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"Music time's over": The sad story of the 145-year-old Martin acoustic that Kurt Russell destroyed on Quentin Tarantino's orders

 The Martin guitar Kurt Russell destroyed.
The Martin guitar Kurt Russell destroyed.

NAMM 2024: One of the most striking guitars on display at NAMM 2024 isn't a shiny new model, or a feature-laden iteration of a big-name line. It's, essentially, a pile of broken wood. This is the vintage Martin acoustic that Kurt Russell destroyed during the filiming of Quentin Tarantino's 2015 western epic, The Hateful Eight.

It wasn't supposed to happen, and it's fair to say Martin Guitars, who had loaned the 145-year old instrument to Tarantino's production wasn't best pleased. "We were informed that it was an accident on set," a spokesman said when the acoustic met its if not untimely, then definitely uncalled for end.

“I said, ‘So if you don’t say stop I smash the guitar?’ He said, ‘Yep, great, just keep going.’

"We assumed that a scaffolding or something fell on it. We understand that things happen, but at the same time we can’t take this lightly."

The scene in question saw Russell's character rip the acoustic from co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh's noodling hands, declare "music time is over" and absolutely welly it into a nearby column. We've all been there, but at this point, the 1870s parlor was supposed to have been swapped for a replica stunt double.

“There were six doubles made,” the film's sound mixer Mark Ulano revealed in the aftermath. “The guitar was from the 1870s and was priceless. What was supposed to happen was we were supposed to go up to that point, cut, and trade guitars and smash the double.”

Russell himself says he was unaware of the planned switch and simply following orders: “On that day, I said, ‘How far do you want me to go?’ [Tarantino] said, ‘Just go until I say stop... “I said, ‘So if you don’t say stop I smash the guitar?’ He said, ‘Yep, great, just keep going.’

“I just kept going and going and going, and I took the thing and I said the line and I said, yeah, he wants me to smash it, so I smashed the guitar.”

I don’t think anything can really remedy this

“Then we cut and [Leigh] was… ‘I can’t believe that just happened.’ I was like, ‘What?’ She said, ‘You just smashed the real guitar.’”

Oops.

In a statement, an irate Dick Boak of the Martin Guitar Museum said, “All this about the guitar being smashed being written into the script and that somebody just didn’t tell the actor, this is all new information to us. We didn’t know anything about the script or Kurt Russell not being told that it was a priceless, irreplaceable artifact from the Martin Museum.”

Sources put the compensation received by Martin at $40,000, but Boak stressed the cash wasn't important. "It’s not about the money. It’s about the preservation of American musical history and heritage.," he said. “Upon inspection of the pieces, we realized that the guitar was beyond fixing, It’s destroyed."

The Martin guitar Kurt Russell destroyed
The Martin guitar Kurt Russell destroyed

“We want to make sure that people know that the incident was very distressing to us. We can’t believe that it happened,” he continued. “I don’t think anything can really remedy this."

Leigh said she was also bereft at the failed switch-out. “I was heartbroken about the guitar, because I was quite in love with it,” she told Billboard. “I got to actually take it home with me, and I played it every day. It had the most beautiful, warm tone.”

In the years since music's-over-gate, there's been speculation about the guitar's ultimate fate. Had it actually been restored? Was it, as one source claimed, autographed by cast and crew and hanging in the Martin offices?

Well, now we know.