The Top 5 Guitar Vandals of All Time

Who are the Top Five "Guitar Destroyers" in all of guitardom?

By Daniel Eriksson,

Ever since Pete Townshend made it his trademark move, smashing guitars has been copied by numerous acts on more or less expensive guitars. Sometimes it's been out of frustration rather than showmanship, like when Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill smashed his beautiful Gibson ES-325 onstage during a gig in the UK. Of course, there are other ways to destroy a guitar on stage. Jimi Hendrix would (in)famously set fire to his guitars. But here we’re focusing on rockers who have laid waste to guitars with sheer force. Whether this is a cool rock star move or just wasteful destruction of a perfectly good instrument, is up to you to decide.

1. Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend of The Who is the grandfather of all guitar vandals! After having accidentally broken off the head of his guitar on a particularly low ceiling during a gig in 1964, Townshend decided to include the destruction of his guitar (including Gibson SG Specials, and Les Paul Deluxe models) as an integral part of the band’s live shows. In this classic clip from The Who’s Woodstock performance, it’s Townshend’s Gibson SG Special that takes a beating before Pete throws the instrument out to the audience.

2. Paul Stanley

Kiss have been all about putting on a great show ever since the band started out in the New York club scene in the early seventies. Pyrotechnics, fire-breathing, and Gene Simmons spewing fake blood has been a part of the Kiss stage show since the beginning, and so has Stanley’s guitar smashing antics. For the last couple of decades Stanley has been using cheap guitars that act more as stage props, and even have a pre-made cut in the neck to make them easier to break. But we shudder to think how during the seventies Stanley would actually smash up Gibson Marauders on stage. Just have a look at this clip (Stanley isn’t playing the Marauder, it is just used at the end as the guitar that is sacrificed for slaughter).

3. Caleb Followill

Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill doesn’t destroy guitars as part of the band’s stage act, but after being frustrated with the sound during a concert in Scotland back in 2009, Followill took out his anger on his guitar. Sadly the guitar was his cherished 1972 Gibson ES-325, a guitar that has been an integral part of all Kings of Leon albums as well as the band’s live shows. Luckily, the band’s crew managed to retrieve the various pieces that broke off (including the neck) during Followill’s tantrum, and with the help of Gibson’s Repair & Restoration department, the guitar was returned in fine shape to Caleb less than a month after the incident.

4. Kurt Cobain

The late Kurt Cobain was notorious for smashing guitars, and various band equipment on stage. There are plenty of videos online of Kurt destroying guitars, and you can see the best parts of them in the montage video shown here. Cobain kept up these destructive practices from the early days of Nirvana to the later years, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting guitars and amps alike.

5. Billie Joe Armstrong

Just like Caleb Followill, Green Day main man Billie Joe Armstrong sort of became an accidental guitar vandal when he had his now infamous meltdown that led to the cancellation of a number of Green Day shows and a stay in rehab. Reportedly upset over having his band’s set cut short to make room for a longer set for Usher, Armstrong went on a tirade that was capped off by the singer smashing his beautiful double cutaway TV-Yellow Gibson Les Paul Junior to bits. It hurts to see such a beautiful instrument being destroyed, but we take solace in the fact that Armstrong was able to get the help he needed and has since resumed work with Green Day and taken the band around the world on a highly successful tour.