A Look At Pete Townshend's Sound On His 68th Birthday

05/17/2013
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(Gibson) Pete Townshend is a perfect example of the adage "rock 'n' roll keeps you young." Although the mastermind behind the Who and some of the greatest rock songs of the 20th century turns 68 this Sunday, May 19, he's in the midst of yet another world tour with his classic band, wind milling through the rock opera Quadrophenia in packed arenas before sold-out multi-generational audiences.

Townshend's electric guitar from the Who's first album, 1965's My Generation, through 1978's Who Are You had an indelible sonic thumbprint a savage howl of angst, dissatisfaction, anger and ebullient joy discharged through stacks of Marshall, Vox and Hiwatt amplifiers. Of course, his acoustic six-string playing was and is still indelible, too, but it's his formative and most influential electric days that created an entire school of rock rhythm and lead guitar playing.

Several of the things that made Townshend unique were within his physical approach to the guitar. His rhythm playing favors down strokes, with upstrokes often reserved for emotional punctuation. And his hybrid pick-and-fingers approach to striking the strings stems from his early experience playing banjo. That instrument gave Townshend a fundamental grasp of finger-picking and plucking, so he could palm or float a flat-pick on his fingers while tearing out, for example, the stuttering chords of "Who Are You." His skiffle music beginnings also developed the wrist work that defined his signature acoustic guitar strumming on the Gibson SJ-200.

Another part of Townshend's magic is his chord voicings. He used thumb fretted seventh chords and sustained fourths unsparingly, and even added an extra D note on the second string for his G campfire chord.

For the Who's first few years Townshend had been forced by poverty to play and plug into whatever he could afford. Initially, with his pre-Who group the Detours, it was a Harmony Stratotone he'd spray painted red, and then his first quality electric instrument, an Epiphone Wilshire he bought from Detours singer Roger Daltrey.

When Townshend heard Cream and Jimi Hendrix, he knew that a new sonic order was being established in rock 'n' roll and that he had to find his place within it. Marshalls did little for him, although he used them for a while and was a driving force in getting Jim Marshall to increase the wattage of his amps and the size of his cabinets. more.

Gibson.com is an official news provider for the antiMusic.com.
Copyright Gibson.com - Excerpted here with permission.

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