Les Paul Rock’s Scientist Gets a Fittingly Small Tribute

Les Paul
THE way that Les Paul's possessions wound up in a tiny local museum a few miles from his sprawling house makes sense in its own way, according to some who knew him.

“Les had an idea of how to handle people, and what he liked was a small, intimate room," said Lou Pallo, a longtime member of the Les Paul Trio, the guitarist and inventor's band. “He didn't like it when people were so far away he couldn't touch them."

Before his death in 2009 at age 94, Mr. Paul decided to allow the Mahwah Museum, which has about 1,000 square feet of display space, to present the first exhibition of many of his artifacts, a decision that reflected his preference for small audiences. “This is absolutely how he would have wanted people to see this stuff," Mr. Pallo, 77, of Wanaque, said.

The exhibition, “Les Paul: A Tribute," which opened in September, will run until June 30, according to Charles Carreras, the museum's vice president and the chairman of the exhibition; some of the objects will remain permanently, he said.

Nearly 800 visitors had come through as of early January, Mr. Carreras, 70, of Mahwah, said. The museum usually gets “very small numbers," he said.

“And part of the beauty of this exhibit is that it appeals to people of all ages, including younger people," he added. “It's a whole different audience for us."

Mr. Carreras met with Mr. Paul, who lived in Mahwah for more than 50 years, several times in 2008 and 2009 to discuss a future exhibition. Mr. Paul had approached the museum with the idea for such a project, but he died before the details of what would eventually be displayed were settled.

Plans for the exhibition finally came together in 2010, when Jim Wysocki, a local friend to whom Mr. Paul had given several artifacts, offered to let the Mahwah Museum house the objects as a permanent loan, Mr. Carreras said. A private collector of Les Paul memorabilia from Westchester County also contributed pieces, and some items, like a section of the elaborately hand-carved wooden wall from Mr. Paul's home studio, were obtained courtesy of the Les Paul Foundation, based in Manhattan. Gibson Guitar, based in Nashville, also lent three guitars and helped with promotion.

One highlight of the exhibition is the eight-track multitrack recorder that Mr. Paul invented in 1956, which changed the music industry. The exhibition also includes a 1940s-era lathe that allowed Mr. Paul to layer sounds on his recordings; the machine resembles a magnifying glass attached to a flywheel on one side and an upside-down cookie jar on the other.

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