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Pete’s Gear: 1958 Gibson Flying V Guitar

Sometime in 1975 or earlier, Joe Walsh (who had also given Pete his Gretsch Chet Atkins, Fender Bandmaster and Edwards volume pedal) gifted a 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar to Pete. This guitar was used on The Who By Numbers, as can be heard in his blistering leads on songs like In a Hand or Face and Dreaming From The Waist, as well as 1980 for Empty Glass and in 1982 for All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, on at least Slit Skirts.

On the cover of Chinese Eyes, Pete appears with this guitar held upside down. (He is also photographed in Psychoderelict photo sessions — and repeated in the Coolwalking liner — with a Flying V, but this is a borrowed white-pickguard model.)

Specification:

Pete’s 1958 Gibson Flying V featured:

  • Korina body with natural finish
  • Two PAF humbucker pickups
  • Three controls (two volume, one tone)
  • Strings-through-body anchor, with V-shaped string anchor plate
  • Gold-plated ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge
  • Brazilian rosewood fingerboard
  • Black pickguard; gold-plated parts
  • Triangular peghead with rounded top and raised plastic lettering
  • Black rubber strip on treble bout

The Gibson Flying V (along with the Gibson Explorer) was introduced in 1958, as an effort by Gibson to shed its images as strictly a jazz guitar builder (see Vintage Guitar), but ended up selling only around 100 of the Flying V’s between 1958 and 1959, and discontinued production. However, today the original Flying V guitars are extremely rare and highly collectible. In the ’60s as guitarists sought them out because of their radical shape and powerful sound.

As reference, John Entwistle had purchased a 1958 Gibson Flying V (with white pickguard) in 1973, paying £3,700 at the time. In the May 2003 Sotheby’s auction of John’s collection, it sold for £38,400.

Pete sold this guitar, likely in 1989 along with the D’Angelico New Yorker, in order to buy a boat. Currently owned by a private collector.

Selected quotes from Pete Townshend

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

Excerpt from Guitar Player interview, October 1989

Do you have a favorite period in your career, where you feel you broke down what you regarded as guitaristic barriers?

I think the significant moments have actually had a lot to do with guitars, actual guitars. […] Or, being given another wonderful guitar by Joe [Walsh], an original [Gibson] Flying V, and getting that incredible kind of Jimmy Page noise. I used that guitar on The Who By Numbers, and once or twice for some flourishes on Empty Glass. It’s about guitars […]

Excerpt from The Guitar Magazine interview, July 1993

He sold quite a few guitars a few years ago, ‘in order to buy a boat. I really regret selling them, especially the wonderful Flying V which was given to me by Joe Walsh.’

Compilation of pictures from 1982 recording session for All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes.

Compilation of pictures from 1982 recording session video for Slit Skirts on All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes.

21, 23 or 24 October 1975, Wembley Empire Pool, with the Flying V on a stand at right. (It is unknown whether the guitar was actually played on stage on this date or any other.

21, 23 or 24 October 1975, Wembley Empire Pool, with the Flying V on a stand at right. (It is unknown whether the guitar was actually played on stage on this date or any other.)

Resources and Information

Manufacturer:

General Gibson Flying V info: