We focus this week on one of the key
figures upon which the hegemony of the electric guitar has been forged in
popular music from the early 60s to the end of the 20th century: Pete
For the person who writes these lines he is the most important guitarist in the history of rock music if we leave solos aside or, to put it another way, the guy who has played the best ‘power chords’ in the history of the music that most inspires us and where, thanks to geniuses like him, electric guitars will always reign.
There are many guitar models immortalized by the leader of The Who that we can draw on from the concerts and albums that have educated us all.
Maybe we should proceed chronologically from the Who of Can’t Explain or Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere where the Rickenbacker sound predominated - perhaps the most characteristic being the 12-string 360 model - to advance to the 60s to see Townshend with a Gibson SG on his shoulder at the end of that decade, after having used in his recordings and live several Fender Telecasters, Stratocasters, Jazzmasters and other 'big guitars', like the Gibson ES-335.
With his Gibson SG Special we can see this artist becoming a giant on both the legendary Live at Leeds and for example in the performance in which The Who swept the Rolling Stones off stage in their own Rock and Roll Circus, to give two mythical examples in the career of the band.
At the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s and the total immersion of the Who in hard rock and operas-rock like Tommy and Quadrophenia we have to add to this article the power of the Gretsch when The Who recorded rock. While for neophytes it may seem like a type of guitar always linked exclusively to the world of rockabilly or pop, we would like to emphasize the incredible capacity to make open chords and noise in a hard rock song. Why do we know? Because Pete Townshend showed it to us by recording many of his most legendary and powerful songs like Baba O' Riley or Won’t get fooled again with a 1959 Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 that Joe Walsh gave to Pete Townshend together with a '59 Fender 3x10 Bandmaster amp.
What is certain is that during the 70s, while using his Gretsch in the studio, it was a Gibson Les Paul Custom or Deluxe that he used live; probably to avoid the always annoying feedback of semi-hollow guitars.
We can’t finish this article without completing the evolution of his main guitars with the model on which he has relied most over the last three decades: the Fender Stratocaster. To go even further, those of us who have had the opportunity to see Pete Townshend live and at retirement age can assure you that he now adds a remarkable virtuosity to his untainted fierceness when he shines and maybe that new and improved way of playing is what has led him to opt for this 'guitar hero' model. In fact it is the signature model of another 'guitar hero' and a good friend of his that we have seen him use on his most recent tours: the Fender Stratocaster Eric Clapton Signature. We have read that he takes up to eight models of this guitar with him for his concerts.
In the end we have not had space to talk about his jumbo acoustic like the Gibson J-200, or his legendary amplifiers Marshall JTM45, Fender Bassman or Hiwatt, or any of his effects; but we would need a whole month to be able to enter the sonic world of a man who caused the planet to tremble to the rhythm of his guitar, with a band that could hold the title of best live band in history. Pete Townshend is one of the biggest and The Who a band that, far from crawling onto stage like some of their contemporaries, are still today able to put each and every pseudo rock star in the shade. Be careful with these guys when they play live; they don’t take prisoners.