The guitar that actor Kurt Russell smashed in Quentin Tarantino’s recent spaghetti western throwback, The Hateful Eight, wasn’t some prop guitar as you might have imagined. In fact, it was an extremely valuable antique from 1870, on loan from the iconic Martin Guitar Company’s own museum.
In a particularly intimate scene in the film, Russell grabs the acoustic from the hands of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character after she plays a song that displeases him, and smashes it violently against a post. On screen, viewers see a genuine reaction following the smashing of the priceless instrument from Jason Leigh — who appears extremely distraught yelling, apparently to off-set production staff, “Whoa, whoa!”
While Jason Leigh was informed of the value of the guitar before it was given to her in the scene, the provenance of the instrument was apparently not related to Russell.
The loaner guitar was supposed to be swapped for one of six doubles that were made for the film before Russell smashed it, according to an interview with Academy Award winning sound mixer Mark Ulano.
“What was supposed to happen was we were supposed to go up to that point, cut, and trade guitars and smash the double,” he said, “Well, somehow that didn’t get communicated to Kurt, so when you see that happen on the frame, Jennifer’s reaction is genuine.”
In a recent interview with Reverb magazine, Martin museum director Dick Boak said that the company was told the guitar was destroyed by an accident on set, but not precisely how it was destroyed.
“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. 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.”
As a result of the incident, the company will no longer loan guitars to films, “under any circumstances,” said Boak. “We’ve been remunerated for the insurance value, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the preservation of American musical history and heritage.”
On paper, the guitar was insured for what the Museum originally paid for it, about $40,000. But the guitar was likely worth more than that. In 2009, a Martin dating to 1930 sold at a Christie’s auction for over $500,000, though it’s not known if the destroyed guitar has been reassessed since its original purchase.
The pieces of the guitar were returned to the museum, but it was found to be beyond repair.