GEARHEAD: Inside Les Paul’s Vault

Les Paul passed away almost three years ago, finally leaving this earth at the admirable age of 94. And now, his private treasures from a life full of music, machinery, and magic are being sold by auction. As you can imagine, the Les Paul Vault contains riches beyond the scope of your average rock star. Les was more than a musician: he was an inventor, an innovator, and the original guitar hero. He pioneered multi-track recording. He was the first DIY musician, producing and recording his own radio show (an early podcast?). He invented portable tape-delays and all sorts of other sonic gizmos. He even invented an early harmonica harness, still manufactured today by his original design. At one point, he helped the US military develop sound devices that would fool sonar, enabling American submarines to slip past their enemies. As you can imagine, guitars, amps, and other instruments make up the bulk of the auction. This is particularly enticing because he was known to tinker with and modify virtually every instrument he ever played. Some of the items are whimsical sculptural tributes to his well-known technological trickery (because of his reputation, people loved to give Les weird machines). But it’s a true estate sale, in the sense that pretty much everything owned by Les is up for sale- furniture, lights, recording equipment, even his Social Security cards!

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of true rock and roll ephemera, click here to browse through the auction collection. Here are a couple of wacky items that jumped out for me:

WHIMSICAL MODIFIED INSTRUMENT: The site claims its an art-piece, but it actually looks like a home-made Stroh violin, which is a combination of Violin and Trumpet.

THREE BANJOS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE: For some reason, they are selling these three banjos as a unit. Very cool and vintage looking. There are literally dozens of banjos for sale in this auction. I love the design and style of vintage banjos.

TRAVEL TELEVISION: If you want any proof that Mr. Paul loved gadgetry, check this out: a vintage portable television built into a suitcase. He also had a portable disk-cutter to make vinyl records on the fly!

THE “MARY FORDERISER”: This appears to be a guitar that somebody turned into a power bar (you know, like you use to plug in all your electronics when you only have one outlet). Imagine this thing setting underneath your television! Clearly the piece was made as a tribute to Mary Ford, Paul’s wife and singing partner.

LES PAUL’S 1851 CASHBOX AWARD: There’s actually a bunch of awards for sale, but this is one of the earliest: a 1951 Award from the semi-forgotten Cash Box Awards. Cash Box was an early music industry magazine that began in the 1940s, and it was the powerhouse publication of the music industry for decades. So this statue has double the historical significance!

UNFINISHED LES PAUL: As you might imagine, there are dozens of Les Paul guitars available for sale, but this one is unfinished. I wonder what he was planning to do to it?

1982 GIBSON LES PAUL PROTOTYPE RECORDING MODEL: The website claims this may be the first Les Paul Recording model ever made. It’s the most hot-rodded Les Paul I’ve ever seen. It’s got stereo inputs, plus a XLR connection, plus a Les-Paulverizer (his early tape-triggering system, allowing him to loop his parts in a live setting).

THE SACRED TEXTS: This is like the Dead Sea Scrolls of electric guitar. Imagine you found Noah’s handwritten plans for the Ark? That’s what this is: Les Paul’s genius, his innovative technical mind, written in his own hand.


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