The Song Isn't Over - Gibson Guitar Article on Who's Next
lewinski at icanon.com
Wed Feb 23 02:30:02 UTC 2011
Saw this in my weekly Gibson Guitar email feed.
Forty years ago, The Who released their unqualified rock masterpiece
/Who's Next/. "Behind Blues Eyes," Pete Townshend's textural guitar
opus, and "Won't Get Fooled Again" shot into the Top 40 and launched a
tour that took the band around the world several times.
To fans, it seemed like The Who were on a cloud -- turning in
effervescent, conflagrant concerts in support of one of the grandest
rock 'n' roll statements about ennui, isolation and the complexities of
maturity. But in reality, the album came on the heels of a failure:
Townshend's inability to bring /Lifehouse/, his conceptual follow-up to
the rock opera /Tommy/, to life.
Townshend suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of not being able to
translate the science fiction tale of liberty, conflict and human energy
to his fellow band members and the artistic curators of the Young Vic
Theatre, where /Lifehouse/ was initially going to be staged. When he
recovered, he hired producer Glyn Johns to help the band make the album
that would become /Who's Next/.
There was much /Lifehouse/ spillover in /Who's Next/. The songs "Baba
O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" were originally written for the
more elaborate conceptual work, although they still stand mightily on
their own four decades later. And the synthesizers all over /Who's Next/
not only allowed Townshend to expand his band's sound; they captured the
futuristic qualities he'd wanted /Lifehouse/ to reflect.
Townshend also widened the cast of players for the sessions. Nicky
Hopkins, a veteran of Jeff Beck and Rolling Stones recordings, performed
on piano for "The Song is Over" and "Getting in Tune." Legendary
organist Al Kooper, of "Like a Rolling Stone" fame, played on a version
of "Behind Blue Eyes" that stayed in the can until the album's deluxe
editions debuted on CD. And Leslie West, the leader of the band
Mountain, added guitar to another song that was left on the cutting room
floor, "Baby Don't You Do It," thanks to Townshend's admiration for his
As full of tribulation as the /Lifehouse/Who's Next/ era was for
Townshend, his faith in his guitar playing and his strategy for sonic
assault were never shaken by his creative and personal trials. And his
electric and acoustic tones on /Who's Next/ are classic Pete -- big,
bold and cleanly chiseled as Greek sculpture, walking a thin line
between composition and improvisation.
For most of the half-decade before /Who's Next/, his sound was based on
Gibson SG Specials
built from 1966 to 1970 with P-90 pickups pushed hard through Hiwatt amp
stacks -- especially live, where the sky was the limit on volume.
Typically, he slammed his guitars so hard that their standard-issue
Vibrola tailpieces had to be replaced with a more stable anchor, and he
then achieved whammy-like effects by simply shaking their necks or
pulling back on the headstock during an immense, sustaining power chord.
The Hiwatt amp was the perfect mate for Gibson's bright, barking P-90s
thanks to the size of their Partridge transformers, which were bigger
than those used by Marshall and other hi-gain amp makers of the day and
fed more power to four EL-34 tubes. Townshend typically used two of
these 120-watts RMS rated monsters at a time. He also had his Hiwatts
customized at the factory, adding 10db gain boost and cutting the
mid-range and presence circuits so only the bass and treble pots were
active. It was all in the service of the crisp blast and focus one hears
in the chords of the finale of "Baba O'Riley" and other /Who's Next
But the album also marked a period when Townshend was re-evaluating his
relationship with the Gibson SG Special and experimenting with other
Gibsons. Although he'd already played Les Paul Junior TV
models in '67 and '68, he received a 1955 single-cutaway sunburst Junior
from Leslie West after the /Who's Next/ sessions.
The acoustic tracks on /Who's Next /were played on the trusty 1968
sunburst Gibson J-200
Townshend bought new at New York City's Manny's Music during a U.S.
tour. After acquiring the guitar, he used it for every album he recorded
from /Tommy/ though his 1989 solo yarn /Iron Man/, and it remained his
primary songwriting tool as well.
Townshend installed a third humbucking pickup on a 1970 Gibson SG
when The Who hit the road behind /Who's Next/. After that tonal step, he
made the most significant change in his 1970s sound by strapping on a
series of Les Pauls for the majority of the /Who's Next/ concerts.
With the additional weight and meaty construction of the Les Paul came a
heavier tone and more sustain. He first added a '56 Gibson Les Paul
with an Alnico V pickup in the neck position and a P-90 at the bridge.
Then came a series of Les Paul Deluxes
a cherry sunburst and a Gold Top were his favored stage guitars through
1979. He also added a '73 sunburst and replaced the factory
mini-humbuckers in his Deluxes with DiMarzio Dual Sound pickups.
Over the years, Townshend's electric six-string tastes have continued to
vary. For example, he employed a Firebird XII in the 1975 movie version
of /Tommy/ and recorded and briefly toured with a Gibson Flying V
that was a gift from Joe Walsh. But his acoustic guitar of choice has
consistently been the Gibson J-200
including the Gibson Pete Townshend signature model he played at the
2010 Super Bowl Half-time Show.
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