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Les Paul vs Thermite: The Catch It Keep It Episode That Haunts Me

On Catch It Keep It, I had the weekly challenge of designing and building an insane method for destroying an object of considerable value, and then figuring out and building a solution to the same challenge in order to show the contestants that the objective was not impossible, should they fail.

Being who I am, I often found my solutions breaking the “keep it simple” rule – partially because the contestants usually took the simple route, and partially because I wanted these things to be awesome. That created situations with considerable potential for failure, when failure really wasn’t an option. But the show was real, and just like in real life sometimes things don’t go as planned…

This is not going to end well...

Episode five was the Les Paul challenge. Who doesn’t drool over the idea of owning a heavy, thick slab of rock lore? I sure do (although, sadly, the prizes were only for the contestants). The method of destruction? Surround the guitar with 100 lbs of thermite – a compound that burns at 4500 degrees. That’s a LOT of thermite – we had to special order the materials (aluminum powder and iron oxide) due to the quantity requested.

As the episode geared up, I had two solutions in mind: surround that heavy, thick guitar with a heavy, thick box, and shield the whole thing with ceramic tiles and sand (interesting aside: I successfully fused sand into glass during testing), or mechanically extract the guitar from the stage. The contestants wisely, but boringly, chose a box solution – essentially building a fortified dog house, not the most exciting build to watch for an hour, but it had the best potential for winning. Thankfully, they added a small external cooling system to keep things interesting; I thought Bruce’s idea to wrap the entire thing in copper pipe and pump cold water through like a radiator would have been brilliant, but it got vetoed by their team.

I wanted my solution to be big and exciting, and I had drawn up plans that were just that: a pulley system that would loop the guitar and fly it off the stage along a line that ended in a protective net. In order to actuate the lasso/pulley, the system needed a tall tower for a counterweight fall from, connected to the pulley via a block and tackle system that would move the guitar quickly.

It worked great in testing, over and over. But perhaps we tested it one time too many, perhaps a line got tangled, or perhaps the lasso connection was tied too tightly and didn’t want to release. Either way, I never imagined I’d be responsible for torching a $2000 Les Paul.

As frustrating as that was, I’ll admit that the footage of the flames raining down on the guitar is absolutely mesmerizing and beautiful, especially in slow motion. I put the clip online, and as a bonus added a couple other slow motion shots from the show as well.

Watch the series via iTunes (or get it on Amazon).

Build your own Les Paul style guitar with this Saga LC-10 kit.