During The Who’s explosive mid-1960s heyday, the band became known for their mod style, hard-hitting rhythm and blues sound, and their auto-destructive art that sacrificed an untold number of guitars and drum kits.
Keith Moon, despite his manic performing style and even wilder personality, was fairly routine about his kicking over of his equipment. His drums rarely needed repairs outside of the changing of an odd head, stand, or pedal. But Pete Townshend’s guitars were more often than not sacrificed wholly in their devotion to the band’s aesthetic. Townshend smashed guitars so thoroughly that, in most cases, they were impossible to put back together afterwards.
These activities caused a number of burdens for the band. First and foremost, constant destruction of guitars was expensive, and while the band gained notoriety through the gimmick of destroying equipment, they found themselves in debt having due to the continuous need to replace their instruments. Once the band were established, Townshend began to feel ambivalent about the ritual, as the spectacle was taking attention away from the band’s music. Nowadays, Townshend has another regret about one notable incident of guitar smashing.
“It was probably around 1968,” Townshend told Premier Guitar. “We were around Detroit about to play at the Grande Ballroom. I had no guitar. I went to the local pawnshops and bought two Strats. One was recent, the other was much older, probably from the first year of manufacture. They were not expensive. The dealer had no idea what he had. On stage, I started with the older of the two guitars. It was almost certainly a guitar that belonged to Buddy Holly. I sounded like Buddy Holly. I felt like Buddy Holly. The sound was superb, off the map, bell-like, silky, just sublime.”
“When the time came to smash the guitar, I switched it for the newer one, and a boy at the front of the stage protested. ‘No,’ he shouted. ‘Smash the good one, not some fake.’ So I switched back, and to my shame smashed the guitar over his hands. I still wait for him to sue me. He would have a perfect right, but I was pretty angry with him. However, this entire guitar-smashing thing is my fault, my thing, my idea, my artistic statement, my absurdity. I have no doubt that guitar is sitting in someone’s home now, and probably plays okay. I hope the same can be said for that poor guy’s hands. So my regret and shame on this occasion is doubled.”
Other than that one specific instance, Townshend claims to have no regrets about the smashing of now-priceless instruments, like his Rickenbacker 12 strings and Gibson SGs. Still, Townshend put into perspective just how expensive his habits were. “Guitars were expensive. My Rick 12, for example, cost £385, that’s equivalent to £5,925 today. With the dollar at 2.4 back at that time, my Rick 12 cost me $14,220. It makes me a little angry when people question my artistic integrity in what I decided to do on stage. I paid the price.”