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Les Paul's Clunker #1 ... the one after 'The Log'


Well-known member
Apr 6, 2005
On the cover of 'Smoke Rings'


After The Log -

The Log and Clunker
During this time, Les was becoming one of the best guitarists in the country, and he continued to strive for the best guitar sound. In the late ’30s he moved to New York City and found himself in a great position to experiment.

“In 1941, I was close to the Epiphone factory on 13th Street, and I told them, ‘I want to build this log.’ They said, ‘You want to build what?’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it on Sunday, you guys don’t have to be there.’

“And I built it. It took three Sundays or so, and I finally got this ‘log’ built. This guy there helped me, and we got it together. It was just a 4×4 with a pickup and a neck.

“I took it to a tavern in Queens, and I was playing “The Sheik” on it, and the act died. The people looked at me like I was nuts. Then I thought, ‘I’m going back down to Epiphone and put wings on that thing… put some sides on it, and make it look like a guitar, and see if that makes any difference.’

“Geez, they went crazy. So I found out that people hear with their eyes, and that it’s got to look like a guitar. But the sound and everything was there.”

Many guitarists think Les had an early association with Epiphone (the fact he built it at the Epi factory helped further that myth, and his famous “clunkers” are Epiphones – with good reason.

“The log was not the reason I used Epiphones,” he said. “Right after we built the log in 1941, I went back to Chicago. One day I got a call from a guy who said, ‘I work for a bread wrapping company and I got my hand caught in a wrapping machine. I have a guitar and amp I want to give you. It’s an Epiphone.’ I said, ‘I play a Gibson, I don’t play Epiphone.’ But he said, ‘I’ll give it to you.’

“So I said, ‘Well, bring it over.’ So I looked at it and gave him $125. I took it because it had a door in the back, so I could go in and change the pickups, do the electronics, all that junk.

After The Log
“For the ‘clunker,’ I started thinking, ‘I’m going to do more than pickups here. I’m going to change this and that,’ and the guitar became an experiment. Next thing you know, it’s the best damn guitar I’ve got. That became my number one clunker. I had three of them.

“That was a very exciting time because I had this clunker and I’m making records with Bing Crosby [Decca Records’ Bing Crosby With The Les Paul Trio and Bing Crosby With Les Paul And His Trio], and Gibson is going nuts. They say, ‘We’ll give you a gold plated L-5… whatever you want.’ I told them, ‘If you can beat this one, okay.’

“The surgery I did on the clunker was severe. And it just so happens I recorded ‘How High The Moon,’ ‘Bye Bye Blues,’ and everything from that period with it.”

And Les kept his word, continuing to use the Epiphone clunker until Gibson presented him with a better-sounding guitar – the prototype solidbody Les Paul Model.


"The Clunker" Les Paul experimental guitar 1942, Epiphone Broadway with solid body insert

"My first clunker, Epiphone series no. 6867. I switched pickups so many times, looking for my sound, that I finally had to put the steel plate in the middle of the top to hold out together"
- Les Paul ("Les Paul in His Own Words" hardcover book + the limited edition "Christmas Cheer")



Les Paul and the Electric Guitar The “Clunker” started life as a 1942 Epiphone Broadway that Les Paul acquired in early ‘42. Paul modified the guitar in his workshop, adding a steel bar to brace the body and replacing the electronics with hand-wound pickups of his own design. The Clunker became his favorite guitar both onstage and in the studio.



Picture Below -

(LEFT TO RIGHT) The “Log” was made in 1941 at the Epiphone factory in New York. It was a 4×4 piece of wood with pickups, winged sides, and an Gibson neck. Les used the log to pester Gibson for 10 years in an attempt to get a Gibson solid guitar that sounded like a steel guitar. Les and his #1 “clunker,” used to record “How High The Moon” and all other Les Paul and Mary Ford hits from the late 1940s and early ’50s. The sheet music cover shows Les holding this guitar. Les Paul’s #2 clunker was used as a backup for #1. Number two has a rounded-off pickguard, not the squared pickguard on #1. Les had told Gibson that he would play his clunkers until Gibson came up with a guitar that sounded better. Gibson did produce its first solidbody, which did rival the sound of the clunker. In the 1940s, Gibson offered Les any guitar he wanted including a gold plated L-5, but it’s ironic that the one thing that Les wanted was a great-sounding solidbody, and Gibson refused to give him one. The #3 clunker, which was occasionally used by Mary Ford. She is pictured with a sunburst archtop on the cover of the “Mockin’ Bird Hill” sheet music; could there have been a #4 clunker?



Picture Below -

(LEFT) Les Paul with a ’52 Les Paul Model and ’52 Les Paul GA-40 amp, in the room where most of his TV show was taped and recorded. “We did the commercials mostly in this room and in another studio here, and the rest of the TV show was shot in the house.” (MIDDLE) This is the Gibson logo on the #1 clunker which Les applied because Gibson president Ted McCarty insisted on it. Les told McCarty that he would continue to play the clunker until Gibson had made the solidbody prototype correctly. The first prototype presented to Les at the Delaware Water Gap had several things wrong with it. (RIGHT) Les Paul was a top guitarist, engineer, inventor, promoter, and national celebrity by the time this cover photo appeared in 1958.



More Les and Mary cover photos with guitars -



Vintage Guitar: More about Les' story and his prototype evolution from the 'The Log' onwards -

There would be 2 more Clunker guitars... that's another story.

And: Number One Goldtop -
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Well-known member
Jun 11, 2003
Hey ! Thanks for this !!!! i love the clunkers...And the fact that Les modified Everything !!!!!!!!!!! That's the way it should be !!!!