Nine Inch Nails Destroyed More Than $160,000 Worth of Gibson Les Pauls on The Downward Spiral Tour

  • Axl Rosenberg

For those of you who somehow don’t know this, A Perfect Circle guitarist/primary songwriter Billy Howerdel got his start as a guitar tech, working for some really big name bands, like Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Guns N’ Roses.

I mention it because during a recent interview with Premier Guitar, Howerdel shared a fun little story from his NIN days. After getting the gig, Howerdel was asked to swap out a pickup on one of Reznor’s Gibson Les Pauls. Then this happened (transcription courtesy of The PRP):

“So I was soldering, and I laid the soldering iron down, and it just slipped, and I [burned the finish.] It hit the finish. I was like, ‘Oh my god…’ I felt like, ‘I’m fired, right?’

“And then the tech next to me was working on stuff, and it’s almost like going into war. He just goes, ‘Dude, that’s the least of your concerns. That is not a big deal as of what’s going to happen tonight.’

“This was ‘The Downward Spiral’ tour in ’94-95—this thing got launched into the truss within minutes. This guitar actually got the headstock ripped off it within the first couple of weeks working on it, maybe even the first week. This got put in the crowd, someone ripped the headstock off, it went missing, and I got another guitar of this exact color that came in. I fashioned this thing [headstock] on there poorly, it’s at the wrong angle, it went on a couple different times. I don’t know if you guys can see, if that angle translates, but it’s not the right pitch at all.”

Howerdel concludes by revealing that he went through 137 Les Pauls on that tour alone. I happen to know that a plain ol’ run of the mill Les Paul retailed for about $1,2000 in 1995; that means Reznor smashed $164,400 worth of Les Pauls that tour. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $267,463 and change.

Which must be a drop in the bucket for Reznor — especially during The Downward Spiral era, when the music business had money to burn and NIN was at the peak of its popularity — but fuck, that’s a lotta dough. Just to put the figure in perspective, that’s more than twice as much as Dave Lombardo has alleged the highest-ranking members of Slayer make in a year. And Slayer, I don’t have to tell you, aren’t exactly some small potatoes underground band.

But I’m not just sharing this story because it demonstrates how lavishly Reznor has been able to live. I’m sharing it because I want to know what Reznor has against Les Pauls. Were his parents murdered by Gibson or…?

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