Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend was born Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend in Chiswick, London, on the 19th of May 1945.

Pete came from a musical family, his Mother was an orchestral singer and his Father was a professional saxophonist with “The Squadronaires” a dance band for The Royal Airforce.

On a seaside trip Pete was taken to see “Rock Around The Clock” beginning an obsession with Rock N Roll music. Soon after he went to see “Rock Around The Clock” singer Bill Haley perform live in London, the event was was Pete’s first ever concert experience.

In 1956 Pete was given a cheap Spanish style guitar as a Christmas present from his Grandmother. Pete received basic guitar lessons from his Father but was predominantly self taught, learning from his favourite records and never learning to read notation.

Pete’s first band was a trad jazz group called “The Confederates” where he filled the role of banjo player alongside school mate and soon to become Who bassist John Entwistle who played horns in the band. “The Confederates” covered songs by Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Lonnie Donegan. Pete and Johns shared passion for Rock N Roll and a fight Pete was involved in with the drummer causes the group to disband.

In 1961 Pete joined a skiffle rock band called “The Detours” that was led by soon to become Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. The group played instrumentals by “The Shadows” and “The Ventures” as well as other popular covers. The Bands original line up consisted of Pete Townshend on rhythm guitar, Roger Daltry on lead guitar, John Entwislte on bass, Doug Sandom on drums and Colin Dawson on vocals.

In 1962 following the departure of vocalist Colin Dawson, Roger left his role as lead guitar player and moved onto the role of lead singer, leaving Pete in the position of sole guitar player.

With the help of Pete’s Mother the group secured a management contract from local band promoter Robert Bruce, the band began supporting such acts as “Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers”, “Johnny Kid and The Pirates”, “Shane Fenton and The Fentones” and Screaming Lord Sutch”.

Soon after completing their first recording and Pete Townshend’s first ever written song “It Was You” The Detours become aware of another group with the same name causing them to decide to change their name. Pete’s room mate Richard Barnes suggested the name “The Who” which was agreed upon by the band members.

Soon after the group changed their name from The Detours to The Who their drummer Doug Sandom was replaced by Keith Moon who had been playing with a band called The Beachcombers for past few years.


Pete Townshend has played a wide variety of guitars throughout his career though his guitar playing loyalties tend to lie with Gibson guitars, Rickenbacker guitars and Fender guitars. For most acoustic guitar playing Pete used Gibson, Takamine and Guild.

During The Who’s early days Pete played a 12 strings Rickenbacker guitar but switched to less expensive brands like Gibson and Fender when he began to adopt the act of smashing his guitar at the end of a live performance.

By the end of the 1960’s Pete was almost exclusively using Gibson SG models, specifically the SG Special model. After Gibson changed the design of the SG Special Pete began using other guitars.

For recording Pete would often use a 1959 Gretsch 6120 that was given to him as a present from Joe Walsh.

Pete has enjoyed the same plying variety with amplification as with guitars. Though he has stuck with Hiwatt amplifiers for the most part of 4 decades Pete has used Marshall, Vox, Fender and Selmer amplifiers at different times in his career.

Pete is considered to be the main instigator in the development of the Marshall Stack. He began using Marshall amplifiers in the 1960’s and is cited as one of the notable guitar players to have contributed to the early popularity of Marshall amplifiers.

For live performances Pete was using Marshall amplifiers with eight speakers housed within them, they stood almost six feet in height and where extremely heavy and difficult to shift.

At Pete’s suggestion Jim Marshall had this same design cut in half resulting in two cabinets that housed four speakers, one with the top half slanted upwards.

This design soon become known as the marshall stack and has remained in production ever since.

Musical Techniques, Concepts and Approaches

Pete Townshend is known as a prolific songwriter as well as an accomplished guitarist, he celebrated the position of guitarist as a possible primary songwriter for a band, having written a large majority of The Who’s music.

Pete is known for his hooky riffs, driving rhythms and chord progressions, as well as his lead guitar prowess which can be heard on such notable Who tracks as “Baby Don’t You Do It”, “Water”, “Who Are You”, “Sparks” and many live versions of Who songs.

Pete’s acoustic guitar playing ability is another undeniable asset of his musicianship. Some of Pete’s albums have been primarily acoustic guitar based showcasing his phenomenal rhythm guitar playing.

As well as his undeniable contributions to both rhythm and lead guitar playing in rock music Pete also influenced rock performances with such iconic stage moves as guitar smashing, knee slides, jumping in the air while playing, and the “Windmill” which is achieved by swinging your strumming arm around at length while playing the strings.

The Who have been cited by rock musicians and musicologists alike as one of the most important bands in the development of energetic rock performances.

Influence In Rock Guitar Playing

Pete Townshend is considered to be one of the rock world’s most influential guitar players.

He introduced the guitar world to powerful yet musically sophisticated chord progressions and rhythmic stylings that have since become the standard for rock guitar rhythm playing. Pete’s masterful mixtures of blues and country style lead guitar phrasing also raised the bar for lead guitarists all over the world.

Pete was paramount in the development of the Marshall Stack as well as introducing the rock world to energetic live performances and stage moves.

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