Everyone has heard stories of musicians smashing guitars on stage after a performance. Some of us may have even seen it happen. While this is an iconic part of live concerts, it can be quite a wasteful thing to do, especially today. So why do musicians continue to smash their instruments?
Musicians smash their instruments to display emotion, to permanently end a show, to create noise, and to follow rock and roll tradition. Guitars are most often the instruments destroyed, but drums, pianos, keyboards, amplifiers, and virtually anything else on stage has been destroyed in a concert.
Smashing a guitar or piano at the end of a show is a dramatic and memorable event for all involved. In this post, I’ll talk in-depth about the reasons behind this and some instances of really dramatic instrument smashing.
A Display of Emotion
The most common reason that musicians smash their instruments during or after a show is to create a physical display of emotion. Smashing a guitar, a keyboard, or an amp on stage in front of a crowd of people is an effective way of saying, “This is an emotional moment.”
Live concerts are known for being exciting — filled with high-energy choreography, pyrotechnics, and flashing lights. These themes are often implemented into every show on an artist’s tour schedule. But nothing is quite as dramatic or stimulating as smashing an instrument on stage.
For many performers, emotions attached to certain songs can often reach staggering highs and lows during live concerts. Often, when a musician smashes a guitar on stage, it is because they’re genuinely upset. The pressure of performing live, night after night, can be overwhelming and leave even the best musicians looking for a way to release their emotions.
Similar to someone visiting a rage or demolition room, breaking something can be a healthy way to blow off some steam, and get back into a comfortable mindset.
Understandably, destroying thousands of dollars of equipment on stage every night is unnecessarily wasteful and expensive, so when it happens, it is usually a very special occasion and that’s why many fans love and appreciate it.
A Literal Show Stopper
Sometimes at the end of a concert, the crowd cheers and begs for more. This is called an encore. However, most concerts, especially festivals, are on a very tight schedule, so the band can’t always play an extra four songs after the end of their set. Instead, the band can give the audience something a little more unexpected.
Check out our article The Truth About Why Bands Still Do Encores here.
Smashing an instrument on stage creates a dramatic display of rock and roll imagery that sometimes will fulfill the audience’s need for more, while also giving the band an excuse to stop playing. When the instruments are destroyed, they simply can’t play them anymore. It is a memorable and exciting way to end a show, but can also be extremely polarizing.
Phoebe Bridgers was criticized on Twitter for ending her performance on Saturday Night Live by repeatedly smashing her guitar into one of the show’s stage monitors.
The Sound It Makes
Surprisingly, sometimes when an artist smashes their instrument on stage, it has nothing to do with the imagery, and everything to do with the sound it makes.
During an onstage interview at the International Live Music Conference in London, The Who frontman Roger Daltrey elaborated on why his former bandmate Pete Townshend became iconic for smashing his guitar into an amplifier at the end of their shows.
“They didn’t get it — it was not about the visual of it — it was about the sound it made,” Daltrey said (via Billboard). “When Pete would break a guitar, it sometimes used to take him 10 minutes. It would be like a sacrificial lamb — this thing would scream. It was an incredible sonic experience. The volume would leave us with our ears bleeding. Sometimes we would come off stage, and the ringing in our ears didn’t go away for two days.”
Tradition and History
The final reason that musicians smash their instruments on stage is that it is tradition. Once one great rock and roll artist destroyed his guitar, it became a tradition to do the same. Pete Townshend was one of the first musicians to purposefully smash his guitar on stage, and Jimi Hendrix raised the bar when he started drenching his guitar in lighter fluid and lighting it on fire.
Since then, it has become traditional for artists of all genres to occasionally smash and burn their instruments after a show. Hip-hop artist Post Malone is known for smashing an acoustic guitar from backstage during his song “Rockstar” which references rock gods like Bon Scott and Jim Morrison.
Guitars are the most well-known instrument that gets destroyed and smashed on a concert stage. There are a lot of great moments for a lot of different artists and bands that have been known to smash their guitars. Here are a few of the most memorable ones over the years.
- Matt Bellamy: Lead vocalist and guitarist of the band Muse, Matt Bellamy, holds the Guinness World Record for the most guitars smashed on a tour. His record is 140 guitars. He set this record in 2004 on his Absolution tour and holds it today.
- “Weird Al” Yankovic: At the end of Yankovic’s “Don’t you Love me Anymore?” video, he smashed a guitar to pieces. This is something that he now does at the end of playing that song in each of his live concerts.
- Billie Joe Armstrong: During the iHeart Music Festival in 2012, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong smashed his guitar after being very upset that their set got cut short by 25 minutes to give Usher more time.
Guitars are not the only instruments that get destroyed during live shows. There are plenty of examples of drums, keyboards, and amplifiers getting destroyed as well. In fact, smashing and burning pianos became popular way before guitar smashing ever was.
- Drums: Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who, is known for destroying his drums at the end of some shows. When you’re next to someone like Pete Townshend, you have to match how dramatic he is. Keith eventually even got into rigging his drums with explosives before the show and blowing them up at the end.
- Pianos: Before guitars became known for being destroyed, and before Jimi Hendrix set his guitar ablaze, Jerry Lee Lewis once set fire to a bunch of pianos on stage, which terrified the audience.
- Amplifiers: It is not always the instruments that get abused in a rock show, often the equipment does too. Kurt Kobain of Nirvana once speared an amplifier with his guitar after Kris Novoselic momentarily knocked himself unconscious with his bass during a show. Nine Inch Nails is also known for destroying nearly everything on stage during their concerts, even hurting each other on occasion.
Do musicians actually smash nice guitars? Most of the time, musicians do not smash their actual guitars, but rather, switch them out for cheaper ones during the show and then smash the cheap ones for dramatic flair.
What kind of guitar is the easiest to smash? Cheaply made acoustic guitars are the easiest to smash. The hollow poly vinyl body and plastic hardware will easily crack apart for quick and satisfying rock and roll demolition.