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The case for respecting guitars

Image uploaded from iOS (9)
Joe Perry smashing a perfectly good instrument.

About a week ago, the following picture appeared on my Instagram feed.  It’s Joe Perry, of Aerosmith fame (and a guitarist that I long held in high regard), smashing his guitar at a recent performance.  You may also notice the following details:

  • This is Joe Perry’s official Instagram account
  • Joe appears to be in reasonably good physical shape
  • Supro amps power this rig
  • Johnny Depp is in the background
  • I have not liked this post

I admit that, in my youth, seeing Townshend or Cobain smash their instruments provided a surge of adrenaline – like a visceral thrill one gets when witnessing a stadium demolished in a controlled explosion.  No longer, though.  Now, watching people destroy their instruments intentionally, produces a sense of frustration and lost opportunity.

How did we get here?

Pete Townshend is generally credited with being the first guitarist to smash his guitar on stage in the early 1960s.  The crowd’s reaction so impressed Pete, that he decided to make this a somewhat regular gimmick of Who concerts.  Somewhat after the fact, Pete argued that his destruction of guitars was a legitimate artistic statement: the “auto-destruction” motif, inspired by Gustav Metzger.

Jimi Hendrix then took auto-destruction to a new level at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 – both lighting his Stratocaster on fire and then smashing it to bits.  No artistic rationale was provided.

Over the five decades since, guitarists of various fame and notoriety have mimicked their guitar heroes by laying waste to their gear.  But, with each successive “homage” to Townshend and Hendrix, the act of destroying guitars generates less publicity and dilutes any artistic integrity which may have actually existed in the first place.  Whatever the motivations are by these guitar-breakers, to the outside observer it’s seems like an act of desperation – someone trying to become or retain their relevancy.

The alternatives

Getting back to Joe Perry’s post.  I was heartened to see a fair of amount of commenters giving the picture a thumbs down or asking why he destroyed a perfectly good instrument.  Indeed, there were quite a few suggestions of what he could have done with the guitar instead of smashing it.  Here are a few of my own suggestions for any musician who considers destroying their instruments:

  • Don’t smash your gear.  Put it back in its case and continue to play it.
  • Donate your unwanted instrument.  There are tons of charities who accept instrument donations, including Girls Rock Campaign Boston.
  • Gift the guitar to one of the fans in the audience.  How much goodwill and positive word-of-mouth would come from that?  A ton.  You’d have a fan for life.
  • Sell your unwanted instrument.
  • List your instrument for rent on Fretish.  It’s free to join.  It’s free to list.  Your fans will get to play your gear, you’ll make money and you’ll deepen your relationship with your fan base.

Final thoughts

When George Harrison started to learn sitar from Ravi Shankar in the mid-60s, he committed himself fully to the endeavor, practicing for 3+ hours per day.  But, Ravi demanded more than time.  In one of his earliest lessons with Ravi, George recalled getting up to use the restroom.  He placed the sitar down and stepped directly over the instrument.  Ravi immediately reprimanded the young Beatle.  Respect the instrument George was told!  Respect your practice.  Respect the art.  Respect the instrument.  That lesson stuck with George for the rest of his life.  And I think it’s one we should all consider.

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