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Pete’s Gear: Gibson J-200 Jumbo acoustic guitars

J-200

Pete Townshend began using — and continues to use — Gibson J-200 jumbo acoustic guitars on stage for Who and solo performances beginning in 1996, with the Quadrophenia shows. In 2006 he used one of these guitars on Endless Wire.

Pete chose the J-200 to match the sound and performance of his beloved sunburst 1968 Gibson J-200, which he acquired new from Manny’s in 1968 and used in virtually every recording from 1969’s Tommy to 1989’s Iron Man.

The first Who shows in 1996 saw Pete playing acoustic on stage exclusively. In late 1996 and 1997 he would begin using Fender Eric Clapton Stratocasters fitted with Fishman piezo electronics, to simulate the acoustic sound, switching back and forth between the acoustics and electrics depending on the number.

Selected quotes

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

Pete, on his guitar sound in 1996:

“I hope that prior to the tour I didn’t raise fan’s hopes that I was going to play electric all the way through the show. In fact at the first dates, and even later in the electric Love Reign O’er Me, there was a bit of an illusion going on. Although I was holding a Stratocaster all the way through the first two dates in the USA it was heavily modified. I was actually playing via an acoustic transducer fitted into the guitar which produced a rhythm sound very close to my white Gibson J200. I only used the electric channel a few times in the set.”

“The lead v. acoustic thing is not just about my hearing, my intransigence, my fear of spearing myself or my musical preferences, it is not just about ‘Pete.’ It is about musical and presentational dynamics as well. Remember that I write mainly on acoustic guitar. A lot of the songs from Quadrophenia, like a lot of Who songs, sound best when I play acoustic. Ideally I’d like to play acoustic and electric at the same time on stage. Simon did a fantastic job on electric and covered me very well. I settled for what I think all Who fans would have wished — the best mix.”

From May 17, 2004, Gibson Guitars interview: J-200s, regrets over smashed guitars, The Who ‘Then and Now’ and more: Q&A with Pete Townshend

What’s the story on your original J-200? What is it about a J-200 that makes it so essential to you?

I picked it out from about five at Manny’s in New York. It had a crisp sound and an easy neck. It was only later I found how well the J-200 records when you play it hard. Like the Everly acoustic, it has a rather dead soundboard and that allows you to really dig in when strumming. They are hard to bring to life with piezo pickups because the sound is so distinctive in real air, but the body shape, the necks and the sheer strength of the guitar are all very important to me. They also look utterly beautiful.

Gibson news release regarding Gibson SJ-200 for Quadrophenia tour

Who plays Gibson? Well... the Who

Last Saturday, July 19th [1997], Gibson Artist Rep. Tim Bolin presented Pete Townsend [sic] a Fishman Matrix-equipped J-200 acoustic guitar. This guitar will be put into rotation with two other J-200 used by Townsend and Roger Daltry [sic] on the Who’s current “Quadrophenia” tour. In fact, the J-200 is the only acoustic guitar used on this tour.

From September 2004, 20th Century Guitars interview: The Music Must Change

Could you say something about the Pete Townshend J-200 limited guitar that Gibson recently introduced? ... The Pete Townshend signature model has ... a lighter neck contour. How involved were you in designing the new J-200 signature?

I did a lot of work on the neck. My very first J200 seemed to have a thinner neck.

What originally attracted you to the Gibson Super Jumbo 200? I know that Elvis, Dylan and Ron Wood used it.

It records so well. It has quite a crisp sound for such a large guitar, and my first one (now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum) actually had a metal tunamatic [sic] bridge. I may try this on a variant of my signature model.

From 2010 Acoustic magazine interview:

I understand your favourite acoustic guitar is the Gibson J-200. Have you always played Gibson guitars? Do you play any other acoustics other than the J-200?

My first good guitar was an acoustic made in Prague. Later I bought a Harmony 12-string that became my staple. I was a huge fan of Leadbelly, and the Harmony was as close as I could get to his big Stella. Today I like Fylde guitars. I also use a lot of Collings. They seem to make guitars today the way they were once made by Martin. I have several because I like to keep a number of open tunings going, so when I pick up a guitar and start to fiddle around I might discover something new. Onstage I love the sturdiness and visual beauty of the Gibson J-200.

Regarding playing acoustic with a loud rock band, what gear do you use? Pickups? Amps and/or monitors, etc.?

I have some Collings guitars that have built-in piezos; I imagine they are basic Fishman. On my stage guitars, I use Gibson J-200s and they have Fishman piezos that are complemented by a small microphone inside the guitar. That is my favourite right now. I use a tube preamp, a Summit compressor, and then on to the desk. I listen through earphones onstage usually when I play acoustic.

Features

The Gibson J-200 Jumbo features:

  • Solid Sitka spruce top, with Eastern flamed maple back and sides, multiple bound.
  • Single-bound rosewood fingerboard with Mother of Pearl Crown inlays; 25½″ scale.
  • Rosewood “open” moustache bridge with partial Mother of Pearl inlay.
  • Pickguard with Mother of Pearl dot inlay and engraved flowers.
  • Antique Natural Lacquer finish.

Pete had these guitars fitted with Fishman Acoustic Matrix pickup systems for use 1996–2006. For 2006, he had the Gibson J-200s fitted with Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system, which can be identified by their characteristic round control panel inside the soundhole, and gooseneck microphone.

In 1996–1997, these guitars were fed via Shure Wireless System MESA/Boogie Studio preamps, which then went into Demeter direct box into PA. Beginning in 1999, he used wired guitar cable to the direct box to the PA.

Since 2008, the signal path includes a Summit compressor in addition to the preamp.

Alan Rogan, Pete’s guitar tech, numbers these guitars with small black-on-white stickers to identify capo settings/tunings, a la the original Les Paul Deluxe numbering. The stickers are typically placed on the treble bout above the neck joint.

For strings, Pete typically uses D’Addario .011 or .013–.056 strings.

Signature SJ-200 model

In February 2004, Gibson issued a Gibson Pete Townshend SJ-200 Limited in commemoration of Pete’s original Gibson J-200. In 2006, Pete used these guitars on stage, fitted with a Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system.

Photo Gallery

Ca. 1997, Quadrophenia show with Gibson J-200.

Ca. 1997, Quadrophenia show with Gibson J-200.

1996: Playing Gibson J-200, in front of four rack-mounted channel-switching MESA/Boogie Studio preamps (one for electrics, one for acoustics, two for backup spares), which fed into Demeter direct boxes into onstage mixing console, fed to PA and to wedge monitor.

1996: Playing Gibson J-200, in front of four rack-mounted channel-switching MESA/Boogie Studio preamps (one for electrics, one for acoustics, two for backup spares), which fed into Demeter direct boxes into onstage mixing console, fed to PA and to wedge monitor.

Ca. 1999, playing through Hiwatt DR103W half-stack. Note three Gibson J-200 acoustics backstage.

Ca. 1999, playing Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster through Hiwatt DR103W half-stack. Note three Gibson J-200 acoustics backstage.

Ca. 2006, wearing headphones (to protect from feedback through monitors) with Gibson Signature SJ-200 equipped with Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system.

Ca. 2006, wearing headphones (to protect from feedback through monitors) with Gibson Signature SJ-200 equipped with Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system.

Click to view larger version (192kb) Fishman trade ad, courtesy Mark Herman, showing Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend in Gibson Signature SJ-200.

Click to view larger version (192kb) Fishman trade ad, courtesy Mark Herman, showing Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend in Gibson Signature SJ-200.

Ca. 1980, early use of a blonde J-200 with solid moustache bridge, miming for Let My Love Open The Door video.

Ca. 2010, a blonde J-200, with a solid moustache bridge, with two Collings at right, and a mandolin. Photo courtesy Kenny F.

Ca. 1980, early use of a blonde J-200 with solid moustache bridge, miming for Let My Love Open The Door video.

Ca. 1980, early use of a blonde J-200, with a solid moustache bridge, miming for Let My Love Open The Door video.

Two blonde Gibson J-200s – 2014 display at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

Two Gibson J-200 acoustic guitars (one intact and one broken on Late Night with Dave Letterman, 1993)

Photos courtesy Michael Mullins.

Click to view larger version. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas display, ca. 2004.
Click to view larger version. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas display, ca. 2004.

Click images to view larger versions. Courtesy Michael Mullins.

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