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Les Paul

Guitarist / Inventor

Born: 9 June 1915
Died: 13 August 2009 (complications from pneumonia)
Birthplace: Waukesha, Wisconsin
Best known as: Inventor of the solid-body electric guitar

Name at birth: Lester William Polsfuss

Les Paul is the musician and inventor generally credited with inventing the solid-body electric guitar. A harmonica and guitar player from an early age, Paul moved in his late teens to Chicago, where he became a minor star on the country music circuit. By the late 1930s he was in New York as a regular player on Fred Waring's radio show. Paul was tinkering with electronics by then, and in 1940 or 41 he built his first "electric guitar" -- a 4" x 4" chunk of pine with strings and a microphone pick-up attached, which Paul called "The Log." He also used amplified guitar strings and a modified tape recorder to create "sound on sound" -- what is now called overdubbing. During World War II he served with the Armed Forces Radio Services, where he played behind stars including Bing Crosby. After the war he returned to New York for a time, then headed to Los Angeles where he ended up working again with Crosby.

Paul married singer Mary Ford (b. Colleen Summer, 1928-1977) and together they had hit records during the 1950s, including "Mockin' Bird Hill" and "Vaya Con Dios." They also hosted a successful TV show, The Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home Show (1953-60). Paul was by now a renowned guitar wizard; in the early 1950s he signed a deal with Gibson to produce his Les Paul guitars, which became a mainstay of the budding rock 'n roll industry. In the early 1960s Paul retired from performing (he and Mary divorced in 1961) but kept puttering around with electronics and in 1973 was awarded his third patent for an improved electrical pick-up. He returned to performing in the late '70s, and he and Chet Atkins released a Grammy-winning record, Chester & Lester (1978). In 2006, at the age of 90, Paul won Grammys for the pop instrumental "Caravan" and the rock instrumental "69 Freedom Special," both from the album Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played.

Extra credit: Les Paul was given a Grammy for technical achievements in 2001... He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988... He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

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