Les Paul

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Les Paul with his signature guitar
Les Paul with his signature guitar.

Lester William Polsfuss (June 9, 1915 - August 12, 2009) (later known as Les Paul) was an award-winning country and jazz musician. He is credited with the invention of the electric guitar, as well as many recording techniques still used today.


Paul was born in Waukesha, Washington in 1915. When he was 10 years old, his passion for gadgets became apparent—he fashioned a harmonica-holder out of a coat hanger so that he could play guitar while playing the harmonica.[1] By his late teens, he had moved to Chicago to play on the country music circuit.[2] While in Chicago, he led the house band at WJJD, billing himself as the "Wizard of Waukesha."[1]

In 1947, he met a singer named Colleen Summers. He changed her name to Mary Ford—a name he found in the telephone book—when he made the decision to go on tour with her. In 1948, Paul's musical career was almost ended when he shattered his right elbow in a car crash. However, he instructed surgeons to set his arm at a 90 degree angle so that he could still pick a guitar. The injury took a year and a half to recover from.[3]

Paul married Mary Ford in 1949. Recording as a duo, they released hits such as "How High the Moon" and "Viya Con Dios," both of which reached #1. These recordings introduced Paul's technique of "overdubbing"—layering musical sounds on top of one another as opposed to recording each one at the same time.[3]

In 1988, Les Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jeff Beck, a famous blues guitarist, was his presenter.[3] He is one of a handful of artists with a stand-alone exhibit.[4]

Les Paul died in 2009, having played a regular Monday-night gig at a New York City jazz club until shortly before he passed away.