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more... ArtistsGuitaristsRockApril 2010Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend: On Guitar-Smashing Regrets, Stylistic Evolution, and Becoming a Gear Aficionado

Pete Townshend: On Guitar-Smashing Regrets, Stylistic Evolution, and Becoming a Gear Aficionado

Are there any young guitarists coming up these days you find appealing or influential?

There are so many. Literally hundreds. The guitar is now available to everyone. If you have the aptitude, the chances are you start developing it really young. I know and counsel guitar players in their teens who can shred so fast they lose consciousness.

This brings us to the subject of hearing loss. You and I are both longtime working musicians who suffer from this problem. Mine is pretty severe, not only as a result of gigging for over 40 years, but as a result of genetic factors. What is the state of your hearing right now? Do you wear hearing aids, and assuming you use in-ears onstage, how are you protecting your hearing?

I don’t use in-ears on stage. Not yet. I have just been introduced to a new microprocessor- controlled system with three transducers in each ear. They sound amazing. But the Chinese might hack into my gig…

I have started wearing hearing aids in the past months. The new ones are incredible. Tiny. The only way to protect my hearing would be to stop playing music. I get the most problems from long periods of studio work, which is how I compose. So I am nervous about the future right now.

You’ve been heavily involved in the recording process for decades. Has the art of recording changed for the better or worse in that time, and how are you using today’s technology?

I mix old and new. I have pro analogue tape machines running alongside a computer running Digital Performer or Ableton Live. Things have got better. The emergence of digital was tricky. The sound was poor at first. I was lucky because I used Synclavier as my digital medium. That was sampling at 100KHz in mono and 50KHz in stereo back in 1984, with fabulous integrity. Now a laptop can deliver that if you wish.

You’ve always been a proponent of the internet, and have used it to your benefit for many years. When you conceptualized Psychoderelict, were you at all aware that you might have been predicting the rise of the internet with the album’s theme of a “grid?”

I predicted the internet back in 1971 with Lifehouse. I can’t take all the credit—I was taught at art school in 1961 that computers would change the way artists worked and communicated, and the way society functioned.

I have read you are writing material for a new Who album tentatively titled Floss. Can you give us some information about it? Will it be a return to a guitar-based sound again? What is the theme and when will it be released?

Floss is not a new Who album. It is a musical play. Some of the music might work for Roger and me; I am still working on it. I reckon I have another year to go writing.

What was it like to tour right after John Entwistle’s death? That must have been extremely hard on you and Roger.

It was hard, but we had no option.

Do you plan on touring with The Who again at any time in the future, and if so, when?

There are no plans to tour at the moment.

After almost 47 years with The Who, are there any regrets? Would you change anything if you could? Do you still get a rush, a thrill, performing live with the band?

I’ve never gotten a rush or thrill from performing. I’m good at it, and I find it easy and natural. No regrets. I fell into this business, the family business, out of art school. It’s given me the chance to combine popular music (which is so natural for me) with ambitious creativity, so I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had great support, too, from The Who band and managers over the years. Lots of crazy ideas.

Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think The Who would last as long as it has, and are you satisfied with your musical legacy and the body of work you have created?

The gap from 1982 to 2006 in recording is a great shame. I made some good solo records, but the break was necessary, I think. I’m satisfied so far. I hope there is more to come.

What words of wisdom or advice would you like to pass on to PG readers as a guitarist?

The guitar is such a great friend, easy to carry from room to room, from house to house. If you play guitar, you are already blessed.

thewho.com
eelpie.com

[The author would like to thank Pete’s personal assistant, Nicola Joss, for her help and diligence in arranging and coordinating this interview.]

Pete's Gearbox
Alan Rogan has been Pete’s tech since the early ‘70s. As he puts it, his job in The Who camp is, “just turn up and see what happens today, because it will be different tomorrow! I know this after 35 years! I’ve been really lucky to work with lots of great guitar players, but Pete has been, and still is, the most interesting. He never stops… definitely a guy who’s thinking about now, not what he’s done in the past.”

Guitars: Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster 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, and Pete can then blend electric and acoustic sounds at will). Gibson J-200 acoustic equipped with Fishman Ellipse pickups.

Amps: Four Fender Vibro-Kings with a 2x12 extension cabinet for each. Pete normally uses one Vibro- King and cabinet for most songs, with the volume set on 3–3.5, but he can add the second at will. The third and fourth are there strictly as spares. Because of his hearing issues, his signal is fed through the monitor system, and the amps are faced away from him onstage. At the Super Bowl, Rogan mic’d a third Vibro-king setup and faced it backward.

Effects: Pedalboard designed and built by Pete Cornish, and includes a Demeter compressor, an older model Boss OD-1 and a T-Rex delay.

Mics and Monitors: Shure KSM313 ribbon mic for amps. Shure Beta 58A for vocals. Shure PSM 900 in-ear monitors.

Strings: Ernie Ball (.011–.052) on electrics. D’Addario EXP 19s (.012– .056) on acoustics.

Straps: Ernie Ball guitar straps

Picks: Heavy (no specific brand)

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