Re-Bias While Playing, Blood on His Guitars…
Performing Musician recently posted an interview with Michael Kaye, who is Pete Townshend’s amp/electonics tech and is a guitar tech for other bands (Springsteen, Bon Jovi, others): Alan Rogan has been Pete’s guitar tech since 1977.
“Alan takes care of Pete’s guitars — the tuning, the guitar changes, the strings, the stretching and all that stuff,” Michael said. “My responsibility is to take care of Pete’s amps and pretty much everything involving the electronics, from the pickups — the magnetics and the piezo in the bridge — all the way through to the speakers.”
The interview dishes up many details about what Pete is using gear-wise right now, so here you go. (All quotes below are from Michael.) I had no idea Pete was all Fender now.
> Guitars: Fender Strats (Clapton signatures?) with a Fishman Power Bridge [gives a piezo signal for Pete's acoustic sounds], gold Lace Sensor pickups and an on-board Fender preamp which gives a 25dB boost. Apparently guitar tech Alan Rogan turned Pete onto these guitars (see vid at bottom).
> Boxes: The guitar goes to a Pete Cornish [sort of the Bob Bradshaw of England] splitter box, and the piezo goes through to two DIs — a main and a spare. “The main is a tube Demeter DI and the spare is a Fishman Platinum Pro DI. We have had problems in the past with valve DIs failing, and that’s why we have two of them in the signal path at all times, so if there’s a problem we can switch to the spare. The magnetic signal from the pickups goes through the Pete Cornish splitter and then out to a Pete Cornish pedalboard, which has a compressor, an overdrive and a delay in it. Then the signal goes back to the splitter box, which splits his signal to a number of amplifiers.”
> Amps: Pete uses Fender Vibro-King amps, which are 60-watt (two 6L6s) combo amps with three 10-inch speakers. He runs his amps with a 2×12 extension cab underneath each, and has four stacks: “The front two stacks are used through the show, while the rear stacks are spares.” Apparently he’s been using these amps since 1998. Here’s a quote from the 2003 Fender catalog: “They do exactly what I need. Remember that the first Marshall amps were very close emulations themselves of the Fender amps I first used — and which I asked Jim Marshall to make ‘10 times as loud!’ Today, this rig fills every hall I come across. There are very few products Fender has made – even in bad times – which were ugly. This amplifier is so pretty I have one in my living room next to the expensive furniture. It reminds me why I wanted to play guitar in the first place. I thought I looked prettier with a guitar. I do. But with a Fender Strat and a Vibro-King I’m as cool, as irresistible as James Dean.”
Townshend Tech Stories
> On making sure Pete is is happy with his tone: “It’s knowing what’s going on and if things don’t seem to be going right. If you listen to Pete play, you can sometimes tell when he’s not comfortable with the situation. Then it’s a matter of going out and seeing if you can find what doesn’t seem to be working and any kind of resolution. During the show, we have re-tubed and/or re-biased Pete’s amps on a number of occasions.”
> “During one of the last shows that we did [in December '08], Pete was not quite sure about the response of his amps, so I did a little bias adjustment during the fourth song, ‘Fragments’, while he was playing. That way, both he and I could hear the change. It probably wasn’t obvious to the audience what was going on, but it allowed Pete to continue to play with confidence.”
> “A lot of the time with guitar players, they can appear to sound like them and make the sound that everyone’s used to hearing, no matter what amplifier they’re playing or which guitar they’re playing – but sometimes they have to work extra hard to get those sounds. You need to find an easy way to get those sounds, whether that’s in the setup of the instrument, the gauges of the strings, the amp settings or the valve bias. If you can figure out ways to make it easier for them, they will love you forever!”
> “Pete is very, very expressive. He jumps three feet in the air and then comes down on the pedalboard, and his guitars are covered with blood more often than not! He really has a go at his guitars, so it takes some work to keep them going. Sometimes we get a Strat back and the pickup has been pushed through the pickguard, perhaps by the heel of his hand as he’s strumming, so you have to fix that and put it back where it needs to be. However, Pete is not all aggression – he can be very analytical and very precise when it comes to things like guitar setup and sound. I have seen Pete use an Allen wrench to adjust the bridge saddles of his guitar on stage during a show because something just didn’t feel right to him!”
Alan Rogan on Pete’s guitars and amps