Guitar Smashers: The 10 Deadliest Ax Wielders of All Time | VIDEO

April 19, 2017
PHOTO: Paul Ryan | Getty Images
Musicians are a temperamental lot. When the music is flowing and the vibes are good, we couldn’t be happier. But if our guitars won’t tune, the audience is a drag or the P.A. sounds like crap, all bets are off. Oddly, the objects of our wrath are sometimes the very things we care about most—our instruments.

The history of modern music is full of artists who have vented their rage on their gear. Country musician Ira Louvin was known to smash mandolins that refused to hold their tuning. It’s said that jazz bassist Charles Mingus once demolished his $20,000 bass during a performance at New York City’s Five Spot when a group of hecklers got the better of him.

But perhaps no instrument has been targeted for destruction more often than the guitar. Not every act of ax demolition has been due to an act of rage. Some have been for show, some for fun, and some a compulsive act born in the heat of performance.

“Basically it’s a gesture which happens on the spur of the moment,” Pete Townshend, rock’s most famous guitar smasher, told Rolling Stone in 1968 by way of explanation. “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.”

And, might we add, frequently painful to watch, especially when a particularly nice guitar is the sacrificial victim.

Join us as we count down the 10 deadliest ax wielders in music—plus one bonus buster who holds his own unique place in the history of guitar smashing.

10. Jeff Beck
While not a smasher per se, Beck is credited with one of music’s most memorable guitar-bashing scenes thanks to the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film, Blowup.The movie includes a scene in which the Yardbirds—at the time featuring both Beck and Jimmy Page—are performing “Stroll On” in a nightclub. When Beck’s Vox amp begins to cut out, he bangs his guitar against it in frustration before finally beating the instrument to death. He delivers the coup de grâce with a boot heel in the poor instrument’s body. As guitar destruction goes, this one is purely for show, but it’s fun to see the normally cool-headed Beck pretend to lose his shit.

09. Garth Brooks
The country superstar got into the ax-mangling act in 1991 when he destroyed a fine Takamine guitar at a show in Dallas. (No stage guitar for Garth. The 1990 Takamine he killed reportedly retailed for about $1,300 at the time.) Brooks and his band were being taped for his second TV special, This Is Garth Brooks, Too, at the Reunion Arena. In an event staged for the show, Brooks and guitarist Ty England smashed their guitars together in a shower of splintered wood and flying strings. Brooks’ guitar was later reassembled and donated to the Smithsonian in 2007.

08. Paul Simonon
Clash bassist Paul Simonon was forever marked as a guitar smasher when photographer Pennie Smith shot him destroying his Fender Precision Bass onstage at the New York City Palladium on September 21, 1979. The image was chosen for the cover of the band’s third studio album, London Calling, which was released the following December. As Simonon recounts in this video, near the 3:05 mark, he was unhappy that the club’s bouncers wouldn’t let the fans out of their seats, and took his rage out on his bass. Simonon was typically hard on his instruments, often swinging them wildly as he played, but the Palladium show is the only time he destroyed one.

07. Billie Joe Armstrong
Unlike many of the guitarists mentioned here, who destroyed their gear in an almost masterful show of bravado, Green Day guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong annihilated an ax in an uncomfortably histrionic meltdown captured on video. The band was performing at the iHeartRadio Festival on September 21, 2012, when Armstrong misinterpreted the meaning of a screen at the back of the auditorium, which displayed he message, “1 Minutes Left.” Thinking Green Day’s  set was being cut short to make more time for R&B artist Usher, Armstrong stopped their performance of “Basket Case” and proceeded to vent. After screaming that he was not Justin Bieber, Armstrong smashed his guitar—a particularly lovely TV-yellow Gibson Les Paul Junior—and left the stage. Shortly afterward, he revealed that he’d been abusing alcohol and prescription drugs for anxiety and insomnia, and checked himself into rehab. We’re happy to report he’s doing better. Not so sure about the LP Junior.

06. Paul Stanley
Wild stage antics have been part of Kiss’s live performances pretty much from the group’s start, in 1973. Bassist Gene Simmons breathed fire and spat blood, Ace Frehley made his humbucker smoke, and Paul Stanley handled the guitar-smashing end of the business. His guitar of choice in the mid Seventies was the budget-line Gibson Marauder, as seen in the clip here. (The quality is rough, but it looks like he uses the guitar purely to destroy it.) Fortunately for many vintage Marauders, these days they’re more likely to find a spot in a collection than wind up in pieces on the stage floor.

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