The Man Behind The Les Paul


It was legendary jazz guitarist and innovator Les Paul who was responsible for the creation of the greatest acoustic guitar of al time. Paul was not just an accomplished musician, but he was also responsible for some path breaking musical innovations including such concepts as over dubbing, multi tracking, and sound on sound. Born on June 9 1915 as Lester William Polfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Paul took to music at an early age. He began playing the harmonica while at the Barstow school after watching a ditch digger with a harmonica on the street.

Soon he had his own orchestra and was playing at beach parties and dances. After a brief encounter with the banjo, Paul moved on to the guitar.

Paul was unsatisfied by the electric guitars that were sold in the mid 1930s and began experimenting with a few designs of his own. Famously, he created “The Log,” which was nothing more than a length of common 4″ by 4″ fence post with bridge, guitar neck, and pickup attached. For the sake of appearance, he attached the body of an Epiphone hollow-body guitar, sawn lengthwise with The Log in the middle.

This solved his two main problems: feedback, as the acoustic body no longer resonated with the amplified sound, and sustain, as the energy of the strings was not dissipated in generating sound through the guitar body. After a series of experimentations, Les Paul presented his ideas for an electric guitar to the Gibson Company in 1940. His efforts weren’t received with great enthusiasm and it wasn’t until the 1950s that Gibson would take interest in Les Paul’s prototype. The Les Paul Gibson was introduced in 1952.

By the time the Les Paul came out, the guitarist was at the top of his career in spite of an automobile injury that set his arm at an awkward angle. In 1977, he recorded an album of instrumental duets in collaboration with Chet Atkins, but was soon forced to take things slow as a result of heart problems. In 1988 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Les Paul began a regular series of Monday night appearances at Fat Tuesday’s club in New York in 1984 and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. By the late 1980s, Paul had returned to active weekly live performances in New York City. In 2006, at the age of 90, Les Paul won two Grammys at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards for his album Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played. He also performs weekly, accompanied on piano by John Colianni, at the Iridium Jazz Club, on Broadway in New York City, despite the arthritis that has stilled all but two of the fingers on his left hand.

Paul continues to perform on occasion, all the while indulging his curiosity in a basement workshop at his home in New Jersey. Aside from tower figure in the development of the Les Paul Guitar, Paul is also credited as the inventor of multitrack recording, and various reverberation and echo effects.