GIBSON SG PETE TOWNSHEND SIGNATURE


Gibson SG Special

Pete Townshend and the Gibson SG Special guitar

Click to view larger version. Sotheby’s auction of Pete’s 1969 Gibson SG Special — serial no. 917512. Courtesy thewho.org.Click to view larger version.Sotheby’s September 1997 auction of Pete’s 1969 Gibson SG Special (serial no. 917512). Courtesy thewho.org. The guitar sold in a subsequent auction in Sept. 1998 for £5,750.

Introduction

The guitar model Pete Townshend used (and abused) exclusively on stage from mid-late 1968 until 1971, and the guitar with which he’s most famously associated. This guitar model was used for the famous late ’60s/early ’70s live recordings, including WoodstockLive at Leeds and Isle of Wight, as well as the recordings of Tommy and The Seeker.

First Use

The earliest appearance of Pete’s use of the Gibson SG Special (other than one he borrowed in 1966 from a support group the Tages) is July 1968, likely purchased at Manny’s Music (archived), New York, though regular use wouldn’t come until late 1968. Throughout his use of this guitar from 1968–1971, he usually used 1966–1970 models, which feature the full black wraparound pickguard. He did, however, occasionally use pre-1966 models, which feature the small pickguard, especially in 1971 as the available supply began to dry up. In all, Pete likely went through dozens of these guitars between 1969 and 1971.

Click to view larger version. 9 Sept. 1972, Paris, closeup of a Gold Top Les Paul Deluxe, left, and last known stage use of a cherry Gibson SG Special, right, at stageside.Click to view larger versionSept. 1972, Paris, closeup of a Gold Top Les Paul Deluxe, left, and last known use of a cherry Gibson SG Special, right, at stageside.

End of the line

Pete stopped using the 1966–1970 cherry-finish model SG Special guitars after 1971 when Gibson had changed the production specification and the existing supply dried up.

The last known use of a 1966–1970 cherry-finish model SG Special came at the 9 September 1972 Paris gig.

 

The Signature Pete Townshend Gibson SG Special

In 2000, Gibson issued a signature Pete Townshend Gibson SG Special to commemorate this guitar.

In 2011, Gibson issued a 50th Anniversary Pete Townshend SG Special in Alpine White to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Gibson SG and Pete’s later use of Polaris White Gibson SG Specials.

Specifications

Gibson model variations:

Gibson specs went through numerous changes from 1960 to 1970, in helping to identify which models Pete used:

  • 1960–65
    • Small neck/body heel
    • 17-degree headstock angle
    • 1 11/16 nut width
    • Small black beveled pickguard
    • Nickel hardware
  • 1960–62
    • Angled, smooth wrapover bridge/tailpiece
  • 1963–70
    • “Lightning bar”/“stairstep” tailpiece
  • 1965–68
    • 14-degree headstock angle
    • 1 9/16 nut width
  • 1965–70
    • Chrome hardware
  • 1966–70
    • Larger neck/body heel
    • Full-size black beveled pickguard
  • 1968–70
    • 17-degree headstock angle
    • 1 11/16 nut width

Consult Gibson Vintage Guitars Info for further details.

Gibson SG Special Details:

  • One-piece mahogany body and one-piece set neck, cherry finish.
  • Full black pickguard (1966–1970 models) or small black pickguard (1962–1965 models), white binding.
  • Bound dot inlay neck with rosewood fingerboard.
  • Schaller or Grover tuners. Nickel or Chrome-plated hardware.
  • P-90 “soapbar” pickups.

Pete’s Modifications:

  • Stock Gibson/Maestro Vibrola vibrato tailpiece removed (leaving visible screw holes).
  • Strings attached directly to wraparound — or stop — “stairstep” tailpiece (bridge is not the Gibson Tune-O-Matic).

Gibson 340 Sonomatic strings, .012, .016, .016, .032, .044, .056.

Setup

In his standard setup from December 1968 through 1971 (and then on and off until 1973 as he experimented with Gibson Les Paul Deluxes and other guitars, before returning briefly to Polaris White Gibson SG Specials), Pete used Cherry Red Gibson SG Specials plugged into a Univox Super Fuzz pedal, then into his Sound City as Hiwatt or Hiwatt “stack.”

SG Special, 1969Photo: Jeffrey Mayer

SG Special, 1970Photo: N. Zlozower

SG, 1969Photo: R. Stevenson/Retna

Generic Gibson SG Specials

Generic 1968 Gibson SG Special, with same modification (Vibrola removed) as Pete’s.Generic 1968 Gibson SG Special, with same modification (Vibrola removed) as Pete’s.

Generic 1961–625 Gibson SG Special, with small black pickguard.Generic 1961–62 Gibson SG Special, with small black pickguard.

Selected quotes from Pete Townshend

All quotes and references are copyright their original owners and are included for reference only.

Gibson SG Special (broken and repaired), owned by Revolution Studios. Courtesy WhiteFang’s Who Site.Gibson SG Special (broken and repaired), owned by Revolution Studios. Courtesy WhiteFang’s Who Site. For more photos and information, see WhiteFang’s Who Site.

From April 1980 issue of Sound International article, courtesy Joe G’s site.

PT: Henry [Goldrich] at Manny’s (music store in New York) introduced me to a guitar which had just come out. I don’t know what you call them; it was a thin crimson-coloured guitar…
SI: The SG?
PT: Right. They just brought out a new model and this was in 1968 and it had a slightly larger wound pickup and it really suited my amplifiers. I started to use those and they were a bit weak, which was the only problem; I could actually break them with my bare hands. But that’s when I started to develop that technique because you didn’t need a tremolo arm. You could do it by just shaking the guitar. I got into this thing also of temper tuning the guitar with the second string flat, and pulling back slightly on the guitar all the time to bring it into pitch. So using that on some of the higher chords where you wanted that second string to voice a bit flat, you could relax the guitar and it would come out a bit flatter. No, sorry, I meant the G string. When you’re using a lighter G — I’ve never used light gauge strings. I’ve always used heavy strings — you can do that. The top string (high E) is an .012 downwards and I use two Bs instead of a B and a G string. I got that from Jimmy Burton, that’s what he used to use. I can’t stand light strings, you don’t have to struggle for it. Mickie Green, who is a guy who used to play with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, was a great experimenter with the Jimmy Burton technique. He used to have this great lyrical string bending thing going on and I went up to him one day and said, ‘What kind of strings do you use?’ and he said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘Do you have a plain third?’ And he said, ‘A plain what?’ He just had big hands; he used to bend the third, a wound third, right up and over the back of the neck. That was an affirmation to me that if you wanted to do it you fought for it. I hate that guitar sound where people sound like they can bend the string just by kind of thinking about it.

It fitted my sound and had a lyrical quality to it because the neck was so uncluttered at the top you could play high.

1969 Gibson SG Special serial no. 561569, collection of David Swartz.Click to view larger version.1969 Gibson SG Special serial no. 561569, from the collection of David Swartz. Smashed on stage in 1969 and repaired after being sold at auction in 2000. On display through October 2019 at the Play It Loud Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

From May/June 1972 Guitar Player

GP: What about the Gibson SG, has anything been done to that?
PT: Well, the SG story is a bit disappointing. The first time I started to use the Gibson SG model guitar is when I got fed up with Fenders, because they were too clean, but I liked them because they were tough. In guitar smashing days, the Fender would last two or three shows and ten minutes if I wanted to smash it up. And I was into Jimi Hendrix, it was a fuzz box number. It was clean until you hit the fuzz box and then it was dirty. So I went to the manager and said I really need an alternative to this and he said I think you’d like the newest SG and I looked at it. I played it and it rang, it sang to me, not humbucking pickups, the plain pickups, and I’ve used SG’s ever since. They took the old SG off the market like about a year ago, so we used up every old SG in the country. I don’t break them deliberately any more, but when I spin them around, when I’ve had a few drinks, I bang them and they crack and they break. They’re made out of really light wood, it’s a light guitar. That thing I do with the neck (bending it back to stretch the strings as the chord rings) you don’t need any strength to make the whole guitar bend, because it’s made out of such a light-weight wood, but the factory stopped making those particular SG’s. So we said, “You’re going to have to make ’em for us, you’re going to have to customize them for us,” and they said okay, but it’s going to be about $300.00 a guitar. So anyway, we had four of them made for the beginning of the tour. They brought them up to us but the guitars were totally different. The pickups were in a different position, and on and on, so we said, “Forget it.” So I raided every music store in the country practically, looking for old SG’s. One I was using on this tour, the natural wood SG, is not modified except that it had a Tunomatic bridge on it. The SG that I use on “Baby Don’t You Do It” is a 1966 SG Standard. My favorite guitar now for the stage is the Les Paul Deluxe with the small epiphone pickups that you can buy on the shelf for $50.00. They’re like Humbucking, but they’re small, like what you have on Epiphones, and they’re really loud. I like those. I think that’s what I’ll probably end up using, either that or I quite like those Dan Armstrong pickups.

From June 1990 Guitarist magazine article

I never had any difficulty smashing SGs, they were like balsa wood.

Cherry Gibson SG Special guitars

1968

10 August 1968, Jaguar Club, St. Charles, Ill., tuning up (Photo: Rick Giles)Click to view larger version.10 August 1968, Jaguar Club, St. Charles, Ill., tuning up. One of the earliest known uses of a Gibson SG Special (this one with Vibrola intact); pedal is Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face; amplifiers are Sound City. (Photo: Rick Giles)
For more, see The Who at the Jaguar, 10 August 1968.

10 August 1968, Jaguar Club, St. Charles, Ill., backstage post-show. (Photo: Rick Giles)Click to view larger version.10 August 1968, Jaguar Club, St. Charles, Ill., backstage post-show. Gibson SG Special with vibrola in tact on table. (Photo: Rick Giles)

For more, see The Who at the Jaguar, 10 August 1968.

Ca. August 1968 at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special. Amps are three Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets. Effects pedal is Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face.13–15 Aug. 1968, at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special. Amps are three Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets and two 8×10 Marshall PA cabinets. Effects pedal is Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face.Photo: Baron Wolman

Ca. August 1968 at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special. Amps are three Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets. Effects pedal is Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face.13–15 Aug. 1968, at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special. Amps are three Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets and two 8×10 Marshall PA cabinets. Effects pedal is Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face.Photo: Baron Wolman

Ca. August 1968 at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special. Amps are three Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets. Effects pedal is Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face.17 Aug., 1968, at Phoenix, Arizona. One of the earliest uses of the Gibson SG Special, this one still fitted with Vibrola. Amps are Sound City L100 into four Sound City 4×12 cabinets.Photo: Doug Hartley/PhotoFlashbacks, courtesy thewho.org.

Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, 196810 Dec., 1968, the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus rehearsals, with early use of Gibson SG Special. Amplifier is Sound City L100 into two Hiwatt SE4122 4×12 cabinets. Effects pedal is Univox Super-Fuzz.

Click to view larger version. December 1968, Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.11 Dec., 1968, the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, with Gibson SG Special.

1969

Ca. Spring 1969, recording sessions for Tommy, with both Pete and John using unlabeled customized Sound City L100 amplifier heads, with Hiwatt-style chicken head knobs. Pete’s guitar is 1968 Gibson SG Special.Ca. February–March 1969, recording sessions for Tommy, with Pete playing a 1968 Gibson SG Special. For amps, both Pete and John are using unlabeled customized Sound City L100 amplifier heads each driving one Sound City 4×12.Photo: Baron Wolman

Ca. Spring 1969, recording sessions for Tommy, with both Pete and John using unlabeled customized Sound City L100 amplifier heads. Pete’s guitar is 1968 Gibson SG Special.Click to view larger version.Ca. February–March 1969, recording sessions for Tommy, with Pete playing a 1968 Gibson SG Special. For amps, both Pete and John are using unlabeled customized Sound City L100 amplifier heads each driving one Sound City 4×12.Photo: Barrie Wentzell

Ca. 1969, in the studio with SG Special.Ca. 1969 or 1970, in IBC studios with SG Special.

Ca. February 1969, with Hiwatt rig.Ca. February 1969, with Sound City/Hiwatt rig.Photo: Graham Lowe/Redferns

Ca. 1969, the first Isle of Wight festival, with 1968 or 1969 Gibson SG Special, with visible screw holes where vibrato was removedCa. August 1969, the first Isle of Wight festival, with 1968 or 1969 Gibson SG Special, with visible screw holes where vibrato was removed.Photo: Chris Walter.

29 Sept., 1969, Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, with clear view of vibrola screwholes. Courtesy The Who Netherlands Photo Gallery. ©Henk Hulstkamp.29 Sept., 1969, Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, with clear view of vibrola screw holes. Courtesy The Who Netherlands Photo Gallery (offline). ©Henk Hulstkamp.

1970

14 Feb. 1970 – Leeds University.14 Feb. 1970 – Leeds University.Photo: John Rettie, courtesy thewho.org.

14 Feb. 1970, Leeds University, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one customised Hiwatt DR103 and two CP103 amps with four Hiwatt 4×12 cabs. Guitar is SG Special.14 Feb. 1970, Leeds University, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one customised Hiwatt DR103 and two CP103 amps with four Hiwatt 4×12 cabs. Guitar is SG Special, and pedal is Univox Super-Fuzz.Photo: John Rettie, courtesy thewho.org.

14 Feb. 1970 – Leeds University.14 Feb. 1970 – Leeds University.Photo: John Rettie, courtesy thewho.org.

14 Feb. 1970, Leeds University, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one customised Hiwatt DR103 and two CP103 amps with four Hiwatt 4×12 cabs. Guitar is SG Special.Click to view larger version.14 Feb. 1970, Leeds University, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one customised Hiwatt DR103 and two CP103 amps with four Hiwatt 4×12 cabs. Guitar is SG Special.Photo: David Hickes

15 Feb. 1970, Hull City Hall, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one customised Hiwatt DR103 and two CP103 amps. Guitar is SG Special.Click to view larger version.15 Feb. 1970, Hull City Hall, stage setup of Pete’s rig, one CP103 amp and two customised Hiwatt DR103 amps. Guitar is SG Special.Photo: Ray Stevenson

With Gibson SG Special at Third Isle of Wight festival show. Top: Sound City; Bottom 2: HiwattsAugust 1970 Isle of Wight show, playing Gibson SG Special. Top amp (chrome faceplate) is customized Sound City with Hiwatt nameplate; bottom two amps (black faceplate) are Hiwatt CP103 amplifiers, with “The Who” faceplate. Bottom speaker cabinets are Hiwatt SE4122 4×12s; top are Hiwatt SE4123 4×12s.

1971

Ca. 1971, backstage with three Gibson SG Specials, one capoed at the third fret.Ca. 1971, backstage with three Gibson SG Specials, one capoed at the third fret.

Ca. 1971, with 1961 or 1962 Gibson SG Special, featuring small black pickguard.Ca. 1971, with 1961 or 1962 Gibson SG Special, featuring small black pickguard.Photo: Jeff Stein/Chris Johnston.

Ca. 1971, with 1961 or 1962 Gibson SG Special, featuring small black pickguard.Ca. 1971, with 1961 or 1962 Gibson SG Special, featuring small black pickguard.

Ca. 1971, Gibson SG.Dec. 1971, Houston, with Gibson SG, featuring small black pickguard, and appears to have a stop tailpiece and Tune-o-Matic bridge. Photo courtesy SoundCityChris.

1972

Ca. 1972, 1972, Foret Nationale, Brussels, Belgium, with one of last known uses of a cherry-finish Gibson SG Special. Guitar possibly has a Tune-O-Matic bridge/tailpiece, and therefore is possibly one of the custom-made SG Specials.16 Aug. 1972, Foret Nationale, Brussels, Belgium, with one of last known uses of a cherry-finish Gibson SG Special. Guitar possibly has a Tune-O-Matic bridge/tailpiece, and therefore is possibly one of the custom-made SG Specials.