Les Paul Biography

Les Paul, the legendary American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, was not only a gifted musician but also a groundbreaking inventor. His partnership with Gibson Guitar Corporation led to the creation of the iconic Gibson Les Paul, the world’s first solid-body electric guitar. This revolutionary instrument reshaped the music industry and became a favorite among renowned artists like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Les Paul’s innovative techniques, including overdubbing, reverb effects, and sound-on-sound recording, further pushed the boundaries of music. His remarkable contributions earned him numerous Grammy awards and a place in both the Grammy and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. Additionally, his collaborations with his second wife, Mary Ford, remain cherished in musical history.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Lester William Polsfuss
  • Died At Age: 94
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Mary Ford (m. 1949–1964), Virginia Webb (m. 1938–1949)
    • Father: George Polsfuss
    • Mother: Evelyn Polsfuss
    • Siblings: Ralph
    • Children: Colleen Paul, Gene Paul, Robert Paul, Russell Paul
  • Born Country: United States
  • Guitarists
  • American Men
  • Died on: August 12, 2009
  • Place of death: White Plains, New York, United States
  • Cause of Death: Pneumonia
  • U.S. State: Wisconsin
  • Discoveries/Inventions: Multitrack Recording

Childhood, Early Life & Education

Les Paul, born Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, US, was of German descent. His parents, George and Evelyn (Stutz) Polsfuss, divorced when Paul was still a child. He had a brother named Ralph. Before becoming famous by his stage name, Les Paul was also known as Red Hot Red and Rhubarb Red. He began singing at local events as a pre-schooler and taught himself how to play various musical instruments. He was also interested in experimenting with his instruments and improving them by tweaking their mechanical settings. In high school, he started experimenting with solid body electric guitars and began performing at events semi-professionally.

Music Career

In 1934, Paul moved to Chicago and started performing jazz music under the pseudonym Les Paul. He continued to perform on radio as Rhubarb Red. In 1937, he created his first trio and released two albums. He then moved to New York with his first wife, Virginia Webb Paul, and became a regular performer on radio broadcasts of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. In 1943, he moved to Los Angeles and formed the Les Paul Trio, performing with big names in the music industry. In the 1950s, he performed mostly with his second wife, Mary Ford. After a period of obscurity, he returned to the music scene and recorded with various artists. He continued to perform regularly until a few months before his death.

Contribution to the Evolution of Music & Musical Instruments

Les Paul believed that a solid body guitar would produce a better sound and have reduced feedback and better sustainability. He worked on his first prototype of the solid body guitar in high school and later created a modified prototype named the Log. He proposed the new guitar design to the Gibson Musical Instrument Co. in the early 1940s, but they rejected his offer. However, contemporary inventors such as Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby encouraged him to continue playing his innovative guitar. He also developed multi-track recording, which revolutionized the way musicians played and recorded music.

Awards & Achievements

Les Paul won multiple Grammy Awards throughout his career, including one for his instrumental duet with Chet Atkins. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He also received the Smithsonian Institution’s John Smithson Bicentennial Medal.

Personal Life

Les Paul married his first wife, Virginia Webb, in 1937 and had two children with her. They divorced in 1949, and he married Mary Ford the same year. They had two children together and adopted another. The couple divorced in 1964. Les Paul suffered a permanent arm injury in an automobile accident.

Death & Legacy

Les Paul passed away on August 12, 2009, in White Plains, New York. He had formed the Les Paul Foundation in 1995, which later supported music education, engineering, and medical research.

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