Some might think of The Who as primarily a '60s band, but they made just as big an impact in the '70s. Controversial? Not really. As well as classic albums, the '70s Who brought ultra-powerful live shows, world records, an even-more-roaring Gibson guitar sound and – ultimately – creative and physical meltdown.

Maximum R&B The Who The Who cut four studio albums in each of the '60s and '70s, and their new decade opened with the brutal Live at Leeds (1970). With Pete Townshend cranking his new 6-string loves – Gibson SGs – into a fearsome attack, Live at Leeds is a relentless whack to the head and acknowledged as one of the greatest live albums ever. The cover versions honor The Who's rock'n'roll and rhythm and blues roots, but they're dropped like proto-metal bombs. In 2006, Leeds University even honored the album's recording with its own historical Blue Plaque.

Essential tracks: For classic PT power-guitar, “Summertime Blues” and John Entwistle's “Heaven and Hell”

Perhaps The Who's finest album, Who's Next (1971), followed and incorporated songs intended for Townshend's aborted Lifehouse project. Despite any thematic strand being hard to spot, the album simply works as a tour-de-force of repeated rock punches. Townshend's slashing guitars shine.

Essential tracks: “Won't Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O'Reilly” and “Behind Blue Eyes”

Townshend wasn't done with rock-opera, returning to story-telling for Quadrophenia (1973). The daily-life struggles of central character Jimmy provide the narrative for some of Townshend's most ambitious self-produced compositions that go way beyond just riffing. PT called Quadrophenia's musical scope “Wagnerian, because I was listening to music that had that grandiosity.”

Essential tracks: “5.15”, “The Real Me”, “Love Reign O'er Me”, “The Punk And The Godfather”

The Who By Numbers (1975) saw Townshend struggling, perhaps unsurprisingly after such a rich vein of form, and the album collected pretty much every written song he then had in his head. It's more personal, lacking bombast but certainly not soft – inside, Townshend confronted some of his most revealing demons. “The songs are about being older, feeling lost, losing your way,” he reflected. “Changing fashions, being sentimental, looking at the sunrise. What’s that got to do with being a young man? You don’t start looking at the sunrise until you’re dying.” He was just 30!

Essential track: Townshend's crisp warning to others (and himself) of the perils of rock'n'roll, “Slip Kid.” A rare, extended melodic Townshend solo, too.

By the mid-'70s, The Who were at their live zenith, resulting in a three-year recording break before Who Are You? (1978). Given Keith Moon's death shortly after release, some veteran fans consider it the final “real” Who album. It falters at times, but was a huge success. Fitting, too, that the closing title track and “Baba O'Reilly” bookend The Who's '70s studio work with the same bubbling ARP synth.

Essential track: “Who Are You?”, written after PT's same-day encounters with his past (ex-manager Kit Lambert) and “the future” (fawning Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones) ending up in Townshend's drunken self-doubt.

Townshend and Gibson in the '70s

Townshend gravitated towards Gibsons from the late '60s, particularly for live shows. Gibson SG Standards and Specials were mainstays (Woodstock, Live At Leeds, and the Isle of Wight shows) but he moved on to single-cut Les Pauls for most of the following decade: Standards, Customs but in particularly mini-humbucker-loaded Les Paul Deluxes, first played in 1971.

Cherry sunburst, wine red and Gold Top finishes all featured, though Townshend modded his Deluxes extensively. He removed pickguards often, and his tech(s) added a Letraset numbering system on some to identify different guitars for different songs/capo usage.

It was '76 when Townshend added a third humbucker, a DiMarzio Dual Sound super distortion, to the middle position with additional switching and routing.

Indeed, 1976 was a landmark year for The Who. They'd graduated to outdoor stadiums across Europe and the USA, and their show at Charlton Athletic FC's Valley Stadium in London was listed as the loudest concert ever by the Guinness Book of Records – the volume level was measured at 126db 32m from the stage. Yet the transatlantic tours were also to be Keith Moon's last. After '76, Moon only played one-off shows such as the Shepperton Studios sessions for the recording of The Kids Are Alright movie just before his death.

Want just one guitar that captures the golden glory of The Who in the mid-'70s? Here it is, in the Gibson Les Paul Artist Series – 40 years on, it's the Pete Townshend Deluxe Gold Top '76.

Pete Townshend Les Paul

Pete Townshend Deluxe Gold Top '76

This heavily-customized Les Paul Deluxe was developed from the remnants of one of Pete Townshend's Deluxes that he broke on stage and that is now exhibited at the Victoria & Albert museum in London. It was destroyed by Townshend on April 1, 1976 at The Who's 15,000 capacity show at Boston Garden, Massachusetts.

Pete Townshend Les Paul

Crafted by Gibson as a modern replica of the original, it uses the same building processes as the Deluxes built in the '70s and features the same customization elements as Pete's guitar.

Who's Best?

Pete Townshend The Who

Which album encapsulates The Who in the '70s to you? The rock opera Quadrophenia? Who's Next? The post-punk Who Are You? The downbeat The Who by Numbers? Or simply the visceral thrills of Live at Leeds? Have your say!

Unique features abound on the Pete Townshend Deluxe Gold Top '76:

• The body has a walnut strip sandwiched between mahogany, making the seven-piece construction similar to the Pete Townshend original.

• The pickup spec is similarly hot-rodded, with the Deluxe's two mini-humbuckers and the addition of a DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucker in the center.

• For controls, you get 2 volumes, 1 tone, 1 classic toggle, 1 middle pickup blend rotary, and 1 three-position toggle for the middle pickup.

• For playing ease, the guitar has 7-hole weight relief.

To remind players of the original's fate, there's a "Break Here" sticker on the back of the neck at the 8th fret. It's a reminder, not an instruction!

With just 150 made in a limited edition run, this will be a much sought-after memento of Townshend and The Who's '70s glory. More importantly, it's a superbly versatile Les Paul that is definitely for playing, not breaking...

Full details of the Gibson Pete Townshend Deluxe Gold Top '76 .