Punk and hard rock guitarists of the ‘60s and ’70s sometimes expressed their fury and passion by annihilating instruments on-stage. The cover of The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling depicts the phenomenon perfectly. Paul Simonon is captured mid-swing as he is about to pummel the stage with his bass. “The show had gone quite well,” Simonon said of the moment, “but for me inside, it just wasn’t working well, so I suppose I took it out on the bass.” Today instrument destruction seldom comes across as anything more than trite or self-indulgent, but before it wore out its welcome, these five musicians perfected the art as they made themselves household names. But if you’re going to try it, here’s how to do it like the pros did it. Please note, we at Gibson would never condone damaging one of our own guitars. Perhaps you could look to other brands should you feel the need for destruction?
Set It on Fire Like Jimi Hendrix
On June 18, 1967, near the completion of his iconic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix announced to the crowd that he was going to “sacrifice something I love.” The guitarist laid his Stratocaster on the stage, poured a bottle of lighter fluid over it, bent to kiss its neck and set the guitar on fire with a match. Hendrix knelt above the guitar and fanned the flames higher with his hands, then picked it up by the neck, waved it overhead and smashed it against the stage, breaking the body from the neck. The incident endures as the most famous guitar destruction of all time.
Stab The Headstock Against The Stage Like Ritchie Blackmore
In some outrageous footage, captured in Munich in 1977, Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple fame) closes this Rainbow show by obliterating his Stratocaster. Though Blackmore is notorious for having destroyed many a guitar on-stage, here we see a trippy whammy bar exercise turn into all-out guitar murder. Blackmore lays the guitar flat on its back and begins to play it with the soul of his shoe before picking it up and stabbing the headstock against the stage. Parts begin to fly, and by the end Blackmore is hurling the battered guitar body around and around by its cord. It’s enough to make you hold your breath in terror for all nearby audience members.
Hurl It Into a Crowd Like Pete Townshend
During the’60s, The Who’s Pete Townshend accumulated an inordinate amount of experience destroying guitars, after which he’d often hurl them into the crowd. Rolling Stone included his smashing of a Rickenbacker guitar in 1964 on its list of “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.” Townshend told the magazine, “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.” This video is a compilation of many of Townshend’s guitar demolitions.
Play The Hell Out of It Like Stevie Ray Vaughan
Perhaps the master of guitar showmanship, Stevie Ray Vaughan often beat his guitars beyond recognition with his violent, hypnotic playing method. This video shows the guitarist throttling the guitar against the stage by its whammy bar, grinding it against an amp and then throwing it onto the stage, all while playing a song from start to finish.
Smash It Against The Monitor Like Kurt Cobain
It wasn’t uncommon for Kurt Cobain to destroy his guitar and everything in its path — amp, speaker cabinet, etc., at the end of shows. In this 1991 performance of “Polly” in Dallas, Texas, Cobain has evidently grown frustrated with sound problems and stops mid-song to bang his guitar against the nearby monitor. He then tosses the guitar on the stage, picks up the guitar stand and, for good measure, whacks it against the monitor, too.