Pete Townshend’s Guitars at Desert Trip

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I’ve talked about Pete’s Lace Sensor Stratocasters before, but this year has marked a more substantial change up in his guitars than we’ve seen for about twenty five years!

Gibson recently reissued a Pete Townshend signature Les Paul deluxe, and Pete has been playing one of these onstage, fitted with two Gibson mini-humbuckers and a piezo acoustic pickup.

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Even more interesting however, according to the official tour blog, in early September, Pete received some new Strats!

“Pete now has a pair of new Fender Stratocasters made with Gibson “mini-humbucker” pickups, the pickups he used throughout the 1970s. This gives his modern Stratocaster style has a bit more of that old WHO sound. In the olden days, Gibsons were naturally heavier and nastier than Fender guitars, but modern electronics have made Pete’s current Fenders superstrong, and wide-ranging beasts. He has a dozen sounds he gets from just working the guitar itself. He’s also been a proponent of an “acoustic” sound from the guitar; his electric guitars have a special pickup that simulates the strummy sound of an acoustic guitar. He likes to mix the two quite often, and has had this setup for many years now. It’s a unique thing that almost no one else is doing consistently.”*

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*You can read the blog at https://www.thewho.com/september-11-2016-oberhausen-arena-hall-oberhausen-germany/

James Mercer’s Guitars

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One of my personal favourite bands in recent years has been The Shins, in no small part due to the amazing talent of frontman James Mercer.

As well as being, in my opinion, one of the finest lyricists of his, or any, generation, Mercer is a very gifted songwriter and skilled multi-instrumentalist.

Although the lead guitar sounds of the Shins often belong to Dave Hernandez and his Guild S-100, or lately Jessica Dobson and her Fender Elvis Costello signature Jazzmaster (below), Mercer is heavily associated with his own guitars, and they make up an important part of his personal sound, as well as the soundscapes of the Shins records.

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The Shins perform for ACL Live at The Moody Theatre, Austin - 18/03/12

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Gibson Les Paul Special.

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This has been James’ main guitar for the past few years and tours with The Shins, starting in 2007. A double-cutaway Les Paul Special. Likely a modern reissue from the early 2000’s judging by the body dimensions, pickup spacing and Tune-O-Matic + wraparound bridge combination.

This example is in TV yellow, a colour reportedly developed by Gibson because it looked white on black-and-white TV, without causing the camera glare their white finishes did!

On comedian Marc Maron’s podcast WTF with Marc Maron, James talked about loving the sound of P90 pickups, a fact many of his guitar selections support.

 

Guild Starfire.

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Heavily used by James for a long time.

“Recently I’ve learned that James has an equal fondness for both his Les Paul Junior (I believe that’s what it is) and his Guild Starfire. Possibly troubling to him.” – Joe Plummer (Shins drummer), ‘Drowned in Sound’ interview*

The “Les Paul Junior” to which he refers may be a mistaken reference to the LP Special, or it may refer to some of the following…

Gibson J-45.

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James’ main acoustic guitar. He has used this guitar on countless Radio and TV appearances, solo shows in support of Shins albums, and with Broken Bells.

 

Harmony Silvertone Stratotone.

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The first guitar James ever bought with his own money.

During an appearance on 360 sessions **, James gave a small tour of his home studio, and showed some of his guitars. I cannot identify the guitar on the right, though other images of it show that the heastock bears a sticker which reads “Del Rock”, but the one on the left is a Harmony Silvertone, which I have heard referred to as both a Jupiter and a Stratotone. The bridge is non-original (and very similar to one I talked about in an earlier post about Elvis Costello’s Jazzmasters), and interestingly enough, although Jessica Dobson played a similar silvertone on tour with the Shins, it didn’t have this bridge (this can also be seen in the same 360 sessions.)

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Les Paul Special.

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Owned by James and used as his main guitar for a while, before being essentially replaced by the yellow double-cut in 2007. This is a single cut, in a red finish. It can be seen in a lot of 2006 appearances with The Shins, as well as the video clip for ‘Saint Simon’. Photos of Mercer’s studio in Portland in 2016 seem to suggest he still owns this guitar.

 

Green Vintage Airline.

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‘This is an old Airline guitar that I got at a pawn shop in Albuquerque for 40 bucks. I think I tried to talk the guy down even lower, but he was like “Come on man, it’s 40 bucks.” It was a very cheap guitar. It was designed for kids to… ruin basically. And it sounds great. ‘  – James Mercer, 360 Sessions: The Shins .

 

VOX hollowbody.

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There are a few images of this one in James’ home studio, and he’s been using it on tour with Broken Bells.

Then there are some oddities. Guitars with pictorial evidence that James has used, but which don’t necessarily seem to have belonged to him.

Gibson Les Paul Junior.

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All footage and photos of James using this guitar seems to come from the same session for KEXP radio, so it could well be a borrowed instrument, but it does seem to foreshadow the double-cut special in TV yellow which he would acquire later. And remember Joe Plummer’s quote about the Les Paul Junior from earlier? Maybe there’s more to this one than pictorial evidence suggests.

Gibson SG Special.

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All the images of James playing this SG seem to date (by clothes) to the same concert, so I presume it was borrowed, perhaps after a broken string.

Fender Telecaster.

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Again, this guitar seems to have only been used at the one performance. I don’t recognise the band either, so perhaps it is another instance of borrowing.

In any case, the guitar appears to be a heavily reliced Fender Telecaster to 50’s specs in butterscotch blonde with a single ply black scratchplate.

At the time of writing, The Shins Instagram has been full of images from new recording sessions, so the future looks exciting!

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*  You can find the interview at http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4144596-the-shins–introducing-the-band

**  https://vimeo.com/63616371

Andy Fairweather Low’s Stratocasters

401px-Andy_Fairweather-LowIn his career as one of the most reputable session guitarists in the world*, Andy Fairweather Low has used many different guitars. From the late eighties/early nineties, as a part of Eric Clapton’s (and in 1991, George Harrison’s) band, he used Eric Clapton signature guitars with Lace Sensors almost exclusively, but he has since stated in interviews

“I never got on with the lace sensor pickups. I found some old humbuckers and actually, some new P90s. I like the sound they make.”

I have yet to see any evidence of his P90 guitars, but for a long period beginning in the late nineties, he was often seen with some Eric Clapton Strat’s, heavily modified with these Humbuckers.

There is little more to be said about these guitars, except that he appears to have had at least five different versions, two each in Black and Olympic White, fitted with either one or two Humbuckers, and a red version with three, as seen at the ‘Concert for George’ .

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For anyone interested in seeing and hearing his Black Strat in action, check out his amazing solo in ‘Money’ from Roger Waters’ ‘In the Flesh – Live’ DVD.

 

*Andy has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby, The Band, Richard and Linda Thompson, Dave Gilmour, The Who and Pete Townshend, BB King, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, Linda Ronstadt, Roddy Frame, Emmylou Harris, Joe Satriani, the Bee Gees, Jeff Beck, The Impressions, Lonnie Donegan, Ringo Starr, Steve Gadd, David Sanborn, Benmont Tench, Warren Zevon, Charlie Watts, Mary J. Blige, Dave Edmunds, Georgie Fame, Bonnie Raitt, Otis Rush, Phil Collins, Van Morrison, Gerry Rafferty, Chris Rea, Buddy Guy, Chris Barber, Jackson Browne, Bill Wyman and Sheryl Crow, amongst others.

Guitar of the Day 06/12/2015

Snowy White’s Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.

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Many people know Snowy from his work in other bands such as Thin Lizzy, or for his work with Pink Floyd and Roger Waters over the years. Whether in his capacity as a backup guitarist or as a solo performer in his own right, his Goldtop was always by his side.

The instrument has undergone many changes, some of which are:

  • New Wiring
  • New Bridge (Gift from Peter Green)
  • Refret
  • Out of phase pickup selection. (Originally via a toggle switch on the back, now changed to a pull/push pot in the bridge tone position.

After 45 years of service with Snowy, the guitar was auctioned in early 2015, selling for almost US$95,000.

Premier Guitar did a fantastic interview with Snowy (as well as the other guitarists) during Roger Waters’ “The Wall Live” tour, as part of their “Rig Rundown” series, which you can find here.

George Harrison’s Beatle Guitars

George Harrison owned and played many guitars in his career, particularly in his time after The Beatles, when he amassed a sizeable collection. This post simply aims to catalogue the important electric guitars George used during the Beatle days, with a little information about each.

Please note, there are a couple of items missing from the list, because their importance in Beatle history is negligible or debatable, such as the Coral Sitar-Guitar or Gretsch custom 12-string which George owned in the 60’s. Additionally, the guitars are not necessarily presented in the order they found favour with George.

Futurama.

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Bought on hire-purchase beginning November 1959. George’s first Beatle guitar. Eventually, George gave this guitar up as a prize to a Beatle fan competition.

Gretsch Duo Jet.

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George’s “first good guitar”. His Gretsch Duo Jet is a 1957 model, bought in 1961 in Liverpool second-hand.  This was his main guitar through the Hamburg and Cavern Club days, and he took it to America and Europe with him when touring in 1964.

Gretsch Country Gentleman.

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In 1963, George acquired his first Gretsch Country Gentleman, owning a second before the year was through. The two models are almost indistinguishable from each other apart from the different methods of strung muting. His first employed a pair of “screw down” mutes either side of the Bridge, while the second, a newer model, was fitted with “flip up” mutes, which could be activated by switches placed in the same position.

Rickenbacker 425.

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George picked up a Rickenbacker 425 when visiting his sister in the US in 1963. Although he didn’t use it as much as his other Rickenbackers, he liked it enough to have a second pickup installed later.

Maton.

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1963 was a good year for George’s guitar collection. He picked up a Maton while one of his Country Gents was being repaired, and retained it for at least a few shows.

Gretsch Tennessean.

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During their run of Christmas shows in 1963/64, George gained a Gretsch Tennessean. He would use this guitar prominently through 1964/65.

Rickenbacker 12 strings.

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George Playing his Casino. The original Rickenbacker 12 string lies on the table, the newer model is in the foreground.

In 1964/65, George would acquire two Rickenbacker 12 strings. The first with a flat top and front and back binding, and the second with rounded contours and binding on the rear only. It appears (visible in the third image above) that the contoured model had a stereo output, while the earlier one had a regular single output jack.

Fender Stratocaster “Rocky”.

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During the recording of the “Help!” album in 1965, George and John each bought near identical sonic blue Fender Stratocasters (they would later both use them to record the solo on “Nowhere Man” in unison). George’s would later receive a handsome paint job and the name “Rocky”, becoming one of his most famous guitars after it’s appearance in the Magical Mystery Tour film.

Epiphone Casino.

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After admiring the Epiphone Casino Paul bought the previous year, John and George each acquired their own in 1966. All three were easily distinguishable by different bridges or tremolos, and Paul’s had an older-style headstock shape.

Gibson ES-345

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In late 1965, George was reportedly loaned a Gibson ES-345 by one of the Moody Blues, after one of his Country Gentlemen was lost off the back of a car between gigs. Whether the loan is a fiction or not, he certainly used one around this period, but not for long, and although it appears in a surprisingly large number of clips and live performances given it’s time frame, he seems to have either ditched it or given it back. Perhaps consistently with the fact that it wasn’t actually his, It’s also rumoured that he never recorded with it.

Gibson SG.

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George bought a new guitar for the “Revolver” sessions. A humbucker-fitted Gibson SG with a Vibrola tremolo system. Perhaps influenced by Eric Clapton’s use of a similar guitar at the time. This guitar would share the position of George’s favourite guitar with his Stratocaster, until it was replaced by a gift from Clapton himself…

Gibson Les Paul “Lucy”.

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In 1968, Eric Clapton returned from a trip to the US with a gift for George; A Cherry red Gibson Les Paul, which George named “Lucy” after redheaded actress Lucille Ball. This guitar would replace the SG, which became unused and was given by George to Pete Ham of the band Badfinger. “Lucy” would find it’s way back into Clapton’s hands (briefly) when he used it to record the guitar solo on “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” for the White Album sessions. Used heavily for George’s remaining time with the group, it would also later provide the lead sounds (under George’s fingertips) for (amongst others) the song “Something” on Abbey Road.

Fender Rosewood Telecaster.

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Finally, in 1969 Fender gave George a prototype all-rosewood Telecaster. This became his main guitar for the Let it Be sessions (making history as George’s instrument for the infamous rooftop concert at the film’s climax) and likely found it’s way onto Abbey Road as well.