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Les Paul (born Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915) is an American jazz guitarist and inventor. He is a pioneer in the development of the solid-body electric guitar which "made the sound of rock and roll possible." His many recording innovations include overdubbing, delay effects such as "sound on sound" and tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording.
Paul first became interested in music at the age of eight, when he began playing the harmonica. After an attempt at learning to play the banjo, he began to play the guitar. By 13, Paul was performing semi-professionally as a country-music guitarist. At the age of 17, Paul played with Rube Tronson's Texas Cowboys, and soon after he dropped out of high school to join Wolverton's Radio Band in St. Louis, Missouri on KMOX.
In the 1930s, Paul worked in Chicago in radio, where he performed jazz music. Paul's first two records were released in 1936. One was credited to Rhubarb Red, Paul's hillbilly alter ego, and the other was as an accompanist for blues artist Georgia White.
In January 1948, Paul was injured in a near-fatal automobile accident
in Oklahoma, which shattered his right arm and elbow. Doctors told Paul
that there was no way for them to rebuild his elbow in a way that would
let him regain movement, and that his arm would remain in whatever
position they placed it in permanently. Paul then instructed the
surgeons to set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle and
pick the guitar. It took him a year and a half to recover.
The arrangement persisted until 1961, when declining sales prompted Gibson to change the design without Paul's knowledge, creating a much thinner, lighter, and more aggressive-looking instrument with two cutaway "horns" instead of one. Paul said he first saw the "new" Gibson Les Paul in a music store window, and disliked it. Though his contract required him to pose with the guitar, he said it was not "his" instrument, and asked Gibson to remove his name from the headstock. (Others claimed that Paul ended his endorsement contract with Gibson during his divorce, to avoid having his wife to get his endorsement money.) Gibson renamed the guitar "SG" (which stands for "Solid Guitar"), and it also became one of the company's best sellers.
The original Gibson Les Paul guitar design regained popularity when
Eric Clapton began playing the instrument a few years later (although he
also played an SG and an ES-335). Paul resumed his relationship with
Gibson, and has endorsed the original Les Paul guitar design ever since
(though his personal Gibson Les Pauls are much modified by him — Paul
always uses his own self-wound pickups and customized switching on his
guitars). To this day, various models of Gibson Les Paul guitar are used
all over the world, by both novice and professional guitarists. A less
expensive version of the Les Paul guitar is also manufactured for
Gibson's lower-priced Epiphone brand.
Paul even built his own disc-cutter assembly, based on auto parts. He favored the flywheel from a Cadillac for its weight and flatness. Even in these early days, he used the shellac disk setup to record parts at different speeds and with delay, resulting in his signature sound with echoes and birdsong-like guitar riffs. When he later began using magnetic tape, the major change was that he could take his recording rig on tour with him, even making episodes for his 15-minute radio show in his hotel room.