PG’s Eye-Opening Townshend Interview

March 22, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

Advised Hendrix On His Rig?


Pete Townshend could never be accused of understating things. In some ways he always seems like the classic artist, in the “here’s the way I see it and F you if you don’t like it” sense. In a new-ish and excellent interview, Pete is all that and says some stuff I’ve never read before, maybe you’ll be in the same boat.

Here are some choice quotes – all are Pete’s. If you’re a Townshend fan, the article is worth a full read.

On His Playing

> “The Who worked fairly solidly from 1963 through to 1982, when I felt I had had enough. Over the entirety of those years, I had regarded my stage guitars as tools rather than instruments. I never tried to play eloquently, I didn’t practice much and I didn’t work very hard on my sound.”

> “I would never have been a Who fan.”

> “I’ve never gotten a rush or thrill from performing. I’m good at it, and I find it easy and natural.”

On Hendrix and His Style

> “When Jimi was in London, it just so happened I was using a Strat, and he modeled his entire amplifier rig, apart from a couple of special fuzz boxes, according to my advice. So for a while our sound was similar. But no one could approach what he did with that rig, and I decided to concentrate much more on chordal work, trying to give a beat backbone to Moon’s flailing and undisciplined drumming.”

On Amps

> “It’s interesting to think that the Marshall sound I helped Jim and his guys develop was built around the very low output and thin, surfy sound of the Rick [Rickenbacker].”

> “…let [Jim Marshall] sue me, but I know that the first Marshall amp was almost a dead copy of the Fender Bassman head with some minor changes to boost the level – minor changes that I insisted be major. The [Fender] Vibro-King sounds more like an early Marshall amp than a new Marshall amp. They’re great amps, but they require quite a bit of maintenance, tube biasing, etc. I mix 10″ and 12″ speakers in two cabs.”

> “‘60s amplifiers…look so beautiful. Marshalls look like something from The Munsters. That’s why I put the Union Jack Flag on the speakers. Before I had a Marshall, I had a Bassman and a Fender Pro split-wired. That is the sound I loved. Using two amps was my first trick. Getting Jim Marshall to make them louder was my second.”

PG noted that Pete has four Fender Vibro-Kings each with a 2×12 extension cab. Pete usually uses one Vibro-King and cab with the volume set on 3-3.5. At times he adds the second with the other two spares.

On Guitars

Pete says he still loves SGs.

Pete says he still loves SGs.

> “My present guitar tech, Alan Rogan, came to me sometime in the very early ‘70s I think, and after a while I developed the Les Paul Special [Deluxe?] with a middle humbucker set for feedback. Those guitars were heavy. Gibson did a signature Pete Townshend model Les Paul, which works well though it’s still a heavy guitar. The middle pickup is meant to be set close to the strings to allow instant feedback. It is on a separate on-off switch to allow machine-gun staccato effects. The other two small humbuckers are wired in the conventional Gibson manner but with a phase switch. In the studio I could get almost any sound I wanted with that guitar.”

> “From 1971, everything changed. Alan Rogan helped me track down a lot of cool guitars. Joe Walsh gave me a Gretsch and a Fender Bassman combo with an Edwards pedal, to get the Neil Young sound. He also gave me a Flying V that I am sad to say I sold to help buy my first big boat – he’s never quite forgiven me.”

> “When I found the Eric Clapton Strat, I got the best of two worlds: a clean Fender sound when I wanted it, and with the built-in power booster the ability to make the sound dirty for slab-drive chord work. I have often tried SGs again, and I still love them and use them for recording, but I love the Strat-style whammy bar.”

> “…Before I set eyes on a Rickenbacker— still a beautiful sight, I think—I had wanted a Fender Strat. I still believe it to be the most beautifully designed guitar of the modern era.”

> “What is useful to me onstage is that I get a sizzling string sound from the piezo, to give color and detail to the sustain sound I use these days for solos. One of my techniques is banging the bridge and back pickup with the palm and wrist, and I do this quickly to create a kind of thunderous explosive sound – like a heavy machine gun. The piezo plays a big part in this sound because it relays the sound of the body of the guitar being thumped.”

PG noted that the Clapton Stratocaster is modified by Gordon Wells of Knight Guitars with a Fishman Acoustic bridge pickup and an EMG preamp. Half the signal goes to a Demeter DI box to allow blending of electric and acoustic sounds.

On Effects

> “I have a T-Rex delay I use for color, a [old] Boss OD-1 for sustain and distortion, and a Demeter compressor. They are in a box [pedalboard] built by Pete Cornish.”


> He uses Ernie Ball 11-52s for his electrics and D’Addario EXP 19s (12-56) for his acoustics. His picks are any-brand heavies.

Category: Bassman, Boss/Roland, D’Addario, Demeter, Ernie Ball/Music Man, Les Paul, Marshall, Pete Townshend, Rickenbacker, SG, Strat, T-Rex, Vibro-King

Comments (1)

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  1. Andrew says:

    I saw an interview with Pete Townshend in which he describes Keith Moon and John Entwistle as geniuses — fair enough — then proceeds to put himself in the same company, and then slags off Roger Daltrey as "just a singer". Daltrey may not be a "genius" but he friggin founded the Who and ruled the band in the early days. Maybe give him just a little credit.

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