I can’t tell you how many times I passed the sign for the Les Paul exhibit in the Mahwah Museum. My family and I have been living in Mahwah for seven years and we recently moved to Wyckoff which is just one town over. Last week I was on Franklin Turnpike again and I made an effort to find out until when the Les Paul exhibition was running – it said through June 2012, so I finally decided to get my act together and my wife and I stopped by there yesterday. Unbelievable, the Mahwah Museum is just four miles away and yet it took me over 6 months to get there. And before I forget, in case you didn’t know, Les Paul was living in Mahwah from 1952 until his death on August 12, 2009. Mahwah is big, but I like to pretend that Les Paul and I were practically neighbors – of course, with strong emphasis on “practically”.
Alright, the whole Les Paul Museum exhibit is rather small, well, the museum itself is not that big. If you are not a member, admission is 5$ which was a pleasant surprise. I asked if it’s okay to take pictures, and the friendly staff told me that most of the featured items are property of the Les Paul Foundation and they did not give permission to have pictures taken. Except for one section in the far right corner which features a bunch of signature guitar models – here are some images I was able to capture.
Fortunately, even though numerous museums tried to get a hand on Les Paul’s instruments, equipment, innovations and recording devices, it was the Mahwah museum who Les chose to get access to all this. But he had made it very clear upfront that he didn’t want to have his belongings ending up in some closets, he wanted to be assured that the public would get a chance to see everything. Well, I must say the museum did a fantastic job. The way all the items are set up and displayed, shows how much love and dedication the planners and organizers put into this task, making sure the promise they had made to Les was honored and kept.
When people hear of Les Paul they usually think of the legendary Gibson Les Paul models which ended up in the hands of guitarist such as Jimmy Page, Slash and countless others. But there is so much more to the Les Paul story. The first thing that peaked my interest was this stand alone glass cabinet displaying a two foot piece of rail road track, a couple of wires and a device that looked like an old transistor radio. Well, this thing was Les’ first ‘home-made’ amplifier – this goes back to the period where regular “amplifiers” weren’t even invented yet. Right next to it is “The Log”, the first guitar ever built by Les and the forefather of all solid body guitars. He made it out of a 4×4 and the left and the right part of the body were detachable.
There’s tons of original gear and tools Les Paul has actually used in his house, and if I wouldn’t know better, I would think all these artifacts were used by a carpenter or engineer. Well, I guess you could make an argument and actually call him that too, aside from inventor, musician, celebrity, supporter, visionary, etc.
Here are a couple of pictures I took of the flyer advertising the Les Paul Exhibit. They did a much better job in describing what you can see at the Mahwah museum.
Okay, my wife convinced me that I should actually enter the raffle which features the following prices:
1. Epiphone E Series Guitar, singed by Les Paul, Lou Pallo, Arlene Roth, Nicki Parrott, John Oats and other guitarist at the Iridium in Manhattan, circa 1989.
2. Fender Stratocaster Series, 2006, signed by Les Paul and Steve Miller, 60th anniversary guitar, circa 2006.
Even though I reminded my wife that I never won anything in my life despite my ambitious attempts in winning the lottery, she though I should definitely plunk down the $25, and since the proceeds go to the Les Paul Tribute, I gave in – keep your fingers crossed. So if I were you and if you live close enough to make the trip, definitely take the chance and visit the museum before they close down the Les Paul exhibit. It is absolutely worth you time. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to adequately describe what you can actually see there, but as I said, have a look at the brochure.
The “Les Paul in Mahwah – A Tribute” exhibit is open to the public Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm. For more information, please visit the Mahwah Museum Website or call them 201-512-0099. Address: 201 Franklin Turnpike, Mahwah, NJ 07430. Hurry up, the thing is over in June 2012. Oh, and you can actually ask for special dates where they allow you to play some of the guitars on display. I personally have no interest in doing that, I’m just not wired that way – however, I know this can be important to other guitarists so I wanted to mention it.
Well, I have one more Les Paul story to share. It’s kind of ironic when you think about it, because as I told you, we both were living in the same town for a number of years, yet, I was still living in Germany when I actually had a bigger chance to meet the master in person. It must have been in the 2000 if I recall correctly. I was in New Jersey for a business trip and one of my colleagues had mentioned to me that he was going to see Les Paul playing in New York City during our 3-day stay. He asked me if I would join him and initially I said yes. But when the time came, I decided not to and rather hang out with my other colleagues drinking. Instead of seizing the opportunity of a life time, I decided to get wasted – in hindsight, it’s hard to believe that I did that.
Anyway, the next morning my colleague who actually went to see Les Paul came over to me handing me an autographed picture – not only did Les sign it for me, but he also left a personal message along the lines: “Hey Dieter (Dieter is my actual first name, but I go by Ulrich), where have you been? Take care, Les.” I felt embarrassed but what’s even more embarrassing is the fact that I lost this autographed picture with his personal message to me. I am an idiot and I am ashamed of that. This has nothing to do crying over the fact that I lost the picture, things like that can happen. But I was just careless and hung over and probably put it somewhere where it got thrown out. Again, this has nothing to do with not being able to have this picture and message hanging prominently on the wall here in my house, I wouldn’t have done that anyway – but losing a personal message from Les Paul, a person who played an immeasurable major part in guitar and music history, because I was drunk, that does get to me big time. It haunts me to this day.
I apologize for being sentimental. Anyway, should I win the raffle, which is not likely but you never know, I will make sure that I won’t screw up this time. Should I get lucky to win one of the two instruments, they will find a special place here and accompany me for the rest of my life.
I promise, Les.
(Edit 5/25/2013: I didn’t win..)