You're Playing It Wrong! "Pinball Wizard"

January 30, 2014

ONE OF THE MOST COMMONLY MISPLAYED parts in the annals of rock guitar is Pete Townshend’s classic first-verse rhythm figure from the Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” But don’t be too hard on yourself—the chord voicings in this series of descending suspensions and resolutions—routinely called Bsus4-to-B, Asus4-to-A, Gsus4-to-G, and F#sus4-to-F#— aren’t quite what they appear to be.

Ex. 1 accurately defines Townshend’s rhythmic strumming and all-important accents, but the fully barred Bsus4 and B voicings are cumbersome and miss the mark. The same goes for the rest of the eight-bar chord sequence, so if you’ve been using these fingerings, you’re playing it wrong.

We’ll address the corrected figure in two parts. In Ex 2, which illustrates all eight voicings, we eliminate the full barre in each chord in favor of a thumb-fretted sixth string, and completely omit the fifth string. (Tip: Mute it with the tip of your thumb.) This allows a much more seamless transition between each pair of chords as you mate them with Fig. 1’s rhythmic motif, and Townshend does indeed use these voicings during various points in the song, but the real revelation comes in Ex. 3. Here, Townshend loses the partial barre and opens up the B string in each voicing. The result doesn’t significantly impact the first two chords other than adding some rootnote jangle, but check out the magic that happens when you cycle through the remaining six chords, most of which are harmonically enriched by the open B. Savor how Asus4-A becomes Asus4add9-Aadd9, Gsus4-G turns into Gadd4-G, and F#sus4-F# is transformed into a Rundgren-esque F#sus4-F#add4 double suspension. Apply each pair of chords from Fig. 3 to Fig. 1’s rhythm motif, play the last one (F#add4) as a staccato quarter-note, and you’re ready to rock the B-A-D-E-to-the-bone power-chord riff that follows. (You’re on your own for that one!)

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