The Song Isn't Over - Gibson Guitar Article on Who's Next

Joe Lewinski lewinski at
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 
burly tone.

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 
Black Beauty 
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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