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5 legendary guitar destroyers

Rock'n'Roll circus or true feelings?
by Arnd Müller,

The maltreatment of the electric guitar became really fashionable in rock music in the 60s. Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and later Kurt Cobain have also publicly shredded their instruments - and rock chroniclers and fans alike will remember these spectacular moments. Even if such an action is smiled at today and has frozen into a ritual: it was a sensation back then.

You can do a lot with an electric guitar. The live show by Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) is unforgettable, in which he guided an electric drill to the strings with the stop hand. Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie) even used a vibrator for the same purpose. The Sonic Youth musicians Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo were also keen to experiment: They stuck drumsticks or screwdrivers under the strings when looking for new sounds. But of course this is all harmless against smashing a guitar right into the middle of the amplifier tower.

Here is a small but nice collection of 5 epic guitar destruction orgies


1. Pete Townshend (The Who)

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend is considered the first rock musician to publicly destroy his six-string. He became known as a guitar butcher especially through his appearance on the English TV show "Ready, Steady, Go" in 1965. The Who presented their new single, I Can't Explain ', towards the end of the piece Townshend and drummer Keith Moon were smashed their instruments. A guest appearance on this TV show was a guarantee of success for a band anyway, because music fans of the 60s were forced to watch this popular program - the invention of a music channel and MTV was known to take another two decades. But certainly not least because of this spectacular performance, I Can’t Explain sch shot up in the charts.

The whole of England was talking about this new and aggressive London band who announced on their posters that they were playing "Maximum R&B". The Who were a sensation back then: A guitarist who used to hit his guitar with sweeping arm movements and looked like a windmill, an extremely virtuoso to uncontrolled drummer, Roger Daltrey as an exalted front man - and at the end of a concert the drums, the guitar and the associated amps were demolished. Incidentally, bassist John Entwistle always kept his composure and played stoically while Townshend and Moon freaked out. Townshend's inspiration for these orgies of destruction is said to have been a lecture on "auto-destructive art". Pete, then a student at the Ealing School of Art, came into contact with the theory of the artist Gustav Metzger, which ends with the destruction of a work of art.

British art students also took up these ideas. For example, “Auto-Destruction Happenings” were initiated. B. A piano fell from a great height on the floor. The remains were also burned. However, there is a more mundane explanation for Townshend's smashing campaigns. During a performance in the London Marquee Club, Pete is said to have touched the low ceiling of the hall with his guitar neck while jumping in the air. The neck broke, Townshend got angry and finally gave the ruined, damaged instrument the rest. Other sources say that Townshend was said to have been dissatisfied with the P.A. sound and therefore let off steam. In any case, drummer Moon was inspired by this action to shred his drum set as well.

The destruction of instruments by teenagers who were barely around 20 years old was viewed by the teenagers in the 1960s as a protest directed against the constraints and rules of a world of adults and parents who were narrow-minded for them. Destroyed guitars and amps, a stage volume that was high for the time, wild musicians, all of this clearly broke with the conventions of the established cultural scene. “I hope I die before I get old”, The Who sang in their huge hit, My Generation ‘from 1965 - and quickly smashed their instruments again in one last big gesture.


2. Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds)

Such theatricality is of course made for films, and Michelangelo Antonioni took up this show element for his cult film “Blow Up” (1966). Originally, the Italian director wanted to hire The Who, but he couldn't afford it. As a second choice, he hired the British rave rockers The Yardbirds, who play the number 'Stroll On' in a scene in a live club (actually it is the piece 'Train Kept A Rollin', but with a different text ).

Antonioni wanted lead guitarist Jeff Beck to smash his guitar during the piece. He initially refused, pointing out that it was a Gibson Les Paul and that this instrument was too valuable. An agreement was finally reached and Beck smashed a cheaper Höfner model. Otherwise, Jeff Beck was not known for destroying his guitars.


3. Jimi Hendrix

In stark contrast to Jimi Hendrix: He is certainly the most popular protagonist, along with Townshend, when it comes to professionally dismantling a guitar. Hendrix was already a conspicuous stage actor and the most conspicuous guitarist in the late 1960s anyway: he played the guitar behind his back, with his teeth, with his elbows, and his use of feedback is legendary. But he went even further, ramming his guitar, primarily a Fender Stratocaster, against the amps and loudspeakers - at least at some of his concerts.

Since the equipment was still switched on, Hendrix staged not only an optical but also an acoustic spectacle. This performance found its climax at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The Who had already pulled off their appearance with the obligatory destruction number when the Jimi Hendrix Experience took the stage. At the end of the concert, Jimi began rubbing his guitar on his amplifier system several times. Finally he threw it on the floor, knelt in front of her, showered her with (lighter) gasoline and lit her. Then he smashed them - all with deafening amp noise. This spectacular action burned itself into the brains of Hendrix fans to this day: Jimi was the one who set his guitar on fire. He actually rarely played with fire, it is assumed that only three times, namely in London, at a show in Miami and in Monterey.

According to experience bassist Noel Redding, Hendrix is ​​supposed to have the idea from journalist Keith Altham; originally the guitar was supposed to be lit at the number, Fire ‘. When Jimi first smashed a guitar is not entirely certain. Hendrix manager Chas Chandler reports of an outburst of anger at a concert in Munich's “Big Apple” in 1966. Jimi probably accidentally damaged his own guitar, and out of anger at himself he demolished the guitar in front of the enthusiastic audience - supposedly this was it the first case of Hendrix guitar destruction. Chandler immediately recognized the media-effective potential behind this action: "The German audience really liked it, and so we decided to keep the orgy of shattering as part of the performance if there was good press or the situation required it."

If you take Chandler's statement at face value, it becomes clear that Hendrix, like Townshend, later deliberately used the demolition of guitars as a show element, but this was relatively seldom and probably more likely when measured against the approximately 500 appearances of his short career spontaneous. In a 1967 interview on this subject he said: “Every concert is different, because the whole thing is more improvised, a spontaneous matter of feeling. And no matter what I do, play with my teeth or with my elbows or whatever, I only do it because I enjoy it right now. ”Two years later, in 1969, Jimi Hendrix was on stage with his outbursts more critical of: “We don't break so many things now. It was just a period of frustration that we went through at the time. We really don't do it too often anymore. We mainly focus on the music. We did this to get attention and also because it gave us something. But then people got on the wrong boat and no longer really appreciated our things. They only came to see us and not to hear us, and that was just not okay. "


4.Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)

“The show must go on - that was also known by the band dictator and exceptional 70s rock guitarist Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, who was known for his orgies of guitar destruction. His appearance at the "California Jam" in 1974 made him famous in this regard. First he used his guitar to demolish a television camera that had squeezed between him and the audience, then he poured gasoline on his amplifier system and set it on fire. Choleric Blackmore was obviously angry with the cameraman, but maybe his hit, Smoke On The Water ‘with the chorus line“ The fire in the sky ”had gotten to his head a little.

Fortunately it was - what a coincidence! - Gasoline and a fire starter ready so that Blackmore could let his emotions run free.


5. Wendy O. Williams (Plasmatics)

In the mid-1970s the punk wave came up and with it a new youth movement whose catchphrase was “anarchy”. You walked around in a mohawk, dyed your hair brightly, wore torn clothes and, depending on your level of conviction, stuck a safety pin through your cheek. The new bands were called The Sex Pistols, U.K. Subs, The Damned and Ramones, their music was rough, fast and rough. It was obvious that destruction was taken up again as a show element by the punk bands. The album cover, London Calling ‘(1979) by The Clash, is symbolic: bassist Paul Simonon is shown smashing his four-string on stage.

Founded in New York in 1979, Plasmatics were probably the most noticeable combo when it came to the subject of destruction on stage. Front woman Wendy O. Williams dismantled a human dummy filled with theater blood with a circular saw, cars also exploded, some of the equipment was set on fire - and a Les Paul was sawed up. What a theater from today's perspective ...


And otherwise?

In the 90s, grunge star Kurt Cobain of Nirvana used to smash his Fender Mustang on stage. This was a real problem for the left-hander, because a replacement for his favorite instrument, a left-hand version of the Mustang, was not so easy to find. Country pop star Garth Brooks also smashed guitars on stage as a carefully staged and well-planned show. And vintage rocker Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet insists on lighting a guitar on stage.

This old rock'n'roll ritual of destruction has found many imitators since Pete Townshend - and is primarily understood by the musicians as a show element. Pete Townshend once said: “There is really no real purpose in car destruction. There is no reason for it at all. Someone from the Bee Gees once said to me: You wouldn't destroy a Stradivarius (violin), would you? The answer is, of course I wouldn't smash a Stradivarius. But a Gibson guitar that comes off a production line? Fuck it. " Sure, from the audience and guitarist's point of view, one could argue that it's a shame about the beautiful instrument - especially in view of today's prices, for example for Gibson guitars. Measured against the increasing effort that has been made at major rock concerts since the late 1960s until today, a destroyed guitar is probably a smaller financial item.

In addition, it can be assumed that the musicians at least not always smashed their best pieces on stage, but had some cheap replacement guitars available for this purpose, as documented in the case of Ritchie Blackmore. And Pete Townshend is also known to have patched up the Rickenbacker guitar that had been dismantled the previous evening while he was traveling to the next concert in the mid-sixties. Depending on a guitarist's popularity, the demolished instruments can have an interesting history, like the Fender Stratocaster Sunburst that Hendrix lit at a concert in 1967 at the London Astoria and later at a gig in Miami.

Bürgererschreck Frank Zappa, who also performed at this festival, took the guitar and restored it. Zappa played this instrument on his album, Zoot Allures ‘(1976), then it disappeared. Zappa's son Dweezil found the guitar, disassembled into its individual parts, under a staircase in his father's studio, and he gave it to him. On September 24, 2002, Zappa Junior had this restored instrument auctioned. The Hendrix-Strat could not reach the minimum price of 340,000 British pounds, but at least 300,000 pounds were offered. Not bad for an electric guitar that has burned parts of the pickguard, pickups and the entire neck.

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