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Real-life guitar hero: Les Paul

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And what weekend warrior wouldn't marvel at his Les's can-do spirit? If he wanted to electrify his guitar? He'd tinker and then tinker some more until he did it. When he wished he had the Andrews Sisters singing on his record? No problem, he invented a machine that could stack up his wife's (Mary Ford) vocal harmonies six times, then six times again. When he decided he couldn't play that guitar solo fast enough? No sweat: He invented a recorder that allowed him to play it at half speed, then seamlessly blend it back in at normal tempo.

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.

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