Gibson Guitar History: Les Paul

Les Paul was born Lester William Polfus in 1916 in the town of Waukesha which is 20 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  As a teenager he called himself " Rhubarb Red."  He moved to Springfield, Missouri and then to Chicago and finally New York.  By late 1938 he was appearing on a act than radio show and by this time had adopted the name Les Paul.

 He toured as the Les Paul trio coast to coast for several years.  During World War II he was in the armed forces radio service.  His friend from that time Bing Crosby helped him get signed to Decca Records in 1945.  A few years later he went to Capital Records and made some of his most influential recordings between 1947 and the year 1959.  In 1949 he married his girlfriend Mary Ford.

Early Rejection

Gibson Guitar HistoryCredit: Gary J. Wood Creative Commons

 Gibson was not interested in the early 1940s in his solid electric "log" guitar. He put it together during week ends at a factory. He moved to California around this time and continued to play his log guitar. There were other players interested in a solid body electric guitar such as Merle Travis, Paul Bigsby, and radio repairman Leo Fender. When Fender started the mass production of their solid body guitars in 1950 Gibson decided they needed Les Paul and his "log" guitar. His inventions changed the way our modern music sounds. The best known Gibson guitar is the Les Paul which was launched in 1953.

Les first amplified a guitar when he was only twelve to entertain people at a fast food place who said they couldn't hear him. He put a record player pickup into his acoustic guitar, put a telephone mouthpiece under the strings, and wired both to his parents radio which became the amplifier. This tinkering made him think of a solid body electric guitar. Around 1939 he worked on a prototype dubbed the "log"after the block of wood that formed the body.

Gibson Guitar History: First Gibson

Gibson Guitars doesn't start with Les Paul. In the 1930s some guitar players needed more volume to cut through the sounds of the banjo in the studio and despite the popularity of lap steels at the time a number of guitar makers begane to test the waters for an acoustic-electric guitar. This was a normal shaped acoustic but with a pickup and controls in it. The first were made by Rickenbacker and Gibson launched the ES150 the compant's first "Electro-Spanish" guitar in the mid 1930s.

The Les Paul Guitar

The solid electric "log" made by Les Paul was rejected by Gibson in the early 1940s but it was Fender Guitars production of their solid body electric guitars in the early 1950s that made Gibson change their minds. They wanted to manufacture a guitar to his design but they were reluctant to put their company name on it. He told them to call it the "Les Paul" guitar. The first models were released in 1952 with a stunning gold colored finish. This model is now refered to as the gold top and was joined by other colored models in 1954. It was replaced in 1958 by the now familair sunburst guitar. In 1961 Gibson changed the design of the Les Paul but the popularity of the original later in the decade made them relaunch the model in 1968. This guitar is one of the blueprints for modern guitars that we have come to love today. The Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster are the two most well known and loved guitars of all time.  Les Paul is a big part of Gibson guitar history.