In the Lab with Les Paul

Friday, May 3: 3 p.m.
Posted by Alana Jansen
Les Paul performs live at the 2008 American Music Masters honoring the famed guitarist

I began my internship at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives expecting to be busy with basic preservation tasks and minor conservation duties, such as creating enclosures for documents and rehousing materials. What I ended up doing instead was much more exciting, and it provided me with a much richer internship experience than I ever imagined.

I began by preparing the conservation lab, creating a conservation policy and expanding on the Library and Archives’ existing conservation manual. With everything in place, it was time to work on the collection most in need of treatment: the Les Paul Papers. The papers were in rough shape at the time of acquisition, as many of the documents and files were moldy and covered in rust from old staples and paper clips. The items with the most obvious mold damage were bagged and placed in quarantine until they could be cleaned, but mold seemed to be everywhere I looked in the collection.

rare Les PaulCleaning mold is not a simple task and requires special care and technique. Wearing personal protective equipment, including gloves, goggles, mask and apron, I carefully cleaned each item in the collection with conservation grade sponges, a HEPA vacuum, and brush; slowly removing hundreds of rusty fasteners as I cleaned each piece. Much of the staining from the mold could not be removed, so, while the papers may not be pristine, they are now safe to handle. I also placed the most fragile papers in mylar to provide additional protection. The collection is even starting to smell better, as I re-foldered and interleaved the materials with special preservation products that not only help to prolong the life of the collection but also remove musty and moldy odors as they eliminate the by-products of deterioration and pollutants. (pictured left: Les Paul paper before conservation)

rare Les PaulThe Les Paul collection boasts a wide range of materials, including advertisements, biographical information, brochures, catalogs, chord sheets, clippings, contracts, copyright documents, correspondence, handbills, hit charts, lyrics, music arrangements and manuscripts, newsletters, photographs, press kits and releases, programs, publications, recording notes, royalty reports, scrapbooks, scripts, set lists, sheet music,and stage design drawings. These materials are primarily in English, though some of the files contain materials in German, Japanese, Danish, French, Swiss and Dutch. (pictured right: Les Paul paper after conservation)

After cleaning this collection on a daily basis for more than three months, it became clear that there were some true gems to be found amidst the mostly business-related correspondence and documents, such as letters and telegrams to Les Paul from Bing Crosby, personal telegrams from Les Paul and Mary Ford to Alan Freed, and, for the Beatles lover in us all, a photo of Les Paul with Paul McCartney. Les Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Architects of Rock exhibit. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum paid tribute to Les Paul as 2008's American Music Masters honoree.

The collection is now open and available for research. To learn more about Les Paul materials at the Library and Archives, including the Les Paul Papers, contact the Library and Archives


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