Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vaya Con Dios, Les Paul

Lester William Polsfuss, of Waukesha, Wisconsin passed away today. If he had only inspired and championed the solid-body electric guitar, that would have been worthy of a tribute post. If he'd only pioneered the use of echo delay and reverb and double-speed recording, that would be enough. If he had only designed the first multi-track recorder on a bar napkin, got out the phone book, called an engineer and added a second playback head to his reel-to-reel tape recorder, that would be enough. But Les Paul, as he was known professionally, did all of those things.

Les tinkering in his garage studio

Not to mention his virtuoso guitar playing, amazing recording and production skills. Les Paul was thinking about making a guitar out of a solid piece of wood back in the 1930's, but was generally laughed at by the major manufacturers of the time. After Fender hit the market first, with their Broadcaster, Gibson remembered that guy with a "broomstick guitar" and together they created an American Classic in the Les Paul model guitar.

I bought my first Les Paul record, a duet album with Chet Atkins called "Chester and Lester" at Burnstad's Shop Rite in Mauston, WI. My Dad had some 78s of Les Paul and Mary Ford, namely "How High The Moon" and "Mockingbird Hill". I lusted after a Les Paul for years, especially when Peter Frampton came on the scene playing a triple-pickup Custom. Not to mention Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Scott Gorham, Mick Ralphs, Mick Jones and nearly every Rock guitarist that interested me in the '70's.

Les at the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, MI.

I went through a few cheap copies, made by companies such as Aspen and Hondo II, but once I got to college, I bought a real Les Paul, a 1974 Tobacco Sunburst model from Dave's Guitar Shop in LaCrosse. I went through a few over the years and now have a Reissue 1960 VOS version, an amazing guitar.

A complete obituary would take many pages, and I'm sure you can find them online. Suffice it to say that the music business as you know it, and definitely as I know it, would be vastly different without Les Paul, the "Thomas Edison of Wisconsin".

Thanks, Les. For everything.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think of the man every time I get home and drive down the LP Parkway. Sooner or later, I'll get one of those guitars. Great guy, epitomizes America.

21/8/09 13:56  

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