Instrument destruction

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The destruction of musical instruments is an act performed by a few pop, rock and other musicians during live performances, particularly at the end of the gig.

Early years[edit]

In 1956, on the Lawrence Welk Show, a zoot-suited performer billed as "Rockin' Rocky Rockwell" did a mocking rendition of Elvis Presley's hit song "Hound Dog." At the conclusion of the song, he smashed an acoustic guitar to smithereens over his knee.[1] US country musician Ira Louvin was famous for smashing mandolins that he deemed out-of-tune.[2]

A broken guitar.

Jerry Lee Lewis may be the first rock artist to have destroyed his equipment on stage, with several, possibly erroneous, stories of him destroying and burning pianos in the 1950s.[3]

Jazz musician Charles Mingus, known for his fiery temper, reportedly smashed his $20,000 bass onstage in response to audience hecklers at New York's Five Spot.[4]

In the mid 1960s, guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who was the first guitar-smashing rock artist. Rolling Stone magazine included his smashing of a Rickenbacker guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September 1964[5][6] in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll".[7] A student of Gustav Metzger, Townshend saw his guitar smashing as a kind of auto-destructive art.

Keith Moon, The Who's drummer, was also known for destroying his drum set. The most spectacular episode of this occurred during The Who's debut on U.S. television on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Moon overloaded his bass drum with explosive charges which were detonated during the finale of the song, "My Generation." The explosion caused guest Bette Davis to faint, set Pete Townshend's hair on fire and, according to legend, contributed to his later partial deafness and tinnitus. Moon was also injured in the explosion when shrapnel from the cymbals cut his arm.[8] VH1 later placed this event at number ten on their list of the twenty Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on Television.[9]

Jeff Beck, then a member of the Yardbirds, reluctantly destroyed a guitar in the 1966 film Blowup after being told to emulate The Who by director Michelangelo Antonioni.[10] Jimi Hendrix is also known for destroying his guitars and amps. He famously burned two guitars at three shows, most notably the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.[11] In an effort to out-do The Who's destruction of their instruments earlier at the same event, Hendrix poured lighter fluid over his guitar and set it on fire, even though "I'd just finished painting it that day" as he would later remark.[12] In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine included this in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll" alongside Townshend's first guitar smashing in 1964.[12]

Instrument destruction has also featured in other musical genres than pop and rock music. Towards the end of Peter Maxwell Davies's monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King, first performed in 1969, the vocalist seizes the violin from one of the musicians and smashes it.

Later instrument destruction[edit]

Charly García with a smashed guitar.

Wendy O. Williams of Plasmatics was notable for blowing up music equipment and chain-sawing guitars while performing live.[citation needed]

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow smashed guitars in performance through the seventies.[13]

Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar on the cover of The Clash album London Calling

Paul Simonon of The Clash famously destroyed his bass only once at the side of stage, a photograph of the event becoming the iconic cover to their London Calling album.[14]

Kurt Cobain and members of Nirvana smashed guitars and other equipment at performances throughout the band's career.[15][16]

When on tour, "Weird Al" Yankovic frequently performs a novelty acoustic ballad, "You Don't Love Me Anymore", holding a guitar, but never actually playing it. At the song's conclusion, he smashes the guitar, emulating the conclusion to the song's original music video.

Matthew Bellamy of Muse has the Guinness world record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140. [17]

In the famous toga party scene in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House, John Belushi's character Bluto comes across a folk singer (portrayed by singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who is credited as "Charming Guy With Guitar") performing the The Riddle Song for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it, then hands a splintered piece of it back, saying "Sorry."

In 2007, Win Butler of Arcade Fire destroyed an acoustic guitar at the end of a live performance of "Intervention" on Saturday Night Live, after a string had broken during the performance.[18]

In 2012, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day destroyed his guitar at the end of a live performance of iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas as a sign of outburst of not given enough time for his performance. [19]

John Hiatt criticized the practice in the title song of his 1993 hit album Perfectly Good Guitar.

In 1992, country artist Garth Brooks, along with then band member Ty England, at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas smashed their acoustic guitars at the end of "Friends In Low Places"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rockwell, Rockin' Rocky (1956). "Hound Dog". The Lawrence Welk Show. 
  2. ^ Gardner, Lee (2012-02-01). "Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers". Baltimore City Paper. 
  3. ^ Fontenot, Robert. "Did Jerry Lee Lewis really set his pianos on fire onstage?". 
  4. ^ Wynn, Ron (1994), "Jazz Venues", in Ron Wynn, All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 717, ISBN 0-87930-308-5 
  5. ^ Friedlander, Paul (1996). "The Who: People Try To Put Us Down". Rock and Roll: A Social History. Westview Press. 
  6. ^ "The Who – Biography". The Marquee Club. 
  7. ^ "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Townshend Smashes It Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24. 
  8. ^ "The Who, Smothers Brothers, 1967". Ready, Steady, Go!. Archived from the original on 2009-01-06. 
  9. ^ VH1[dead link]
  10. ^ Neill, Andy; Kent, Matt (2005). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who 1958-1978. Sterling Publishing. p. 66. 
  11. ^ "Hendrix's burnt guitar for sale". BBC News. 2007-08-25. 
  12. ^ a b "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Otis and Jimi Burn it Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24. 
  13. ^ "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 4. 
  14. ^ "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 6. 
  15. ^ Marin, Rick (1993-10-31). "The Ax Murders". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ Nirvana frontman "Kurt Cobain's smashed guitar sold for $100,000". NME. 2008-12-26. 
  17. ^ "Most guitars smashed on tour". 
  18. ^ Modell, Josh (2007-03-14). "Interview: Win Butler of Arcade Fire". The A.V. Club. 
  19. ^ Gladwell, Amy (2012-09-23). "Newsbeat – Green Day lead singer smashes guitar on stage in Vegas". BBC. Retrieved 2013-02-02.