Rolling Stone magazine included his guitar smashing at the Railway Hotel, Harrow, north London, in September 1964 in its list of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock & Roll’.
Townshend accidentally broke the neck of his Rickenbacker guitar on the low ceilings at the venue, then in a fit of anger he smashed the rest of the instrument up on stage.
The heat-of-the-moment act would become a key Who moment and then a familiar theatrical flourish at the end of their shows.
Just over three years later from that Harrow guitar vandalism, on December 1, 1967, a 1964 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster guitar became Townshend’s latest musical victim, as the finale of The Who concert at Long Island Arena in Commack, NY.
That very instrument is now up for sale in Heritage Auctions’ Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Auction on April 15 in Dallas, Texas.
“This an important piece of history from one of the greatest and most important bands in the history of rock-n-roll,” said Heritage Auctions entertainment and music memorabilia director Garry Shrum. “Guitars that were smashed by Pete Townshend became instant history, instruments that never got played after leaving the hands of one of the greatest guitarists of all time.”
In two separate pieces, the guitar’s serial number – DL24643 – on the neck plate identifies the instrument as a 1964 Fender Sonic Blue guitar.
The lot includes a hand-written statement detailing the smashing of the guitar and the instrument’s history since the pieces were caught by the owner, who has held on to it for a little over 50 years.
It carries a pre-auction estimate of at least $20,000. According to Heritage, “even without the celebrity value, a 1964 Fender Strat in good condition could bring that price; other Townshend ‘smashers’ have sold for as much as $75,000”.
The instrument is accompanied by items including the two-page hand-written letter from the original owner and a ticket stub from the show.
In a 1980 interview with Sound International magazine, Townshend described the first smashing moment.
“I was banging my guitar around making noises and I banged it on this ceiling in this club and the neck broke off, because Rickenbackers are made out of cardboard,” he said. “Everybody started to laugh and they went, ‘Hah, that'll teach you to be flash’.
“I thought I had no other recourse but to make it look like I had meant to do it so I smashed this guitar and jumped all over the bits and then picked up the 12-string and carried on as though nothing had happened.
“The next day the place was packed.”
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London even has in its collection the remains of a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe, believed to be built in the 1960s, and smashed by Townshend in such a performance in the late '60s or early '70s. It is on display in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Galleries.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimbo
Another guitar with solid rock heritage and name value – this time in one piece –will be offered in the April 15 Heritage auction.
Blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first guitar, nicknamed ‘Jimbo’, a 1951 Fender No-caster, was used for his very first studio recordings.
Playing Jimbo, he developed his signature style on club stages in the mid-1960s until 1971. During his teen years, the guitarist and Jimbo were inseparable, with the young virtuoso even sleeping with the Fender in his clutches. He played the guitar in several of his early bands, including garage outfit Southern Distributor, Liberation – a 10-piece horn band playing a mix of Top 40 and Rock from Chicago to Hendrix – and Lincoln, featuring Hendrix-influenced singer Christian de Plicque.
“One need look no further than Stevie’s own words to see how important this guitar is,” notes Vaughan biographer Craig Hopkins. “In a 1989 interview with Timothy White, 18 years after he traded it away, and despite countless guitars in between, Stevie said ‘I ended up letting someone talk me into selling and I’m still kicking myself! Still looking for it …’ One of the best guitarists of all time valued Jimbo very highly."
Included with the guitar are two CD copies of early, unreleased and never-before heard public live recordings of Vaughan playing Jimbo.
While Vaughan is better known in the US, among blues fans in particular he has worldwide renown. He died tragically in 1990 in a Wisconsin helicopter crash, aged 35.
All photos used are courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com