Guitar Center interview with Pete and John, May 15, 2002
John Entwistle, bassist for the legendary rock band The Who, died in his sleep June 27, 2002 in his Las Vegas hotel room. He was 57.
Guitar Center would like to take this time to say how saddened we are by John’s passing. We have lost a legendary musical icon who pushed the limits of bass playing through his love of the craft. John Entwistle leaves behind thousands of loving fans and friends, and the vast music community that was so inspired by his talents. John was truly one of the most influential artists of our time. Read the interview with Pete Townshend and John Entwistle below. The interview was conducted on May 15, 2002.
- GC: Since JBL is sponsoring your summer tour, tell us about your past experience that connects you to them.
Pete: The first memory I have is of an audition with our post-school band The Detours. We were hoping to get a summer season with Butlins a holiday camp circuit in the UK. The Tremeloes were at the audition with Fender guitars and amplifiers they hauled on stage quickly and played expertly — they would get a job. We didn’t, we were just kids, really. But afterwards I spoke to them and asked about the amps — The Shadows used Vox amps. They told me that these amps had JBL speakers, that’s why the sound travelled so well.
A few years later I bought my own first Fender amp — a Fender Pro with a 15″ JBL. John McLaughlin sold it to me. I was a Steve Cropper fan, and getting his sound was my main aim. JBLs were legendary then. There were other good speakers, but JBLs looked good, and sounded extraordinary. The treble penetration was so good.
At The Who’s first studio, Ramport (where we recorded Quadrophenia), I used twelve JBL 4350 speakers set up in 6 pairs for a kind of 5.1 sound (long before 5.1 sound was invented). They were devastatingly loud, and great! Playbacks at Ramport were orgasmic.
Today I use JBL speakers everywhere in my life — at home and in the studio. I still have several sets of 4311s, and lots of smaller speakers that I like to use rather than those funny Yamaha things everyone loves. I use big modern JBLs for my cinema set up at home (I use the cinema rig as a test bed for my 5.1 mixes as well).
- GC: What were the motivations behind doing this tour?
Pete: Friendship, keeping our hand in, keeping Roger from going nuts, keeping John supplied with houses, and keeping me supplied with JBL speakers! We will play a wider range of stuff. We want to include difficult songs like I Can See For Miles, Go to the Mirror Boy, Eminence Front and Love Reign O’er Me.
- GC: How’s your hearing situation and does it affect what you’ll be doing live this time?
Pete: My ears are just fine. I stopped early enough to prevent trouble. Remember, I stopped touring with The Who in 1982. Since then, I’ve had to accept a lot of sneers because of this, I’ve been very careful to slowly work up to where I think I am safe to play live again.
- GC: What instruments will you be playing on tour?
Pete: I play Fender electrics and Gibson acoustics. I use Fender amps now. Mixed speakers: three 10″ JBLs in the top box and two 12″ JBLs in the bottom.
- GC: What are your plans for recording in October? Are you writing material for those sessions?
Pete: I am not sure yet how it’s going to work out. I am not writing yet, though. I think we have to be very careful not set ourselves up here — we need to make a good record, but I do not personally have time to f––k around making a record we may not put out. I won’t waste my time with too much experimentation.
- GC: What’s in your home studio?
Pete: I have an 8-track Studer A820 1″ analogue machine, an old Neve board, and some valve compressors made in 1967 by a friend. I can still get my old sound. Since 1985, I’ve been using Synclavier and I still love it. But I also use RADAR and sometimes a Mac running Digital Performer (DP3) for when I work with outsiders. When I record people in my studio they weep with frustration that they can’t just live and work in there for life, like I can. I’m good, my kit is good, and I feel so lucky to have enough space for such great — but space-greedy — equipment.
I also have a big studio still with several rooms that has the last remaining old Focusrite board in the world, 48-track RADAR and analogue machines. I have a video post-pro suite with a Sony DMX-R 100 digital mixer, RADAR and Mac stuff for 5.1 mixing. I also have a Mac mastering room using Spark XL, and an editing suite for video using a Mac with Final Cut Pro and a Matrox card.
I still like to fiddle around making films, too — so the studio is rigged for low end MiniDV video shooting. It’s fun from start to finish. I really hope I work with studio kit in the next life; I never get bored with it.
Music though, I wouldn’t mind leaving behind sometimes. I just can’t get it out of my head.
- GC: Tell us about your current bass rig.
John: I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up. Rather than use a cross over type system, I use three separate amplifier systems: one for bottom, one for the mid and one for top.
At the bottom end I use an Ashdown signature model, ABM RPM1 (my signature), which is a Klystron Bass Pre-Magnifier powered by an Ashdown PM1000 power amplifier. This is running two Ashdown 8 x 10 cabinets. At the mid range, I use a Trace Elliot V-Type V8 valve amplifier going through two 2 x 12″ Ashdown JE cabinets. On the top end it gets even more complicated: to obtain treble and sustain at low volume, I use a Line 6 POD Pro programmable pre-amp or a Digitech 2120 Artist Valve Guitar System. These are powered by another Ashdown PM1000 power amplifier going in stereo into another two 2 x 12″ JE speaker cabinets with Ashdown Blue 12″ drivers.
My guitar plugs into a converted Alembic input module with an A/B guitar switch to enable smooth guitar changes. The input module has 4 outputs, one to each amp system and the forth to a Korg DTR Digital Tuner. This is the current system I use with The Who. With my own band, JEB (the John Entwistle Band), the system is pretty much the same, only the bottom end speakers are four Ashdown JE ASS 15″ cabinets powered in mono by two Ashdown PM1000 power amplifiers. I carry two spare speaker cabinets for each system and two spare racks for both the pre-amps and the amps. A spare for the spare — just to be safe. Guitar wise, I carry four Status Buzzard four-string basses totally made of graphite to my own design and two Status Buzzard eight-string basses.
- GC: You’ve gone through quite a few makes and models of amps over the years. Can you take us through the high points of your amp history.
John: I started out with an 18″ speaker, which lived in an open-back cabinet. The rest of the band (we had no roadie at the time) objected to the heaviness of the cabinet with the 18″ inside it. So we had the idea to hang the speaker on a six-inch nail and carry it in a separate cardboard box. Consequently every time I played a low E note the speaker would vibrate off the nail and fall on the floor behind the cabinet. I guess I learned how to play with just my left hand in this way – as I needed the right to hang the damn speaker back on the nail!
After that, I went through a whole collection of different 50-watt amps and different speakers until, contrary to popular belief, Marshall made the first 4 x 12″ speaker cabinets. I bought the second, fifth, eighth and ninth. We insisted to Marshall that we needed a 100-watt amplifier for more power. They insisted it was impossible, but made one anyway. Pete and myself bought the first four.
From there, we changed to HiWatt 100-watt amps and 4 x 12″ cabinets. I eventually changed to using Sunn 300-watt Coliseum Amps powering four 18″ PA bins plus additional 12″ cabinets (up to sixteen 12″ cabinets at one point). After hundreds of different speakers and pre-amp changes, I discovered a guy who made me my present ASS speaker cabinets. These were later taken over by Mark Gooday at Ashdown who is currently making the same cabinets.
We were gradually playing larger venues and in the early days PA systems were kind of non-existent. So to play loud, we had to use louder equipment. The PA systems back then didn’t mic the instruments – only the vocals.
Later I had to use different amplification (e.g. pre-amp and processor to sustain at lower volumes as my big amps were tending to drown out the PA).
With bass, especially bottom end, the vibration has to happen on stage otherwise the feel is wrong. This is why you can’t scale the equipment down too far.
- GC: I’ve heard your right-hand playing style described as a “typewriter-style” kind of tapping. Is that accurate? Can you describe that style?
John: When I was six years old I was forced by my mother to learn piano, which I hated. However, it loosened up both my left and right hands. I then convinced my mother to let me play trumpet, which is a right-handed instrument. The school orchestra had me playing French horn instead, which is a left-handed instrument. So by the time I taught myself the bass guitar at the age of 14, my hands were already pretty nimble. I was bored with the way everyone was playing bass back then in the late 50’s–60’s, with either the thumb or first finger or with a pick. In fact, I was bored with the whole situation of the instrument, four to a bar, root note booming background. Unless you were the singer, it was a dead-end job.
Fortunately, in a band with only two guitars and drums there was plenty of room to expand my ideas. Now I play bass, rhythm and lead all at once. I call myself a bass guitarist rather than a bass player (although I can play straight bass if I want to).
The typewriter position is only one of the many hand positions that I use. I may use several different positions during one song. The type writing method is obtained by turning the hand sideways and tapping the strings with four fingers. This way you can play all four strings at the same time. It involves building up the strength in the four fingers of the right hand in a whipping (spring-like) motion, otherwise, all you get is a right hand hammer-on.