The Les Paul exhibit at the Mahwah Museum is a must-see. Northwest Bergen residents can soak in some of the storied history of rock n’ roll music without heading to its Hall of Fame in Cleveland—although Les Paul is featured there, too. The exhibit illustrates the many musical innovations that Les Paul introduced to the world throughout the mid-1900s. He is the only person to receive recognition in both the Inventor’s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ken Pokrowski, Member of Board of Trustees and Chair of Les Paul in Mahwah Committee at the Mahwah Museum, filled us in on the accomplishments of this local legend.
“Up until the early ’50s, guitars were all acoustic,” says Pokrowski. “They were used in folk music and acoustic blues numbers. As bigger bands gained a following, there was no amplification for guitars, so they were just considered accompaniment, not the main feature of the band. They were never in the forefront of the band.”
Paul, along with innovators like Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby, experimented with solid-body guitars which could be amplified without feedback. This changed the face of music by putting the guitar front and center and introducing “guitar bands” to the masses through groups like The Beach Boys, Bill Haley & His Comets, and the Beatles.
“Les Paul was always looking for that perfect sound,” says Ken. “The range of people he influenced ran from Bing Crosby to Paul McCartney, to Jeff Beck, and everyone in between.”
Ken’s mission is to share the story of Paul’s legacy that sprung out of Mahwah, his home of 60 years. Paul made numerous contributions to contemporary music as a celebrity in his own right, but also through his inventions of multi-track recording and solid-body guitar design.
Audio-recording history is displayed, including Paul’s Ampex 300, which pioneered multitrack recording. Its predecessor, the Lathe, is also exhibited. This piece originated sound-on-sound technology because it could record music directly onto a record. The museum also has an 8-track stack mixer on display which combined eight tracks into a single recording.
The permanent exhibit shares vintage photographs of Les Paul with Bing Crosby, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, and Joan Jett. One of Paul’s favorite performance guitars, a 69 Gibson Custom modified with a microphone output, is on display along with many other classic instruments owned by Paul. Are you looking for a memorable experience for your favorite guitar hero? Paul’s legacy to the museum stipulated that his guitars would continue to be played. Call the museum and make an appointment to come in and play Les Paul’s guitar collection for only $25 for 45 minutes.
Expansion plans are underway to make the exhibit more experiential and kid-friendly.