Tomorrow, June 9, would have been Les Paul
's 97th birthday. How many times in an average day does someone, somewhere on stage, in a recording studio, or on a blog say the words: Les Paul
? As we've been reporting, Julien's Auction House is holding the Les Paul Estate Auction
today and tomorrow in Beverly Hills. Les kept everything so this auction is really going to be special.
Among the items listed are Les' Klunker #3, formerly an Epiphone Zephyr
, and one of Les' three early solid body electric prototypes. Les' L-5 that he used while performing as "Rhubarb Red" will be there, along with an unnumbered 1952 Goldtop
--possibly the first off the Kalamazoo factory floor before production started. Some of the other items include mixing boards, Ampex tape machines, and numerous electronic gadgets invented in Les' living room that went on to worldwide fame. There are also lamps, photos, gold records, and RCA microphones that gave Mary Ford's voice that velvet sound.
Les has a special place in the hearts of all of us at Epiphone
. We take our reputation for mixing tradition, value, and innovation seriously and so did Les. If Les were here, he’d say check out the Ultra III
, which is full of the kind of technical advances that Les put in his own guitars at home. The Ultra III features
an on-board tuner, Pro-Bucker™ pickups, a Shadow NanoMag™ low impedance pickup, and one-of-a-kind Native Instruments GuitarRig software along with USB and stereo outputs. Les' own modifications to factory-made Les Pauls
share the same spirit as those found in the Ultra III. People used to say Les was crazy to try to put all that stuff in one guitar. Crazy like a fox. Look at the auction and you'll see that many of his own guitar modifications resemble the very things that Epiphone makes possible for players everywhere today.
Les was a dynamo in his lifetime--arranging, thinking, tinkering, and breathing
music. There doesn't seem to be a single moment in 20th century pop music history that he didn't participate in. His stories could all be individual movie scripts on their own---driving to Oklahoma to check out Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, carrying too-heavy Gibson amps through the streets of New York City with Charlie Christian, meeting Django Reinhardt, recording the Chester and Lester album with Chet Atkins
, picking up a live electrical wire in his studio and burning up virtually every muscle in his body, surviving a car crash and having the doctor set his right arm in a position so he could still pick, driving around Hollywood with Bing Crosby, looking for a place to build a studio before settling on his own garage, and jamming in the window of Epiphone's showroom in New York City by day and sawing archtops in half by night while sharing some amorgiano wine with Epi Stathopoulo
. And we haven't even mentioned Mary Ford, their pioneering tv show, the Les Paulverizer, the Les Paul trio, or multi-track recording.
Today, as you check out the on-line catalog for the estate sale, don't be surprised if you're moved by seeing the piles of tubes, electronics, gadgets and notes that Les put to each guitar like "good frets" and "adjust lead pickup." The overwhelming feeling one gets from seeing all of Les' stuff in one place is that he loved his work. And though there are a few famous items that are not part of the auction (like Django Reinhardt's guitar and the original 8-track machine) you can see that everything in Les' collection was there for a purpose. He didn't need boutique-anything to get the job done. (Of course, you'll also notice that Les boutiqued
a good deal of his instruments himself. If you buy one of Les' guitars at the auction, it's likely to have a hole in it.)
Today, the Les Paul guitar that Les inspired is the #1 solid body electric guitar
. Nothing else really comes close when you want to get "sustain for days" and a variety of sounds. And if you were ever on a desert island with Les with a couple of his guitars, you could count on Les--the man--to find whatever raw minerals that were native to the island and build a combination radio and amplifier to keep you pickin' until you were rescued. Happy Birthday, Les from all of us at Epiphone.