as of 2018 had about 500 instruments.[25]

Effects & Misc.
  • Crybaby Rack Mount Wah
  • Shure Wireless Units
  • Audiotech Guitar Products Source Selector 1X6 Rack Mount Audio Switcher used for switching between guitars.


Year Title Notes
2019 "Come Together" with Jones in the Grave[26]
2020 "Don't Let Me Down"


  1. ^ Nielsen, Rick. "Rick Nielsen :: About". RickNielsen.com. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  2. ^ Faioia, Ron (August 13, 2012). "Rockford Exhibit Celebrates Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen". OnMilwaukee.com. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Prato, Greg. "Rick Nielsen – Biography – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Seigel, Stephen (July 4, 2002). "Magic Trick". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  5. ^ "Rick Nielsen Shaves Braided Beard at Rockford Show". mi2n.com. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  6. ^ "Disorderlies (1987) – Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  7. ^ Cheap Trick – Tour of Rick Nielsen's House. YouTube. December 14, 2008. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  8. ^ Braun, Georgette (September 19, 2012). "'American Pickers' duo visits Rick Nielsen's guitar display and more". Rockford Register Star. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  9. ^ "Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick Plays Not My Job". NPR.org. April 5, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  10. ^ "Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways 01: Chicago". HBO. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  11. ^ "Rockford Museum". ctnewseurope.co.uk. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  12. ^ Spencer, Graham. "Rick's Picks". rickspickslive.com. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  13. ^ Stephens, Susan (August 13, 2012). "Rick's Picks: Cheap Trick guitarist's life on display in Rockford". Northern Public Radio. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  14. ^ "'Rick's Picks' opens at Burpee Aug. 11". The Rock River Times. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  15. ^ "Rock'n Roll on Museum Monday with Rick's Picks". This write life. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  16. ^ Graham, Jay (December 26, 2017). "Cheap Trick: Rick's Picks A Lifelong Affair With Guitars & Music". GrahamSpencer. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  17. ^ "Charitable Foundation". Rockford IceHogs. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  18. ^ "IceHogs News". Rockford IceHogs. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  19. ^ Sachs, Andrea (May 26, 2012). "Their Town: Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen rocks Rockford, Ill". Washington Post. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  20. ^ "Piece Brewery & Pizzeria: A Taste of New Haven in Chicago". Serious Eats. December 17, 2008. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  21. ^ "Talking Rock'N Vodka At RBI's Bar & Grill". MyStateline.com. February 3, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  22. ^ "Insurance King and Rock'n Vodka partner up for NASCAR". MyStateline.com. August 3, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  23. ^ "Josh Bilicki places 12th at Daytona International Speedway Road Course". Official Site Of NASCAR. August 17, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  24. ^ American Pickers episode aired March 11, 2013.
  25. ^ "Have guitar, will travel: Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen on his 500 guitars and the one that got away". Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  26. ^ "Rick Nielsen on Apple Music". Apple Music. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  • Hayes, Mike, with Ken Sharp, (1998) Reputation is a Fragile Thing, Poptastic, ISBN 9780966208108

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit