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Real-life guitar hero: Les Paul

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Born Lester William Polsfuss in 1915, Les was the stage name that stuck after Red Hot Red and Rhubarb Red were trotted out and discarded. By his early teens, he was already touring the Midwest as guitar player with popular Chicago band Rube Tronson and His Texas Cowboys. Frustrated that his guitar could barely be heard over the rest of the band, he started working on his first electric guitar prototype in 1929. His first successful version, nick-named "the log," debuted in 1941. It was literally a solid plank of wood with strings and a microphonic pick-up on it. Eleven years later, the Gibson guitar company would profoundly prettify it and call it the Les Paul model – one of the all-time classic rock guitars. Its design and electronics remain largely unchanged more than a half-century later.

His sound experiments with magnetic tape began when advanced German tape recorders were discovered by GIs liberating Berlin. A few were brought to the States and one was given to Bing Crosby, then a friend of Les's. Crosby saw great potential in the reel-to-reel machines for movies, radio, and recording, and gave one to Les, who pretty much reinvented it. So much for potential – how about "Hello, future." And the rest, as they say… is your record collection. (Everything after 1950 or so, anyway. )

As a duo in the 1950s, Les Paul and Mary Ford sold millions of records with Les's "sound experiments," constantly pushing the multitracking envelope on hits like the echo-drenched "How High the Moon" and "Vaya Con Dios."

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