The Gibson SG Special

From 1968 to 1972 Pete Townshend used as his guitar of choice the cherry red Gibson SG Special. These guitars can be seen in some of The Who's most famous performances - the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus, Woodstock, the Isle of Wight festivals, etc. Pete also smashed dozens of them.

In September 1997 Sotheby's auctioned off one of Pete's SGs. Here is the information from the catalog.

The above guitar went unsold and was relisted in Sotheby's Rock & Roll auction of September 1998 where it realized �5,750 (approx. $8,700).

High definition photos of the front and back of the above guitar.

On September 29, 2004, Christie's auctioned off the following white SG:


Location London, South Kensington Sale Date Sep 29, 2004
Lot Number 103 Sale Number 9919
Lot Title Pete Townshend/The Who
Estimate Estimate On Request
Special Notice No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis
Lot Description Pete Townshend/The Who
A 1963 Gibson SG Special, Serial No. 105078 (overstamped 128658), in Polaris White finish, double cutaway mahogany body, mahogany neck, 22 fret bound rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays, two P90 pickups, four rotary controls, selector switch, metal bridge, black pickguard, tailpiece removed; and a black hardshell contour case with orange plush lining, stencilled on the outside with white lettering WHO -- owned by Pete Townshend circa 1972-1974 and played by him onstage during The Who's UK Fallout Shelter Tour, October-November, 1973; accompanied by a document concerning the provenance (3)
NEILL, Andy and KENT, Matt Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle Of The Who, 1958-1978, London: Virgin Books, 2002
Lot Notes Pete Townshend appears to have owned at least two, or possibly three Polaris White Gibson SG Specials. This guitar, and another version that is documented in photographs of The Who on stage in Holland, 10th March, 1973, are distinctive because they both have three holes on the body where the tailpiece has been removed - this version has three holes that form a triangle on the body whereas the other version has three holes in a straight line below the bridge.
Photographs taken by Robert Ellis at the Odeon Theatre in Newcastle on 6th November, 1973, the second of three nights in Newcastle during the Fallout Shelter Tour, show Pete Townshend prior to going on stage holding the guitar in this Lot [see photograph above] and photographs from the same night show Townshend on stage with the guitar [see front cover photograph].

The Gibson SG is the model of guitar with which Townshend is most associated. He used this model almost exclusively on stage between 1968-1973. He tended to use SGs dating between 1966-1970, which are identified by their full black wraparound pickguard. Gibson changed the SG's specification in 1971 - according to an interview with Townshend published in Guitar Player magazine, May/June, 1972: ...They took the old SG off the market like about a year ago, so we used up every old SG in the country...I raided every music store in the country practically, looking for old SGs... When supplies of 1966-1970 models began to dry up, he then briefly switched to pre-1966 models with the smaller pickguard such as the guitar in this lot. Subsequently, at the end of 1973, he switched permanently to using a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe.
Townshend often took off the tailpiece and tremolo arm on his Gibson SG guitars as, according to him, the guitars ...were a bit weak, which was the only problem; I could actually break them with my bare hands. But that's when I started to develop that technique because you didn't need a tremolo arm. You could do it by just shaking the guitar...

In the late 1970s, the vendor obtained this guitar from a former employee of The Who who was learing to play, and to whom Townshend had given the guitar in the mid-1970s.
Post-lot Text Photograph courtesy of Robert Ellis/

The picture below shows my son Stephen (a future Who fan born in 1986) with an SG that Pete didn't get his hands on, a 1968 model. The Gibson Vibrola has been removed and the strings attached directly to the stop tailpiece in the manner that Pete used.

stephensg.jpg (18882 bytes)

The following three photos were taken of my guitar before I bought it and before the Vibrola was removed (a completely reversible operation).

Next is a shot of Pete playing an SG Special. The picture was used in the Maximum BBC bootleg CD, Red Robin ROB-1041.

petessg.jpg (13556 bytes)

Pete at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, September 29, 1969. Photo by Henk Hulstkamp. For more photos of this and other shows, go to

I have always been fascinated with Pete's Gibson SGs and have a number of questions about them. Who knows, perhaps Pete can answer them someday. In the meantime, if you can answer any of them or want to discuss it further please contact me.

A listing of any serial numbers I have for stage used Pete Townshend guitars.

917512 - Gibson SG Special (circa 1969) - sold at Sotheby's September 1998 Rock & Roll auction
969973 - Gibson SG (1970) - played early in 1971 tour - collection of Brad Rogers
129875 - Gibson Maroon Les Paul Deluxe - used on stage and in the studio 1975-1979 - collection of Brad Rogers
133592 - Gibson Gold Les Paul Deluxe - December 1976 Hammersmith Odeon show - headstock owned by Chris Parry
S8474 - Black Schecter used onstage 1979-1982 - collection of Brad Rogers
185993 - Gibson Les Paul Deluxe - information provided by Rock Stars Guitars
135581 - Gibson Les Paul Deluxe - information provided by Rock Stars Guitars
105078 (overstamped 128658) - 1963 white Gibson SG sold by Christie's (see information near top of page)
884484 - Gibson SG Special - 1967 - offered at $110,000 in 2013 by Maverick Music

Gibson Musical Instruments has announced the Gibson Pete Townshend Signature SG Guitar.

Following is their press release:

The Gibson Custom, Art, & Historic division now offers a limited edition Pete Townshend Signature SG guitar, a faithful replica of the guitar Townshend made famous at the historic "Live at Leeds" concert, February 14, 1970.

Gibson joined forces with Townshend to make a limited edition of 250 guitars, and each is a painstaking reproduction of the legendary musician's Gibson SG.

Says Pete Townshend, "This guitar is amazing. It looks, sounds, and feels exactly like the SG I used during 'Live at Leeds.'" The Who's performance was perhaps one of the defining moments in rock and roll history. As a testament to that moment, Gibson proudly offers this fine guitar to guitarist and music fans worldwide.

Special features include a dark, vintage cherry finish, along with "aged" hardware for a truly vintage look. Each guitar is numbered (1 of 250, 2 of 250, etc.), and a copy of Townshend's signature is emblazoned on the headstock. In addition, Townshend has personally signed each Certificate of Authenticity.

The guitar also comes with two cases. First, a special Flight Case has been created and features "Pete Townshend" stenciled on its side, as well as travel stickers such as "The Who," and "Fragile." The Flight Case is "pre-tour tested" and comes complete with bumps and scratches. The other case is a deluxe Custom Shop SG Hardshell.

A portion of the sales will go to Townshend's Double O Charity, which benefits youth globally.

The Pete Townshend Signature SG will be available through authorized Gibson Custom, Art & Historic Dealers around the world, as well as at Townshend's ecommerce site

Gibson USA recently unveiled three new signature models including a Gary Moore Signature Les Paul, an Angus Young Signature SG, and the Nikki Sixx "Blackbird" Bass.

Call 1-800-4GIBSON anytime for more information on all the new Gibson Signature releases. For all the news from Summer NAMM, go here.

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