Is it just me, or do you cringe too when you see someone break a guitar on stage? I find the practice completely useless. It could be because I’m a guitarist myself, and have been taught to treat my guitar like my baby. Setting my cynical self aside, I decided to find out who started out this awkward business. So who was the genius who started this act? Who? Pete Townshend of The Who, of course. He is the first known guitarist to smash a guitar on stage. It was the mid-1960s and The Who were just starting out. The group was playing a set at the Railway Tavern in Harrow. At the end of the gig, Townshend raised his guitar above his head and accidentally hit the low ceiling, smashing the headstock off. When the audience didn’t react to this, he decided it was best to smash the rest of its body. In an interview following the incident he said:
“I was expecting everybody to go, ‘Wow, he’s broken his guitar, he’s broken his guitar,’ but nobody did anything, which made me kind of angry in a way. And determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience. I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I bounced all over the stage with it and I threw the bits on the stage and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really had meant to do it.”
It seems Mr Townshend has quite a track record with guitars. In 1989, at a show in Washington, he struck the guitar (in his famous windmill motion) with such force he drove the guitar’s tremolo bar through his hand and needed hospital treatment. I guess he did have it coming…
So there you have it people… the first guitar smashing was just an accident. But clearly, the rest of guitar smashing is not done by accident…
Following in Townshend’s footsteps, bands such as Deep Purple, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails have all smashed their guitars on stage at some point or another. The phenomenon had become so popular, that an iconic photo of Paul Simonon from The Clash smashing his Fender Precision bass was featured as one of the band’s album cover. The photo was taken at The Palladium in New York by Pennie Smith. It has since been awarded as the best rock and roll photograph in 2002 by Q magazine, stating that “it captures the ultimate rock’n’roll moment – total loss of control”.
Even Win Butler of Arcade Fire couldn’t resist smashing his guitar (an acoustic one) in 2007, after growing frustrated when one of his strings broke. Relax dude… we’d be broke and in debt if we had to smash our guitar everytime that happened.
Here are some quotes from famous guitarists, talking about guitar smashing:
“Taking a guitar you love and wrecking it is incredibly exciting. It’s the ultimate statement of anarchy,” says Joe Perry of Aerosmith.
“To me, it’s show biz. I don’t see much value to it, to be honest,” says Eric Clapton.
“I’ve never even tried it,” says Carlos Santana. “I’ll sacrifice other things, but not my guitar.”
After a good amount of research, I found this poll online where readers were asked what their feelings were about the matter. The majority said that it’s not funny… never touch a guitar again, and some went ahead and said that guitars are like pets and they shouldn’t be harmed.
Who’s the biggest guitar smasher of them all? According to the Guinness Book of Records, the person who holds the record for smashing most guitars on a tour is none other than Matt Bellamy from Muse. I despair a little, although I’ve heard from trusted sources Muse do have one of the best tour shows you’ll ever experience in your life.
What do you think of guitar smashing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and vote in the poll below!