Lester William Polsfuss was a self-taught guitarist, inventor, and luthier from Waukesha Wisconsin. He is also credited with bringing widespread attention to many recording techniques, such as phasing effects, overdubbing, and multi-track recording. But rightly so, the heft of his notoriety comes from designing and creating the prototype for one of the first solid-body electric guitars that was later named after him: the Gibson Les Paul.
As a young performer at local restaurants, Les Paul figured he’d have better luck earning tips if the people in the back could hear him better, so he took on the task of amplifying not just his voice, but also his guitar. Through his experimenting he had several impractical attempts at electrifying his sound, including an old rail from a railroad rack near his home which he attached to the microphone from his mother’s phone and a guitar string. Nevertheless, Les worked tirelessly on creating an electrically amplified guitar that didn’t have feedback and provided volume, tone and sustain that he could control.
The prototype that became the eponymous guitar was not much more than a 4 x 4 piece of pine and strung like a guitar, with homemade pickups, a bridge, a Vibrola tailpiece, and the neck of an Epiphone Broadway guitar; Les aptly called it, “The Log.” It wasn’t much to look at, and was even mocked by those at his shows, but Les would not relent.
After a lack of interest from Epiphone, where he had initially worked on the prototype, Les later took his invention to Gibson, where they called the Log “a broomstick with pickups.” It would take another ten years for Gibson accept the idea of a solid body electric guitar, after Fender had been making their own. The Gibson Les Paul guitar went on sale in 1952, and while it’s had its modifications and evolution, the guitar has been played by countless blues and rock and roll icons, and continues to be on of the most popular and best-selling of its kind.