On the surface, it seems like an odd juxtaposition: some of the most creative musical forces on stage have gone down in history for epic set destructions. Smashed guitars, stomped in speakers, drop-kicked drums, and the odd pyrotechnics embossed these moments in the history of rock and roll. But what about the gear that was lost in the process?
Here is a mix of (in)famous and unexpected moments of inspiration turned destruction.
Jimi Hendrix’ Burnt Offering of a Fender Stratocaster
This gig both went down in flames and history. In 1967, Jimi Hendrix headlined the Monterey International Pop Festival. As the story goes, Pete Townsend of The Who won the crowd over earlier in the day by smashing a guitar onstage. (By this point in the mid-1960s, Townsend was known for this on stage antic). Apparently, Hendrix wanted the one-up. As he went on stage with a black Fender Stratocaster, Hendrix made a rather odd request to the guitar tech for lighter fluid. By the end of the set, Hendrix had the guitar ablaze and the crowd roaring. While this should have spelled the end for the instrument, it resurfaced in 2012 when Hendrix’ manager, James Wright, revealed the barbequed instrument and sold it at an auction for £237,000.
The Untimely End of Kurt Cobain’s First Guitar
I’d bet that Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain left more instruments obliterated to bits on stage than most of us will own in our lifetime. With sets routinely ending in a wasteland of gear, it’s hard to pinpoint any particular item that met this fate. One candidate, however, that seems to stand out for historic reasons was his mid-1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3. Judging by pre-Nirvana photos of Cobain, this instrument was one of the first guitars he owned as a youth. The guitar journeyed with Cobain into the early days of Nirvana but seems to have been one of the first smashed onstage during a show in 1988. There’s something poetic and utterly Nirvana about this scene: the first guitar he owned earned him a spot at the helm of the emerging grunge revolution yet was also the first guitar smashed on stage to set the tone.
Kurt Russell’s Demolished Piece of Acoustic History
Bet you didn’t see that coming? For all the other iconic instrument smashers—Jeff Beck, Billy Joe Armstrong, Paul Stanley, Ritchie Blackmore, and even Garth Brooks—how did actor Kurt Russell earn a spot in the top three? In the 2015 drama-mystery Hateful Eight, Russel played the role of John Ruth. In a tense scene of an encounter between Ruth and Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), Russell grabs a nearby C. F. Martin & Co. acoustic and reduces it to tinder underfoot. The problem isn’t that this was improv, the script seemed to call for it. It was that the prop on scene was 145 year old antique guitar on loan from Martin’s own museum and archives. Apparently, there was to be a cut in the scene where a replica was swapped in but Russell didn’t get the memo.
Whether priceless and iconic or careless and brash, these scenes of smashed guitars are ingrained in the history of modern music… and apparently now film, too!