The Birth of the Gibson Les Paul

You Can Learn Guitar at Any Age

You may have heard of the Les Paul. It's a type of electric guitar made by Gibson and named after a man -- Les Paul.


Les Paul (Lester William Polsfuss) was born in 1915, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He was a prolific musician and an inventor. 


As a youngster, he did gigs at a drive-in restaurant, playing his hollow guitar and harmonica. One time he made an improvised amplifier by connecting the mouthpiece of his mother's telephone to her radio, and brought it to the drive-in. Then one of the audience from the back rows sent him a note telling him, "Your voice and harmonica are fine, but your guitar's not loud enough." This drove Les Paul to modify his invention. 


This marked the birth of the Les Paul electric guitar. 


But the first Les Paul electric guitar was far from whatever Gibson Les Paul you have held and played. The first Les Paul electric guitar was a regular hollow body guitar with a phonograph needle stuck to the wooden bridge, with the phonograph arm taped in place on the guitar body. The phonograph needle was wired to Les Paul's father's radio.

This did amplify the sound of the guitar -- the entire guitar.


Les Paul was quite unhappy with it because what he wanted to hear was not the sound of the whole guitar, but just the strings' vibrations. He needed to eliminate the vibrations of the sound box. 


He attempted to muffle the sound by filling the guitar's sound box with rags and socks, and an entire tablecloth. But this failed. Then he tried filling the sound box with plaster of Paris, a more solid filler made of clay-like material. This, however, took the life out of the poor guitar and broke it. 


Les Paul needed a guitar body that was solid. 


One day, he and a friend took a length of discarded rail about two feet, from the railroad tracks across the street from where he lived. He stretched a guitar string along the length of the rail and fixed it on both ends. To pick up the sound, he used the microphone (mouthpiece) from his mother's telephone.


Les Paul could now hear only the sound of the guitar string amplified by the telephone microphone. And the sound was sustained and went on and on. This was very encouraging.


But his mother pointed out to him that a railroad track would be too heavy for a guitar.


Back to the drawing boards...


Sometime in 1941, Les Paul went to the Epiphone factory, where he had friends. They allowed him to work on his invention when the factory was closed. He found a square piece of pine, fixed strings to it, pick-ups, a bridge, a Vibrola tailpiece, and attached the neck of an Epiphone guitar to this block of pine. 


Les Paul called his creation "the Log". And he was very happy with the sound it produced.


He later redesigned the shape of the Log's square body and gave it "wings" that looked similar to an Epiphone electric guitar.  When he played this remodelled Log at a nightclub, the people couldn't stop talking about it and the sound it produced. 


Les Paul would take this Log prototype to Epiphone and to Gibson, but the executives there thought the idea of a solid body electric guitar preposterous at the time. It will take ten years until Gibson decides to work with Les Paul to manufacture the first Gibson Les Paul Standard in 1952.


It was the Log, however, that gave birth to the Gibson Les Paul -- the first solid, single cutaway body electric guitar.