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A Brief History of Rock Stars Destroying Guitars

When I worked at a toy store, a club deejay bought a dozen realistic-looking guitars right after Christmas at a bargain price, but it was easy for him- he didn’t really play them before smashing them in front of a crowd. Anyone who’s ever paid for a decent guitar, or just scanned the prices at a music store, can’t help but be impressed in one way or another when a rock star smashes his on stage. If you’ve ever wondered how this become a thing, is started with Pete Townshend of The Who.    

The first time he broke a guitar on stage, it was basically an accident—working on a stage with a low ceiling, he cracked the headstock on his Rickenbacker, then decided to follow through with the destruction. But the crowd's response to his guitar-smashing capabilities led him to eventually start cracking six-strings at almost every show.

According to an analysis by TheWho.net, Townshend broke more than 35 guitars in 1967 alone. (In case Bryan Adams is reading this, one other factoid: During the summer of '69, Pete broke just three guitars.)

Townshend learned not to throw a lot of sentimental value into his rock machines, but every axe-grinder has their own approach to the guitar-destruction process. And yes, they do get their broken guitars repaired, generally.

But not all smashed guitars can be repaired, and not all the damage is done intentionally. An article at Atlas Obscura looks at the history of smashed guitars, from stage antics to accidents to natural disasters to abuse by baggage handlers.

(Image credit: Flickr user Jean-Luc Ourlin)


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