Happy Birthday, Les Paul!

- Press Release

The guitar virtuoso, inventor, and recording pioneer turned 91 on June 9. Virtually every professional musician has benefited from Les' extraordinary innovations in the fields of performing and recording technology, and it is impossible to imagine the world of rock 'n' roll without the guitar that bears his name.

The sound that would come to define rock 'n' roll was launched with the introduction of the Gibson Les Paul, the solidbody classic that debuted in 1952. A veritable who's who of guitarists have defined their signature sounds on a Les Paul. Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, and Duane Allman are but a few of the players who have ridden into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Les' guitar. Les himself was inducted in 1988.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915, Les grew up listening to country music on Chicago's National Barn Dance and WSM's Grand Ole Opry. He landed his first professional job as a teen when he hooked up with Joe Wolverton's group the Scalawags. Under Wolverton's mentoring, Paul spent his early performing years on the country music circuit—often performing under the moniker Rhubarb Red. During those early days with Wolverton, Les passed through Kalamazoo, Michigan, and obtained his first Gibson—an L-50 archtop.

After becoming friends with Gypsy guitar great Django Reinhardt, Les shifted his musical style from country to jazz and pop. In 1937, he formed the Les Paul Trio with singer-guitarist Jim Atkins (half-brother of legendary guitarist and producer Chet Atkins) and bass player Ernie Newton. The group moved their base of operation from Chicago to New York, where they landed a spot on Fred Waring's radio show that gave Paul his first taste of national radio exposure.

While touring, Les became frustrated with not being heard in large venues, and began experimenting with ways to boost the volume of his guitar. A tinkerer since childhood, Les began to dabble in his home studio with various recording techniques and other inventions. Believing that "any piece of wood—if amplified correctly—could sound good," Les built his first solid-body guitar in 1941. Christened "The Log," the instrument was crude, aesthetically unappealing, and impractical due to its weight. The Log consisted of a guitar neck attached to a 4x4 piece of pine wood. Ever the inventor, Les ingeniously fashioned two pickups from the inner coils of an electric clock. That seminal prototype now resides in Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Determined to get it right, Les began working closely with Gibson to design a solidbody guitar. In 1952, Gibson introduced the first Gibson Les Paul—just the third guitar in Gibson's history to bear a musician's name (only Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck preceded him).

A hugely popular recording artist, Les and wife Mary Ford enjoyed a string of hits as a duo throughout the 1950s, including "High How the Moon," "Vaya Con Dios," and "Mocking Bird Hill." In 1977, Paul experienced a career renaissance with the release of Chester & Lester. Teaming Les with the guitar wizardry of Chet Atkins, the album won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Recording. In the ensuing years, Paul gained a new audience of younger fans through his performances at East Coast jazz clubs.

Hospitalized in February, Les is feeling fine these days and still making music every Monday night at New York jazz club Iridium. Packing the house every week, Les often welcomes unannounced friends to sit in with him. Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Slash, and Joe Perry are just a few of the performers who have dropped by to show their appreciation and play with the master. What musician wouldn't want to share the stage with the incredible Les Paul himself?

Happy birthday, Les, and congratulations on an unparalleled life of music and innovation. You're an inspiration to us all!

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