8 Guitarists Who Overcame Career Threatening Injuries

Ever wondered how you would cope if you broke one of your fretting fingers? What if you broke either one of your wrists?

If you ever do, or if you ever sustain any other guitar threatening injuries, don’t be discouraged!

The guitar playing world is littered with guitarists who have overcome the impossible by teaching themselves to play again in the face of horrific injuries, or worse!

In this post we will be celebrating the courage, tenacity and determination of 8 guitarists who overcame career threatening injuries.

8. Jerry Garcia


Jerry Garcia is one of the most celebrated figures of rock’s psychedelic, 1960’s counterculture period and rose to fame as the lead guitarist, singer, songwriter and unofficial band leader of the American rock band “The Grateful Dead”.

Jerry is renowned for his proficient blues, country, folk and bluegrass infused guitar playing, his extended guitar solo’s during live performances and his profound influence on many notable rock and contemporary musicians.

At the age of four Jerry and his family took a trip to the Santa Cruz mountains in their native California. During their stay Jerry and his holder brother Tiff where given the responsibility of cutting firewood.

While steadying a log for his older brother the axe struck Jerry’s right hand severing two thirds of his middle finger.

A few years after the accident Jerry was introduced to country and bluegrass music by his maternal grandparents, this inspired Jerry to begin learning the banjo and then the guitar.

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7. Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine is one of the Metal worlds most prominent and influential guitar players.

As both the original lead guitarist of Metallica and the lead guitarists and frontman of Megadeth, Dave proudly pioneered both thrash and heavy metal.

In 2001 following a hospital trip to remove a kidney stone, Dave relapsed after being prescribed pain medication.

Following this he checked into a rehabilitation centre in Texas to detox.
During his stay, Dave fell asleep with his left arm over the back of a chair, after sleeping in this position for two hours Dave woke to find his left arm completely numb.

The hard edge along the top of the seat had cut off the circulation to Dave’s radiul ulner nerve and caused radial neuropathy also known as Saturday Night Palsy which left him with greatly decreased motor skills and strength in his left arm and hand.

During this time Dave disbanded Megadeth and began to undergo intense physical therapy five days a week. After months of rehabilitation and painstaking practice Dave retaught himself how to play the guitar and restarted Megadeth with a new line up.

6. Yngwie Malmsteen

Yngwie Malmsteen is considered to be one of the most technically proficient guitar players of all time as well as a prominent pioneer in the shred guitar style.

Yngwie took the classical inspired electric guitar playing of Ritchie Blackmoore, Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker to new heights with his intense technical command of the instrument.

In 1987, Yngwie crashed his V12 Jaguar E-Type into a tree and sustained head injuries that put him in a coma for almost a week.

After recovering from his coma, Yngwie discovered he had sustained nerve damage that robbed his right hand of feeling and motor skills.

After long months of practice and rehabilitation Yngwie relearned his craft and was once again shredding up a storm on tour a year or so later.

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5. Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton is one of the worlds most loved and admired jazz guitar players.

Though recognised primarily as a grammy award winning jazz guitarist, Larry has lent his guitar playing prowess to the genres of rock, pop and blues as well as jazz fusion and smooth jazz.

From the 1970’s to the early 80’s Larry was one of the worlds most sought after session guitar players.

Larry recorded up to five hundred sessions a year and performed on albums from such artists as Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, Barbra Streisand, The Four Tops and The Partridge Family.

In 1988 while recording his album “On Solid Ground” Larry was shot in the throat outside his Room 335 studio in Southern California by a teenaged gunman walking past.

The bullet pierced Larry’s carotid artery, shattered his left vocal chord and caused significant damage to the nerves leading from is left shoulder to his left arm.

If it weren’t for the quick arrival and immediate attention of paramedics Larry would have certainly bled to death.

After extensive surgery and months of painstaking rehabilitation and practice, Larry regained his ability to play and even went on to become a far more accomplished musician and guitar player then he was previously.

4. Pat Martino

Pat Martino is one of the most respected Jazz guitar players and composers of all time.

His musical contributions span the jazz genres of fusion, post bop, soul jazz as well as traditional jazz.

By the mid 1970’s Pat began experiencing bad headaches, these headaches became increasingly more frequent and intense, he also began to develop mental health problems like depression and mania

In 1980 Pat experienced a violent seizure that left him hospitilized, a CT scan finally revealed Pat’s seizures, headaches and psychiatric problems where the result of an abnormal blood vessel mass called an arteriovenous malformation in his left temporal lobe.

The scan also revealed that the arteriovenous malformation had begun to haemorrhage and would cost Pat his life unless he underwent brain surgery where 70% of his temporal lobe would be removed.

Pat agreed to undergo the surgery where the arteriovenous malformation was successfully removed. Though the surgery was a success and it saved Pat’s life, the effect it had on his memory was devastating.

Pat maintained the ability to talk but was left with profound retrograde amnesia resulting in complete loss of memory regarding who he was, where he was, who his friends and familiar where and how to play the guitar.

With the aid of close friends, musical associates and his family, Pat began a pain staking journey to relearn how to play the guitar as well as everything else about his life and career.

Through the use of photos and repetitively listening to his own albums, Pat regained the majority of his personal and musical memory after two long years.

Pat also regained a significant amount of his guitar playing ability during this time, though It took him quite a few years more to regain the level of proficiency he had before his surgery. Though Pat forgot how to play the guitar he never lost his manual guitar playing dexterity.

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3. Les Paul

Lester William Polsfuss, better known as “Les Paul” was a Jazz, Country and Blues guitar virtuoso and one of the most important figures in guitar playing, rock and roll, recording and contemporary music.

He pioneered the solid body electric guitar and was instrumental in the development of Gibson’s “Les Paul” model, one of the worlds most popular electric guitars.

He also pioneered multitrack recording which allowed him to record multiple tracks for vocals and guitar harmonies which he used frequently in his recordings with his wife and musical partner Mary Ford.

In 1948 Les and Mary Ford where driving to California to visit Les’ family.

On the way Les came down with a bad fever and rested in the front seat of their Buick convertible while Mary drove. During the trip they came upon a winter storm that coated the roads with ice.

When the couple came to a railroad track that ran under a highway that connected the city’s of Davenport and Chandler Oklahoma, Mary lost control of the car.

Les managed to take control of the vehicle and steady it slightly but his attempts made no difference in the icy conditions, the car went over the side of the railroad overpass and plummeted twenty feet into a ravine.

Les, Mary and their musical equipment where thrown from the vehicle which landed in the frozen river at the bottom.

Miraculously Mary was not seriously injured but Les received six broken ribs, broken vertebrae, a fractured pelvis, a punctured spleen, a broken nose and his right arm was shattered with a crushed elbow, he also contracted pneumonia after lying in the snow for eight hours waiting for help to arrive.

After being rushed to hospital Les was told that his right arm may have to be amputated, but Les was determined to keep it and play his guitar again. After several surgeries, Les was flown out to California to see a bone specialist.

Les was told that he could have his right elbow replaced with a piece of bone from his leg, though this would save his arm from amputation he would lose all ability to bend it. Les agreed to the procedure and had his doctor set his arm in the position that he plays his guitar.

After more then a year of rehabilitation and practice Les adapted to the change in his arm, regained his ability to play the guitar and went on to write and perform chart topping songs with Mary Ford.

2. Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi is celebrated as one of the most influential guitar players in the development of hard rock and heavy metal music.

He rose to prominence as the lead guitarist of the English rock band “Black Sabbath” and is renowned for his monstrous riffs, low tunings and blistering guitar solos.

At the age of 17 during his last day of work at a sheet metal factory in his native Birmingham, Toni experienced a horrific industrial accident where the tips of his middle and ring finger on his left hand where severed.

By this time Tony had been playing the guitar for a few years with the intention of becoming a professional musician but in the wake of his accident he began contemplating giving up music entirely.

This may have been the case if it weren’t for Tony’s factory foreman who payed him a visit after his accident and played him a record by French Gypsy Jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt.

He explained to Tony that Django achieved his amazing guitar playing with two fingers because he too suffered injuries in an accident.

Inspired by Django’s achievement, Tony melted down plastic liquid soap bottles and moulded two finger tip shaped thimbles out of them, he attached pieces of leather to the tips of the thimbles to assist with gripping the strings and used banjo strings and low tunings to further ease the playing process.

It wasn’t long before Tony regained his guitar playing ability and went on to became an incredibly accomplished rock guitarist.

Tony even incorporated the low tunings he adopted while re-learning guitar into his playing, which became a profound contributing factor to Black Sabbath’s sound.

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1. Django Reinhardt


Jean “Django” Reinhardt is regarded by musicologists and guitar players alike as one of the greatest, most influential and important guitarists of all time.

He completely revolutionised Jazz music and the guitar playing involved and is cited as the main contributor and pioneer of the Hot Jazz style.

Django’s compositions have since become standards for Jazz guitarists and his incredible playing technique and musical ability is recognised as the benchmark for aspiring guitar virtuoso’s of all styles.

In 1928 at the age of 18, Django was horribly injured in a fire that consumed the caravan he shared with his first wife Florine “Bella” Mayer.

Florine crafted and sold imitation flowers that where made from paper and celluloid, on returning from a performance late one night Django knocked over a candle on his way to bed which set fire to the flammable materials that surrounded him and ignited his caravan.

Django was saved from the fire by his heroic neighbours but sustained 2nd and 1st degree burns over the right side his body which paralysed one of his legs and deformed his 3rd and 4th fingers on his fretting hand.

Within a year Django regained the ability to walk with the aid of a cane, but his fingers never recovered. Django, who was already an accomplished guitarist by this time was given a new guitar by his brother who encouraged him to keep playing.

After years of rehabilitation and painstaking practice Django relearned the guitar in an entirely new way that allowed him to improvise guitar solos and play chords with only his 1st and 2nd fingers.

Django also developed the ability to use his paralysed 3rd and 4th fingers along with his 1st and 2nd fingers for chords.

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