Seeing an artist raise their respective axe over their head and bashing it against the stage, speaker, drum kit, etc., until all that is left is a neck in their hand and scattered shrapnel can cause gasps of delight and groans of disgust.
Sure, that’s a lot of money and perhaps nostalgia to waste with a few swings of an arm. Then again, the act can also serve as the perfect expression of intense emotion that oftentimes goes along with a rock and roll show.
With Pete Townsend and the Who’s rise to popularity in the late 1960s, the windmilling guitarist brought the art of smashing a guitar to pieces to the masses, and several players have emulated him throughout the years.
So in the spirit of Townsend, here is a look at the Top 10 Guitar Smashers.
“Basically, [guitar smashing is] a gesture which happens at the spur of the moment. I think with guitar smashing, just like performance itself, it’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant. And it really is meaningless.” – Townshend to Rolling Stone in 1968
Townshend began studying at Ealing Art College in 1961 and was influenced by artist and activist Gustav Metzker. That, in turn, caused Townshend to view his guitar smashing as “auto-destructive” art.
The first incident occurred when the Who was playing a familiar club and Townsend’s guitar accidentally hit the ceiling and broke. Townsend played it off as if it had been intentional, and drummer Keith Moon joined the action by demolishing his drum kit. The events caused a buzz around London, and it soon became a staple of a Who show.
Both Jimi Hendrix and the Who performed at the 1967 Monterrey International Pop Festival in San Francisco, with Townsend going on first. Of course, Townshend did his thing, and Hendrix did not want to be outdone.
Hendrix opted to not only smash his guitar, but to also set it on fire.
As the story goes, he was playing his favorite black Fender Stratocaster for the entire show and was going to light it up at its climax, but he switched that Strat out at the last minute because he loved it too much. With the less-valuable guitar in hand, he got some lighter fluid and started the blaze, kneeling in front of the tribute as it burned.
“The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar,” Hendrix is quoted as saying.
While not much of a guitar smasher on a regular basis, Jeff Beck has one notable scene in the 1966 Michealangelo Antonioni film Blowup.
In the latter part of the movie, Beck’s Yardbirds were playing the song “Stroll On” in a packed nightclub. As the crowd got wilder and wilder, Beck’s amp began to fail, prompting the virtuoso to clobber his guitar in frustration. As if to finish the job, Beck even jams the heel of his boot into the broken body.
Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore took what Townshend and Hendrix did to almost sadistic levels. Not content with merely snapping off the neck or charring the wood, Blackmore had a penchant for completely eviscerating his Fender Stratocasters.
In fact, a Deep Purple tour in 1987 had to be interrupted when he threw a guitar into the air and it came down on his hand awkwardly, breaking a finger.
The cover of the Clash’s London Calling tells observers all they need to know about Paul Simonon’s smashing. The photo was taken at a show at New York’s Palladium on Sept. 21, 1979.
While by all accounts, it was an amazing set, Simonon wasn’t happy with the fact that the bouncers wouldn’t let the audience out of their chairs. “That frustrated me to the point where I destroyed this bass guitar,” he told Fender in an interview that can be viewed below.
Channeling the man he said he looked up to in Townsend, Simonon let his Precision Bass have it.
The KISS guitarist has been breaking guitars for years now. On top of the makeup, fake blood and tremendous pyro, Paul Stanley has ended every bombastic live show with an obliterated axe over the last few decades.
It’s even gotten to the point where Stanley is selling the smashed guitars for a meager(!?) $4,300 on his official website, a gem that comes with a meet-and-greet and a personalized inscription and autograph.
The grunge legend had no problem letting his angst show on stage with Nirvana’s electric performances, routinely plowing through speakers, drums and cymbals without regard to bodily injury. His guitar was quite often collateral damage as well.
One great example of Cobain taking it out on his guitar took place at a 1991 concert in Dallas. Midway through the song “Polly,” Cobain was obviously annoyed with some sound issues. The mercurial frontman stopped short and pounded his guitar into the monitor until the instrument could take it no longer. He even nailed the monitor with his guitar stand. That’s frustration.
Motley Crue’s Nikki Six was another bassist who liked to smash his four-stringers. Typically, during Motley Crue’s raucous live shows, Sixx would unleash the fury on a bass and split it into pieces. Many of those broken basses, sadly, were Squier Precision Basses.
Matthew Bellamy, frontman of U.K. arena rockers Muse, is known for his soaring vocals and fiery fretwork, but he holds another distinction that many might not know about. In 2010, Bellamy etched his name into the Guinness Book of World Records for smashing the most guitars ever on a tour.
Bellamy went through a whopping 140 guitars during the Absolution Tour, setting a record that still stands today.
In the iconic 1978 movie Animal House, John Belushi plays the boorish-but-lovable Bluto, who is in his seventh year of college and carries a 0.0 GPA.
Bluto had two things going for him that were definitely rock and roll: 1) He could down a bottle of Jack Daniels in record time, and 2) He had no problem smashing a guitar.
During one party scene in the movie, Bluto walks up the stairs of the fraternity house and sees a guy playing an acoustic tune to swooning co-eds. Turning back around, Bluto grabs the guitar and blasts it into the wall. Let the party continue.