I'm an electric guitar. A 1967 cherry-red Gibson SG Special electric guitar. And with all the recent talk about Woodstock – this being the 50th anniversary and all – I’ve been thinking back to my time at the historic concert. You see, I’m not just any 1967 cherry red Gibson SG Special. I’m the Gibson SG played at Woodstock by none other than Peter Townshend of The Who.
Many of you won’t believe me when I say I was Pete Townshend’s guitar. You might say, “Hey buddy, I’ve seen the Woodstock film and that guitar was battered at the end of the band’s set and tossed into the crowd like a sacrificial offering.”
Okay, I’ll get to that, but first let me say it wasn’t easy being Pete Townshend’s guitar. Many of my peers didn’t survive. And I sometimes shudder to think about the abuse I suffered at the hands of the rock-n-roll master of destruction. That said, I’ll let you in on something that might come as a surprise, which is that Pete and his guitar tech were experts when it came to piecing me back together after a show.
Sometimes they’d fit me with new parts – a new bridge or neck took some getting used to. But on most nights, all I needed was a heavy dose of carpenter’s glue to set me right. Sure, I suffered from a fair share of wear and tear – scratches, gouges, dings, chipped paint, and assorted other blemishes. Fortunately, I was never too concerned about my looks. Keep me in tune and make sure my electronics were in good working order. That’s all I cared about.
Anyway, getting back to Woodstock. On the day of our show, Pete took me into a trailer behind the stage to run through a few tunes. Everything was groovy, as we used to say in those days, until someone inadvertently splashed me with a glassful of lemonade spiked with brown acid. I don’t remember much in the hours after that other than arguing with Alvin Lee’s big red ES-335, who was convinced the clouds were talking to us. I disagreed and said it was the raindrops.
Pete left me in the trailer until it was time to hit the stage, which was delayed until five o’clock in the morning due the overall chaos of the event. After kicking off our set with “Heaven and Hell” and “I Can’t Explain,” we stormed through “Tommy” and the rest of our numbers before finishing with an explosive instrumental jam at the end of "My Generation.” Pete capped off our performance by throwing me into the air and pounding me hard against the hardwood stage.
As the last waves of feedback roared over the crowd, I remember feeling happy. I’m still in one piece, I thought, and it seems like the audience liked the show. In any event, we were done, and I was ready to go back into my case and get some rest. Then, much to my surprise – and to the surprise of everyone else in attendance – Pete stepped to the front edge of the stage and threw me into the crowd.
So, this is how it ends, I thought, tossed from the stage at Woodstock and torn to pieces by the mob. As it turned out, I was caught by a spaced-out hippie who looked at me like I was a gift from the gods. I’m sure he didn’t know what to think when I landed in his arms, nor did he know what hit him when a quick-moving roadie snatched me from his grasp and returned me to the trailer.
The Who left Yasgur’s farm and never looked back. As Pete’s guitar of choice through the band’s golden years, I was proud to play my part in music history. And I guess that’s why I was so upset when Pete began to prefer different guitars on stage. In a few short years, I went from starring at Woodstock to being locked away in Pete’s studio to hanging on the wall at the Hard Rock Cafe like an antiquated museum piece.
Hell yes, I was bitter. And I stayed that way until just last Sunday when – a few minutes before closing – Pete Townshend came marching through the front door of the restaurant. He’d put on a few pounds and lost some hair, but he looked great, stylishly dressed, with a crimson cravat poking out of the breast pocket of his sharp dark blazer. In that instant, my anger was palpable. How could you leave me here? I wanted to shout as he passed by without even a nod or glance.
"Hold up a minute, Pete," said the man who was with him. "Isn't this one of yours?" The man pointed up at me.
"Indeed," Pete replied. “It’s one of my old SGs from back in our glory days."
Old? I thought. Look who’s talking!
"It says here that it’s your Woodstock guitar."
"Oh, what a bloody awful mess that was,” exclaimed Pete.
Even after all these years, I thought, it doesn’t take much to get him ranting about Woodstock. At least you could show a little appreciation for what that moment meant to you and the band, not to mention to the millions of people who love The Who. If I wasn’t painted cherry red, he would have seen my entire body flush with anger. Then, as my blood continued to boil, Pete’s voice took on a softer, gentler tone.
“I’ve played a lot of great guitars over the years.” He paused for a moment and looked up at me in the glass case. “Of them all, these Gibson SGs really were something special.”
And that’s all it took. All the pent-up anger, bitterness, and rage lifted away like the sonic reverberation of a power chord ascending into the upper reaches of a concert hall. As Pete and his friend strolled into the dining room, I could finally forgive him. Of course, I still question why he plays that red Strat these days when he could be playing me. But it’s not so bad being here on display at the Hard Rock Cafe, my place in rock history secure, not only as the signature guitar for one of the world’s greatest bands, but also as an enduring emblem of the generation that came of age all those years ago in the Summer of Love.