Musical style and equipment

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A selection of instruments used by the Who

By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA (Stuff from The Who) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Posted on Wed, 02/11/2015 - 1:05pm
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The Who have been regarded primarily as a rock band, yet have taken influence from several other styles of music during their career. The original group played a mixture of trad jazz and contemporary pop hits as the Detours, and R&B in 1963. The group move to a mod sound the following year, particularly after hearing the Small Faces fuse Motown with a harsher R&B sound. The group's early work was geared towards singles, though it was not straightforward pop. In 1967, Townshend coined the term "power pop" to describe the Who's style. Like their contemporaries, the group were influenced by the arrival of Hendrix, particularly after the Who and the Experience met at Monterey. This and lengthy touring strengthened the band's sound. In the studio, they began to develop softer pieces, particularly from Tommy onwards, and turned their attention towards albums more than singles.

From the early 1970s, the band's sound included synthesizers, particularly on Who's Next and Quadrophenia. Although groups had used synthesizers before, the Who were one of the first to integrate the sound into a basic rock structure. In By Numbers the group's style had scaled back to more standard rock, but synthesisers regained prominence on Face Dances.

Townshend and Entwistle were instrumental in making extreme volumes and distortion standard rock practices. The Who were early adopters of Marshall Amplification. Entwistle was the first member to get two 4×12 speaker cabinets, quickly followed by Townshend. The group used feedback as part of their guitar sound, both live and in the studio. In 1967, Townshend changed to using Sound City amplifiers, customised by Dave Reeves, then in 1970 to Hiwatt. The group were the first to use a 1000 watt PA systems for live gigs, which led to competition from bands such as the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

Throughout their careers, the members of the Who have said their live sound has never been captured as they wished on record. Live gigs and the audience have always been important to the group. "Irish" Jack Lyons said, "The Who weren't a joke, they were fucking real, and so were we."


Daltrey initially based his style on Motown and rock and roll, but from Tommy onwards he tackled a wider range of styles. His trademark sound with the band has been a characteristic scream, as heard at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again".

Group backing vocals are prominent in the Who. After "I Can't Explain" used session men for backing vocals, Townshend and Entwistle resolved to do better themselves on subsequent releases, producing strong falsetto harmonies. Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle sang lead on various songs, and occasionally Moon joined in. Who's Next featured Daltrey and Townshend sharing the lead vocals on several songs, and biographer Dave Marsh considers the contrast between Daltrey's strong, guttural vocal and Townshend's higher and gentler voice to be one of the album's highlights.


Townshend considered himself less technical than guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and wanted to stand out visually instead. His playing style evolved from the banjo, favouring down strokes and using a combination of the plectrum and fingerpicking. His rhythm playing frequently used seventh chords and suspended fourths, and he is associated with the power chord, an easy-to-finger chord built from the root and fifth interval that has since become a fundamental part of the rock guitar vocabulary. Townshend also produced noises by manipulating controls on his guitar and by allowing the instrument to feedback.

In the group's early career, Townshend favoured Rickenbacker guitars as they allowed him to fret rhythm guitar chords easily and move the neck back and forwards to create vibrato. From 1968 to 1973, he favoured a Gibson SG Special live, and later used customized Les Pauls in different tunings.

In the studio for Who's Next and thereafter, Townshend used a 1959 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins hollow-body guitar, a Fender Bandmaster amp and an Edwards volume pedal, all gifts from Joe Walsh. Townshend started his career with an acoustic guitar and has regularly recorded and written with a Gibson J-200.


A distinctive part of the original band's sound was Entwistle's lead bass playing, while Townshend concentrated on rhythm and chords. Entwistle's was the first popular use of Rotosound strings in 1966, trying to find a piano-like sound. His bassline on "Pinball Wizard" was described by Who biographer John Atkins as "a contribution of its own without diminishing the guitar lines"; he described his part on "The Real Me" from Quadrophenia, recorded in one take, as "a bass solo with vocals". Entwistle basses include a "Frankenstein" assembled from five Fender Precision and Jazz basses, and Warwick, Alembic, Gretsch and Guild basses.


Moon further strengthened the reversal of traditional rock instrumentation by playing lead parts on his drums. His style was at odds with British rock contemporaries such as The Kinks' Mick Avory and The Shadows' Brian Bennett who did not consider tom-toms necessary for rock music. Moon used Premier kits starting in 1966. He avoided the hi-hat, and concentrated on a mix of tom rolls and cymbals.

Jones' drumming style was in sharp contrast to Moon's. The Who were initially enthusiastic about working with a completely different drummer, though Townshend later stated, "we've never really been able to replace Keith." Starkey had been taught to play drums by Moon, and has been praised for his playing style which echoes Moon's without being a copy.


Townshend's focused on writing meaningful lyrics inspired by Bob Dylan, whose words dealt with subjects other than boy–girl relationships that were common in rock music; in contrast to Dylan's intellectualism, Townshend believed his lyrics should be about things kids could relate to. Early material focused on the frustration and anxiety shared by mod audiences, which Townshend said was a result of "searching for [his] niche". By The Who Sell Out, he began to work narrative and characters into songs, which he fully developed by Tommy, including spiritual themes influenced by Baba. From the mid-1970s onwards, his songs tended to be more personal, which influenced his decision to go solo.

Entwistle's songs, by contrast, typically feature black humour and darker themes. His two contributions to Tommy ("Cousin Kevin" and "Fiddle About") appeared because Townshend did not believe he could write songs as "nasty" as Entwistle's.



The Who - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : taken from -