Called "every electric guitarist's grandfather" by rocker Joe Walsh, Les Paul (1915-2009) was the revered inventor of the electric guitar and one of the world's best guitarists and recording innovators.
Born Lester William Polfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he began playing the guitar as a child and was broadcasting on local radio stations by age 17.
"You have to give up everything if you want to be a good guitar player," he said about his passion to make music. "Play around the clock."
While touring with his band in the mid-1930s, he became dissatisfied with the sound of his acoustic guitar. On weekends at Gibson's Epiphone factory in New York, Paul built the first solid-body electric guitar, a 21-pound, four-by-four monster named The Log. "I went into a nightclub and played it. Of course, everybody had me labeled as a nut," he said.
In 1952, the Gibson company made its mark in history by producing the first Les Paul solid body electric guitar. "I just can't image my home without guitars everywhere," he once said.
With an innovator's creativity and curiosity, Paul began experimenting with close miking and overdubbing in the recording studio and gave the world the first eight-track tape recorder, the multi-tracking "sound on sound" that transformed the recording industry.
"Playing a joint keeps me alive," explained the jazz/country/blues virtuoso after a concert. He was still going strong in his 90s. "I have younger friends who don't work, and they aren't doing so well. My secret is to keep going, keep working."
He was an inspiration and celebration. As blues rocker Jon Paris put it, “All roads lead to Les.”
The Gibson Les Paul was the six-string choice for guitar legends Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and many others. In 2005, “The Wizard of Waukesha" was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And one of his guitars, a 1955 model, sold for $45,600.
Practice makes perfect.