“Young kids that buy their first really good guitar end up in a love relationship with it – I've never had that”: Why Pete Townshend won't apologize for his '60s-era guitar-smashing antics

Pete Townshend smashes a long-suffering Stratocaster
(Image credit: Chris Morphet/Redferns)

Guitar-smashing is and has always been a source of controversy. To some, it represents a cathartic act of destruction that goes along with the force of their music; to others, it's a waste of an instrument that might've had a long and happy life in the hands of someone else.

Rock's most famous guitar-smasher, Pete Townshend, (mostly) abandoned that particular act over 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean he's wracked with guilt over his innumerable six-string (and not to mention guitar amp) beatings. 

In a recent interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the Who guitarist cited his dislike of – and subsequent lack of bond with – his first guitar as the possible source of his cavalier attitude. 

“Young kids that buy their first really good guitar end up in a love relationship with it – I've never had that,” Townshend told Fallon. “I think a lot of people struggle to buy their first instruments and they build up a relationship with them.

“In those days,” he went on, “Every kid wanted to be Elvis Presley and they wanted the cheap guitars [that he'd play]. They were trash guitars – the kind of guitars your grandmother would buy you for Christmas – they'd be unplayable.”

Townshend said that he asked his father, a professional musician, to buy him his first guitar. His father, however, deferred to the guitarist's grandmother.

“My grandmother bought me my first guitar from off the wall of the Greek restaurant in Eeling where we lived. No one's gonna tell me that that hunk of wood with some strings stretched across it is sacred. Not to me.”

The climactic bursts of destruction were so important to the Who's stage act, that they're actually what kept Townshend firmly in the Stratocaster camp for longer than he intended. 

Though he'd later return to the Strat, the Who guitarist was all Gibson when he sat down with Guitar Player for an interview in 1972

Asked why he'd switched to SGs, Townshend said, “I got fed up with Fenders because they were too clean, but I liked them because they were tough. In my guitar-smashing days, the Fender would last two or three shows, and if I wanted to smash it up, it took ten minutes. But, they were fuzz-box numbers – clean until you hit the fuzz box.”

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.