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Pete Townshend: today's players have “literally exhausted the possibilities of the guitar”

Pete Townshend of The Who performs live
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Best of 2019: Hot on the heels of the announcement of new, “best album since Quadrophenia” full-length, Who, The Who’s contemplative guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend has shared his thoughts on the place of electric guitar in the rock music of today.

When asked about the waning of guitar-based rock ’n’ roll, Townshend told Dallas News: “The guitar may be losing ground, but in part, that's because if you spend an hour on Instagram or YouTube, you will quickly discover unknown people playing the guitar the way a great orchestral violinist like Yehudi Menuhin once might have played his instrument.

Sorry, Pete, we disagree

“These are virtuosos of the highest order. They can shred like Eddie Van Halen or play jazz like John McLaughlin. They've literally exhausted the possibilities of the guitar.”

The influential guitarist went on to describe how hip-hop has taken the place of guitar music as the soundtrack to rebellion.

“This kind of virtuosity is already happening with beatbox-based rap, and with laptop-supported pop. Everything will change again, maybe faster than it did for guitar music - who knows?

“It is, as you so rightly call it, ‘guitar-based rock ’n’ roll’ that is losing ground, not rock itself. Hip-hop is rock to my ears: music for the neighborhood, the street, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the young, the ignored. That used to be what I focused on. Now, I try to write real operas, and want my stage work to be like art installations - and why not? Kanye West has been doing the same thing.”

Judging by the sound of new single Ball And Chain, we're not expecting Townshend to beatbox quite yet, but we'll find out when Who lands on November 22.

Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Digital Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World, having spent eight years contributing to guitar journalism and a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). He has written and edited for MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, and makes prog-ish instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.