10 musicians who destroyed their instruments: "For Hendrix, there was something ritualistic about burning a Fender Stratocaster"

Jimi Hendrix
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns)

Whilst we can all appreciate the time, effort and craft that goes into making musical instruments, there's something oddly cathartic about seeing a rockstar smash up their guitar into a thousand tiny pieces.

You’d be surprised at the number of musicians that have destroyed their equipment over the years, from guitars, to drum kits and even pianos. Whether it's to make a statement, rile up an audience or add a rebellious edge to a music video, trashing our gear has become something of a tradition in the rock world. 

Here, we list ten of the most famous examples of musicians with an appetite for instrument destruction. A word of caution: don’t try this at home, unless you’re in a rock band. 

1. Pete Townshend

The Who’s Pete Townshend claims to have smashed his first guitar aged just 13, but the earliest guitar smash we can verifiably attribute to him is from a 1964 gig at the Railway Tavern in Harrow. However, it wasn’t a deliberate part of the performance; Townshend accidentally hit the neck of his 360 Rickenbacker against the venue’s low ceiling. Frustrated at the response from some art students in the crowd, he went on to cause even more damage. 

Pete was later photographed in front of a wall lined with his broken Rickenbackers, but he went on to smash a range of brands and models, from Gibson Les Pauls to Danelectro Coral Hornets. Whilst The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, was also known for his destructive habits, Pete is the frontrunner here for his early adoption and decades-long dedication to destruction, earning him a feature in Rolling Stone's list of 50 moments that changed the history of rock and roll. 

In 2020, Townshend told Radio 2: “I am prepared to smash a guitar for charity.” His fragmented guitars pop up every few years at auction – don’t expect much change from £6,000 if you want to buy one. 

2. Jimi Hendrix

For Hendrix, there was something ritualistic about burning a Fender Stratocaster. He’d tried it once at a London gig, but things didn’t go too well. A second attempt, at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, was much more successful, but Hendrix switched his beloved black Strat for a previously repaired model at the last minute, keeping the favourite intact. The annihilated version had a white finish, complete with floral artwork that Hendrix added himself using nail polish. 

James Wright, who worked at Hendrix’s label, told The Times that Hendrix “wanted to outdo” Pete Townshend, who was also playing the festival, and it worked. A photo of Jimi kneeling in front of the flaming guitar then appeared on the cover of the Rolling Stone, helping to grow his reputation worldwide. This was the Summer of Love and a key time for revolutionary music and counterculture; fittingly, Hendrix’s last song of the set was a cover of Wild Thing by the Troggs. 

The stunt has inadvertently led to some bizarre pieces of rock merchandise, like a Hendrix incense burner, which involves placing your incense stick on top of a replica guitar. More standard tributes include Fender’s limited-edition Jimi Hendrix Monterey Stratocaster

3. Paul Simonon

In perhaps the luckiest moment in music photography, Pennie Smith caught the moment Paul Simonon’s Fender Precision bass was lifted towards the stage floor, and the iconic album cover art for London Calling was born. It was extra lucky, as tour photographer Smith had been due to skip the Clash gig and meet friends instead, but she changed her mind. 

Frustrated with a less-than-enthusiastic crowd response and overzealous security, Simonon caught their attention by brutally splintering his bass in a spontaneous rage. Decades later, Simonon told Fender, “Unfortunately you tend to destroy the things you love.” 

The guitar is now on long-term loan to the Museum of London; due to a museum site move, it’s not currently on display, but you’ll find it in the museum’s new home of Smithfield from 2026. 

4. Wendy O. Williams

Williams is remembered for her jaw-dropping punk outfits and performances on stage with the Plasmatics – a band that wasn’t afraid to smash up a TV or blow up a car. She took a chainsaw to many Les Paul guitars in the 80s, including during a live TV broadcast on the family show Solid Gold.

A Plasmatics gig review from Sounds magazine in July 1981 notes that ‘when the guitar’s been chainsawed and the rest of the stage destroyed, you’re not going to get five encores.’

Robin Eisgrau, music journalist and author of Eve of Destruction: The Wild Life of Wendy O. Williams, explains how the band sourced their materials: 

“When they were on tour, the Plasmatics would find objects to destroy – guitars, cars and TV sets, in the towns they were playing in… Wendy often said that the reason why they destroyed these objects was to say to their audience: ‘These are just things – don't worship them.’”

We asked Eisgrau for her take on the guitar sawing. “I interpreted that as a retort against guitar hero worship,“ she told us. “When The Plasmatics emerged, certain rock guitarists like Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Keith Richards were like deities. They got all the radio airplay; they sold out arenas. To see Wendy – a woman leading a very underground band, sawing a guitar in half and looking like she's getting so much pleasure out of it – was very subversive.”

5. Nirvana

How about a bit of tactical destruction? In October 1991, Nirvana collectively smashed drummer Dave Grohl’s kit on stage because they were sick of waiting for their tour manager to get him some new equipment. The gig, in front of 1,100 people at Cabaret Metro in Chicago, was part of the Nevermind tour. 

Though frontman Kurt Cobain was already known as a prolific guitar-breaker, we felt duty-bound to include this band-wide vandalism. Years later, Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic spoke about the incident during a 2014 interview with Jimmy Fallon

Grohl explained: “I said to Kurt, ‘Hey man, at the end of the gig we have to smash my drum kit to splinters’. We spent half an hour breaking those drums… then the next day the drum place was closed.” No video footage survives from the gig, but you can enjoy the audio recording embedded above, if you fancy using your imagination.

6. Jamie Cullum

You’d be forgiven for thinking a jazz musician doesn’t belong on this list, but Jamie Cullum earned his stripes by obliterating a Yamaha C3 piano in the video for his cover of Rihanna’s hit, Please Don’t Stop the Music. We broke down the piano explosion for readers in 2009, because it’s not the kind of thing you see every day on the jazz scene. 

Yes, Jerry Lee Lewis may have reportedly burned a few pianos in his time long before Cullum was around, but Cullum gets the nod here for planning a full-on explosion. It took four replica pianos, plus one surplus C3 from Yamaha, to make the video; a photo from the shoot was later used as cover art for his album, The Pursuit. 

Jamie Cullum is the internet’s best bet to take over from Jools Holland when he leads his final Hootenanny show for New Year’s Eve, so we've got our fingers crossed for an exploding piano as Big Ben strikes 12. 

7. Matt Bellamy

Muse frontman Matt Bellamy earned a Guinness World Record for destroying the most guitars on tour, proving there really is a world record for everything. He smashed 140 guitars during the Absolution tour, back in 2004. 

However, the man himself isn’t convinced by his own record-breaking stats. Bellamy told Radio.com, ”My guitars are specially made where they’re in two parts, so if the neck breaks, I just put a new neck on. The body rarely breaks… it looks like I may have trashed hundreds of guitars, but it’s probably about four and about 20 necks or something.”

Bellamy plays custom-made instruments supplied by Manson Guitar Works; you can buy the brand's MB-1 signature model to emulate him, but we don’t recommend smashing it, as it doesn't come cheap.

If you’re wondering whether anyone might steal the title for most guitars smashed, don’t panic. Guinness World Records tweeted back in 2021 that they "no longer monitor this record title due to guitar welfare". Surprisingly, that wasn’t a joke – Guinness World Records told us that they "would not condone the wilful destruction of instruments." Times are changing...

8. Josh Dun

Twenty One Pilots drummer Josh Dun played a flaming drum kit in the video for Heavydirtysoul: a song that includes the lyrics "I hope they choke on smoke ‘cause I’m smoking them out the basement". 

Dun has also been known to open gigs by holding a flaming torch and - in a move not a million miles away from Plasmatics' stunts - the band has set fire to a car on stage – in fact, the same car that also went up in flames for this music video, which we could technically call recycling. 

Over the years, Dun has become known for using custom SJC drums, but he chose not to obliterate a full SJC kit for Heavydirtysoul – instead telling the website Music Makes You Think: “We bought one at a used drum store for $100, but a real SJC drum head was set on fire.” The band’s love of fire suggests they need to meet up with Till Lindemann, vocalist of Rammstein who also happens to be a trained pyrotechnician. 

9. Phoebe Bridgers

Solo artist and one-third of the band Boygenius, Bridgers deliberately broke her Danelectro 56 against an amp during a live performance on SNL. As we reported at the time, Bridgers had warned Danelectro about the stunt beforehand. The reaction was divisive, but the biggest criticism came from David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills and Nash, who called her actions ‘pathetic’ in a tweet. 

Bridgers responded by calling him a ‘little bitch’; Crosby went on to label Phoebe’s antics as ‘childish stage drama’ and ‘pointless’. Some musicians, like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, called out Crosby’s hypocrisy. On Instagram, Bridgers doubled down and wrote, ‘Next time I’ll just burn it and it will be more expensive.’

You can’t knock Bridgers for her post-show gesture, either: she auctioned the broken guitar to raise money for the LGBTQ+ charity GLAAD, and it sold for $101,500. Similarly, Vic Fuentes from Pierce the Veil auctioned a badly-damaged Epiphone Les Paul Special II in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust in 2016. Rather than opt for an on-stage smash, though, Fuentes threw the Les Paul over a cliff. 

10. Jake Kiszka

Greta Van Fleet fans will know that the band’s lyrics are packed with references to the elements (earth, air, fire and water), so Kiszka’s crispy guitar from music video for The Falling Sky fits the theme. Chicago Music Exchange supplied the Heavy SG that was sacrificed in the video, and this one came full circle. Kiszka sent the charred remnants back to the store (presumably he wasn’t looking for a refund), who then featured it in a TikTok post

Gus Black, who directed the music video, said: “We had fun burning the guitar. It was all Jake’s idea, and we facilitated his desire to make it happen.” Troy Jackson, who acted as post-production pyrotechnic, used 50ft strips of rope soaked in tiki torch fluid.

“There was only one guitar, and one chance to get it right,” he said. “We used gasoline to get the entirety of rope burning, minus a small section for Jake to walk into… but this created a vortex of flames and heat. Jake ripped on his guitar as strips of flames and smoke licked at him every so often. We were walking a thin line between rock and roll and absolute danger; luckily, we kept it safe.”

A trick of the trade is to loosen the guitar strings before burning, to avoid “a mini explosion; the strings would pop and the metal or wood from the guitar would act like shrapnel.” We asked Jackson why some musicians like Hendrix, Dun and Kiszka are tempted by fire. His theory: “Fire is synonymous with rock n roll. It's chaotic. It's loud. It's out of control. It's beautiful.”

Polly Allen

Polly Allen is a freelance journalist based in Bristol. She has written for the likes of the Independent, The New European, Glamour, Refinery29 and Cloud Magazine, on everything from dark tourism to Estonia’s luxury pianos. Raised listening to classic rock music, her favourite bands include Free and Dio. 

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects… image
Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine