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Les Paul 1915-2009

Updated on December 11, 2009

A Guitar Hero

Les Paul is a different kind of guitar hero, yes the man was an accomplished guitar player but while he’s not worshipped in the sense that Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton Stevie Ray Vaughn are, he’s certainly a hero to a certain type of guitarist for the guitar that bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul.

Every one who plays guitar has their favoured type or model of guitar, whether it’s a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster or a Gibson SG or some other model of guitar, it has a quality that meets their need. Maybe it’s the look or the feel or the tone, but for many it has to be the Gibson Les Paul.

So what has Les Paul the man got to do with the Les Paul guitar? As well as being an enthusiastic an talented guitarist Les was also a technically inclined sort of a guy, a geek even. Born in Waukesha Wisconsin in June 1915 Lester Paul Polsfuss was of German descent apparently related to a brewing family and the manufactures of the famous Stutz Bearcat.

Already playing guitar in public by the age of 13, Les dropped out of high school at 17 to play professional guitar. He was christened “Rhubarb Red” by the leader of the band Sunny Joe Wolverton. Moving to Chicago in 1934 Les was still known as Rhubarb Red while playing Hillbilly style guitar but he was also an accomplished jazz guitar player and played in a style influenced by Django Reinhardt for these performances he used the name Les Paul,

A regular performer on radio from the 1930s Les played with many top musicians like Nat King Cole  and Bing Crosby who featured him on his radio show. Les and his trio also recorded with the likes of the Andrews sisters. An inveterate experimenter with a long standing interest in things electrical (he almost electrocuted himself in his basement in 1940) Les had been experimenting with amplified guitars since the thirties. He famously constructed an electric guitar which was basically a 4x4 with the cut in half body of an Epiphone hollow body guitar attached to either side of it; he called it the “Log”.

Les was also a pioneer of many modern recording techniques such as multi tracking, tape delay and close miking vocals. His hit record of 1947 “Lover” featured Les playing no less than eight guitar parts. His 1950 number one “How High The moon” featured these techniques recorded with his wife Mary Ford.

In the 1950s Les formed a relationship with the Gibson guitar company which ultimately resulted in the world famous guitar which still bears his name. Les Paul continued to play guitar throughout his life, with his death on the 13th August the music world has lost a hugely influential visionary.

Les Paul and Mary Ford How High the Moon


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  • shimla profile image

    shimla 8 years ago

    Enjoyed this thanks - didn't know that Les Paul was responsible for pioneering the tape delay effect.