The Wizard of Waukesha
Les Paul, considered the father of the solid-body electric guitar, was both an iconic guitar player and inventor. In the early 1950s, Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford created 36 gold records. His lightning-fast guitar playing along with unique trills, chording sequences and fretting techniques mesmerized musicians and music-lovers. Mary’s crystal voice made the duo unmatchable. At the same time, Les experimented with recording techniques and used his cutting-edge developments to create a new sound.
Les developed the 8-track tape recorder so that he and Mary could layer multiple versions of their songs into one recording. Les also developed close miking, delay, echo, reverb and phasing effects that made their music sound incredibly different from the music of the day. Les’ pioneering recording techniques have become today’s norm.
Les Paul (Lester William Polsfuss) was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915 to Evelyn and George Polsfuss. From an early age, he was curious about everything, especially sound. He observed the sounds around him and questioned how and why they happened. Les credited his mother and his teachers for helping him find answers and the Waukesha community for encouraging his performances. Les Paul’s earliest experiments happened in his Waukesha childhood home. His first performances were for the people of Waukesha, where he was known as Red Hot Red, inspired by his red hair.
From age 17 Les moved to various places, always entertaining. In the 1930s, he performed live music for a string of radio stations from WRJN in Racine, WHAD in Milwaukee and stations in St. Louis, Springfield (MO), Chicago and eventually in New York. Known as Rhubarb Red, Les first played country music on the radio. As he moved to playing jazz and then popular music he was known as Les Paul.
The Les Paul Gibson guitars evolved from Les’ multiple experiments with solid body guitar designs. He created his earliest prototypes as a teenager while living in Waukesha.
As his final tribute of love for his hometown, Les Paul chose to be buried at Prairie Home Cemetery. His monument briefly tells the story of a curious boy from Waukesha who changed the world of music.
Provided and copyrighted by the ©Les Paul Foundation, 2012
Learn more about Les Paul at: lespaulfoundation.org