Instrument destruction

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 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] Several contemporary musicians, including Annea Lockwood, Yōsuke Yamashita, and Diego Stocco, have incorporated piano burning in their compositions.

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]

Nam June Paik's "One for Violin Solo", performed on 16 June 1962, featured Paik very slowly and intently lifting a violin, then smashing it with one blow on a table.

In London, 1966, a group of artists from around the world came together to participate in the first Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS). According to the event's press release, the principal objective of DIAS was "to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society." Two events were scheduled to occur throughout London. During the course of the symposium, Raphael Montañez Ortiz performed a series of seven public destruction events, including his piano destruction concerts, which were filmed by both American Broadcasting Company and the BBC. Two years later, New York City hosted the second Destruction in Art Symposium at Judson Church in Greenwich Village. The artists who gathered around this art movement and its development were opposed to the senseless destruction of human life and landscapes engendered by the Vietnam war.

During the Festival of Misfits in 1962, Fluxus-artist Robin Page performed his event named "Guitar Piece". Page threw his guitar off stage and kicked it out of the ICA’s front door and down Dover Street until it broke totally apart. This piece of performance art inspired guitarist Pete Townshend of the Who, who was the first guitar-smashing rock artist.[5] Rolling Stone Magazine included his smashing of a Rickenbacker guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September 1964[6][7] in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll".[8] A student of Gustav Metzger, Townshend saw his guitar smashing as a kind of auto-destructive art.

Keith Moon, the Who's drummer and Townshend's bandmate, was also known for destroying his drum set. The most famous 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.[9] VH1 later placed this event at number ten on their list of the twenty Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on Television.[10]

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.[11] Jimi Hendrix was also known for destroying his guitars and amps. He famously burned two guitars at three shows, most notably the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.[12] 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.[13] 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.[13]

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 examples[edit]

In 1968, a piano was dropped from a helicopter near Seattle, Washington to publicize an outdoor concert. In 2019, the piano was exhumed by Jack Straw Cultural Center and displayed in a gallery. Several local composers and musicians performed on the recovered instrument.[14]

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow smashed guitars in performance throughout the 1970s, most notably at California Jam Festival which was filmed (see California Jamming).[15]

Paul Simonon of the Clash famously destroyed his Fender Precision Bass only once at the side of the stage, out of frustration over the bouncers at the show not allowing the audience to stand up from their seats. A photograph taken by Pennie Smith of the event became the iconic cover to their London Calling album.[16]

In 1991, country artist Garth Brooks and then-band-member Ty England smashed their acoustic guitars at the end of "Friends In Low Places" at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas.[17]

Kurt Cobain and the members of Nirvana also smashed guitars and other equipment at performances throughout the band's career, ranging from the late 1980s through the early 1990s.[18][19] Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, the frontwoman of Hole, also sometimes destroyed her guitars onstage,[20] as well as smashing microphones,[21] pushing over amplifier stacks, and dismantling drum kits.[22]

Pearl Jam often destroyed their instruments at shows, most famously at the 1993 MTV Music Awards at the end of their performance of "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World" with Neil Young.[23] This trend continues to today where as recently as 2022 where at the final show of their European Tour, Mike McCready smashed a $15,000 Fender during a closing performance of the same song.[24]

Nine Inch Nails were famous for destroying any instruments, and also sound equipment, that failed on stage, with their 1991 Lollapalooza tour having ten guitars smashed every concert,[25] as well as Trent Reznor either throwing Yamaha DX7 keyboards or using his boot to remove its keys.[26] A guitar technician on their Self Destruct Tour estimated 137 Gibson Les Pauls were wrecked during those concerts.[27]

Matthew Bellamy of Muse has the Guinness world record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140.[28]

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 Riddle Song" for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it against the wall, then hands a splintered piece of it back, simply 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.[29]

In 2012, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong destroyed his guitar and Mike Dirnt destroyed his bass in the middle of a live performance of iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas out of frustration about having their performance time cut short.[30]

In 2021, Phoebe Bridgers smashed her Danelectro guitar against a stage wedge during her live performance of "I Know The End" on Saturday Night Live.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rockwell, Rockin' Rocky (1956). "Hound Dog". The Lawrence Welk Show.[dead YouTube link]
  2. ^ Gardner, Lee (2012-02-01). "Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on 2012-02-14.
  3. ^ Fontenot, Robert. "Did Jerry Lee Lewis really set his pianos on fire onstage?". Archived from the original on 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
  4. ^ Wynn, Ron (1994), "Jazz Venues", in Ron Wynn (ed.), All Music Guide to Jazz, M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, p. 717, ISBN 0-87930-308-5
  5. ^ Kraushaar W. (2014) Guitar Smashing: Gustav Metzger, the Idea of Auto-destructive Works of Art, and Its Influence on Rock Music. In: Brown T.S., Lison A. (eds) The Global Sixties in Sound and Vision. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  6. ^ Friedlander, Paul (1996). "The Who: People Try To Put Us Down". Rock and Roll: A Social History. Westview Press. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27.
  7. ^ "The Who – Biography". The Marquee Club. Archived from the original on 2007-10-02.
  8. ^ "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Townshend Smashes It Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24.
  9. ^ "The Who, Smothers Brothers, 1967". Ready, Steady, Go!. Archived from the original on 2009-01-06.
  10. ^ VH1
  11. ^ Neill, Andy; Kent, Matt (2005). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who 1958-1978. Sterling Publishing. p. 66. ISBN 9781402728389.
  12. ^ "Hendrix's burnt guitar for sale". BBC News. 2007-08-25.
  13. ^ a b "50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll: Otis and Jimi Burn it Up". Rolling Stone. 2004-06-24. Archived from the original on 2017-12-07. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  14. ^ Schell, Michael (March 8, 2019). "Piano Drop at Jack Straw". Sequenza21.
  15. ^ "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 4.
  16. ^ "Gallery of Guitar Destruction". Parade. 2007. p. 6.
  17. ^ Scapelliti, Christopher. "Guitar Smashers: The 11 Deadliest Ax Wielders of All Time". Guitar World. Future Publishing Limited Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  18. ^ Marin, Rick (1993-10-31). "The Ax Murders". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's smashed guitar sold for $100,000". NME. 2008-12-26.
  20. ^ Cromelin, Richard (December 19, 1991). "POP MUSIC REVIEW : Pumpkins, Hole Unleash Frustrations". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 8, 2012. Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  21. ^ Kot, Greg (October 23, 1994). "Cobain was here". Chicago Tribune. p. 75 – via
  22. ^ "Courtney loves a rumble, Amsterdam club finds out". The Orlando Sentinel. April 25, 1995. p. 2 – via
  23. ^ Neil Young & Pearl Jam - Rockin' In The Free World (1993 at the MTV Music Awards), retrieved 2023-04-10
  24. ^ "Did Mike McCready just smash a $15,000 Custom Shop Strat on stage?". | All Things Guitar. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  25. ^ And A Bang Of The Gear , NME
  26. ^ Nine Inch Nails synths
  27. ^ Nine Inch Nails Went Through Nearly 140 Gibson Les Paul’s On ‘The Downward Spiral’ Tour
  28. ^ "Most guitars smashed on tour". Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
  29. ^ Modell, Josh (2007-03-14). "Interview: Win Butler of Arcade Fire". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 2008-06-19.
  30. ^ Gladwell, Amy (2012-09-23). "Newsbeat – Green Day lead singer smashes guitar on stage in Vegas". BBC. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
  31. ^ Fitzmaurice, Larry (February 7, 2021). "Phoebe Bridgers Talked About Smashing Her Guitar On "SNL"". BuzzFeed. Retrieved February 7, 2021.