With a nickname like The Ox you know what to expect from John Entwistle: powerhouse playing that levels the competition. Playing with The Who for almost forty years, Entwistle set the standard for rock bass playing, inspiring greats like Chris Squire, Greg Lake and Geddy Lee.
John Entwistle’s SoundEntwistle was best known for his treble-heavy sound, achieved by using roundwound Rotosound steel bass strings. He was a pioneer in the realm of amplification, making the use of Marshall Stacks, which became standard equipment for rock bands. Unusual for a bass player, Entwistle switched between playing with a pick and his fingers, creating a rich and varied lexicon of tones. His finger playing style was also unique, utilizing the thumb and fingers in unison to achieve a “type-writer” effect, cascading streams of notes that were as melodic as they were percussive. Another technique was to slide from note to note on the fretboard, heard to great effect on “Can You See The Real Me?”.
John Entwistle’s Hand PositioningEntwistle developed a technique for speed where instead of having his arm and hand in the normal position, flicking the strings with his fingertips like most other bass players through history, he turned his plucking hand until his index finger knuckle was almost touching the bass body. This allowed his to pluck the strings rapidly with the sides of his fingertips.
Even though he was known to be a fast bass player, he was never known to be a hard bass player. He would flick the strings like his fingers were feathers. He always let the amplification and effects take the sounds he was making and let them do their job. It was also said that the action on his basses were so low that nobody else could play them. This allowed his fretting hand to move around with ease and speed, barely having to touch the string to have it hit the fret.
With The Who, Entwistle developed a style that could span R & B, straight blues, rock and roll, hard rock, progressive rock, pop and ballads. His range was unlimited.
Entwistle’s first bass was self made, which might have contributed to his unique playing style. From there, he played an astonishing number of different basses: Fender Precision, Epiphone, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, Vox, Gibson and Danelectro.
John Entwistle died in 2002 from a cocaine overdose. The Ox had finally reached his limit. His passing was met with sadness and celebration of his talents by Who fans and the bass playing community, who owed much of their stock in trade – technique, gear and stagecraft – to Entwistle’s innovations.