This timeline provides only some highlights of Les Paul’s illustrious, almost century-long career.
Lester William Polsfuss is born June 9 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to George and Evelyn Polsfuss. (Lester’s mother changed spelling of their last name, but Lester never legally changed his name.)
Punches new holes into his mother’s player piano rolls, creating multi-track effect.
Receives first harmonica from a ditch-digger.
Builds crystal radio set and learns about sound electronics from WTMJ radio engineer.
Receives first guitar, a Sears, Roebuck Troubadour.
Invents flip-able harmonica holder so he can play both sides while playing guitar.
Meets idol Pie Plant Pete when he toured with Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance shows.
Amplifies and electrifies his guitar at Beekman’s Bar-B-Q where he performs for tips.
Attempts first solid-body electric guitar by filling his acoustic guitar with Plaster of Paris.
Stretches guitar string over a section of train rail, adds telephone microphone as pickup and amplifies it, the beginning of the solid body electric guitar.
Builds first disc-cutting lathe with Cadillac flywheel, dental belts and nail.
Meets mentor Sunny Joe Wolverton.
Plays on Milwaukee area radio stations with Sunny Joe Wolverton.
Great Depression leaves many without jobs.
Sunny Joe and Rhubarb Red perform for hillbilly radio stations in St. Louis and Springfield, MO.
Starts to play electric guitar.
Rhubarb Red and Sunny Joe move to Chicago. Perform on WBBM radio and at World’s Fair.
Jams with jazz greats on Chicago’s Southside as Les Paul at night.
Does jazz show with organ and guitar on WIND radio; plays jazz on WJJD radio.
For short time, plays piano instead of guitar.
Converts Bell & Howell movie speaker into guitar amplifier.
Forms first Les Paul Trio with Ernie Newton and Jimmie Atkins (Chet Atkin’s half-brother).
Makes first professional recordings as Rhubarb Red on Montgomery Ward’s record label.
Records 20 sides on Decca with blues singer Georgia White.
Continues to experiment with designing solid-body electric guitar.
Performs on several Chicago radio stations with various hillbilly bands.
Records first sound-on-sound.
Moves to New York and joins Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians on NBC radio.
Installs two pickups on his hollow body electric guitar for first time.
Plays electric guitar on Waring’s national radio show. No one else is playing electric guitars on radio.
Performs in White House concert for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Uses Philco radio/record player to create pirate radio station in basement of his NYC apartment.
Cuts first commercial records with trio, doing four sides for Columbia.
Appears in Gibson’s catalog with a Super 400 guitar.
Builds the “Log” in NYC Epiphone factory where he is allowed access on Sundays.
Gibson executives laugh at Les’ suggestion to build a solid-body electric guitar.
Performs and records with his “Klunker,” an Epiphone hollow body with super-hot pickups.
Suffers extreme electric shock, resulting in severe burns to his hands and weeks in the hospital.
Moves back to Chicago. Becomes music director for WIND and WJJD.
Builds headless guitar from sheet of aluminum.
Moves to Los Angeles to team with Bing Crosby.
New Les Paul Trio is hired by NBC radio.
Drafted into Armed Forces Radio Service, where he creates V-Disc recordings AFRS radio shows, does transcriptions and learns about recording.
Performs with Nat Cole at first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles, jazz’s most famous jam sessions.
Plays guitar on Bing Crosby’s post-war hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”.
Converts Hollywood garage into cutting-edge recording studio to record the stars.
Plays guitar in several movies.
Gene Autry introduces Iris Colleen Summers (Mary Ford) to Les.
Revives Rhubarb Red persona for hillbilly radio shows with Mary.
Trio tours U.S. with Andrew Sisters.
Les’ mother complains that every guitar player sounds like Les.
Leaves Andrew Sisters tour. Returns to Hollywood garage studio.
Spends two years inventing revolutionary recording techniques to create his “New Sound.”
Makes first sound-on-sound commercial recordings using disks.
Appears in movie, Sarge Goes to College.
Plays “Lover” for brand new recording company, Capitol Records.
Signs recording contract with Capitol.
January 26 Les and Mary are in horrific car accident in Oklahoma during winter storm.
Doctors recommend amputating Les’ badly damaged right arm.
Persuades doctors to set arm so he can continue to play.
Capitol releases “Lover” and “Brazil”, Les’ first “New Sound” recordings with overdubbed guitars.
Les and Mary play their guitars together for first time in public at opening of Waukesha’s Club 400, owned by Les’ dad and brother, George and Ralph Polsfuss.
Les chooses Mary’s stage name of “Ford” from Milwaukee phone book.
Bing Crosby commissions Ampex Corp. to produce first U.S. tape recorders. Gives first Ampex model to Les.
Orders additional recording head and invents Sound-on-Sound tape machine.
Hosts radio show, Les Paul at Home, which airs for 23 weeks.
Les and Mary are married December 29, 1949 in Milwaukee.
After nearly 10 years of Les trying to convince Gibson to build solid body electric guitars, company begins to design the electric guitar with input from Les.
Has three instrumental hits.
Les and Mary have seven hits including “How High the Moon.” Sell six million records.
Les and Mary play London Palladium and Grand Ole Opry among countless venues.
Records popular jingle for Rheingold Beer.
Voted number one guitarist in country by Down Beat magazine.
Signs with Gibson.
Les and Mary have eight hits.
Gibson introduces Les Paul solid-body electric guitar.
Gibson makes two mini-guitars for Les to use during live performances.
Move to Mahwah, New Jersey.
Release of Les and Mary’s biggest hit, “Vaya Con Dios”.
Listerine sponsors Les Paul and Mary Ford At Home, 5-minute television shows (170 episodes) recorded in their Mahwah, NJ home.
Envisions 8-track tape recorder. Works with Ampex to refine and manufacture 8-track.
Explains sound-on-sound on TV with Alistair Cooke.
Proposes use of light for recording sound as guest speaker at Audio Engineers Society convention.
Designs Capitol Records’ echo chambers and recording studios for iconic California building.
Debuts The Les Paulverizer, a remote-control attached to his guitar to manipulate taped accompaniments he and Mary use during White House concert for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Receives patent for Combined Bridge and Tail Piece for Stringed Instruments.
From 1947 to 1957 sells over 10 million records while with Capitol.
Ampex delivers first operational 8-track recorder to Les.
Capitol Records contract ends as rock and roll pushes Les and Mary off the charts.
Les and Mary sign with Mitch Miller at Columbia Records.
Inducted as honorary member of Audio Engineering Society.
Receives Hollywood Walk of Fame star with Mary Ford.
Receives patent for Electrical Musical Instrument, Les’ design for single magnetic pickup.
Les and Mary divorce.
Performs in Japan with son Gene.
Retires from performing.
Continues to experiment with pickup designs and other electronics.
Right eardrum breaks. Almost dies in surgery to repair ear. Needs additional surgeries on his ear.
Begins work on improving hearing aids.
Gives Gibson all his guitar drawings and guitar secrets.
Gibson produces Les Paul Recording Guitar incorporating Les’ design with low impedance pickups.
Receives patent for Method for Electronically Reproducing Music and Improved Electrical Pickup.
Capitol releases album of Les and Mary’s greatest hits.
Les and Bucky Pizzarelli play Town Hall in New York, appear on ABC and perform at Carnegie Hall.
Les’ left eardrum breaks. Additional surgeries result in permanent hearing impairment.
Emerges from retirement to record Chester & Lester and Guitar Monsters with Chet Atkins.
Receives Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance for Chester and Lester.
Mary Ford dies September 30 in Los Angeles after lapsing into diabetic coma.
Receives Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame Award for “How High the Moon”.
Undergoes quintuple by-pass heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic.
Plays on TV concert series Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight with Jeff Beck and others.
Receives Trustees Award from Recording Academy.
Launches regular Monday night gig with his trio in New York City at Fat Tuesdays. Performs until 1994.
Inducted into Hollywood Guitar Center’s Rock Walk of Fame.
Featured in Cinemax, Les Paul: He Changed the Music.
Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Inducted into Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Designs and builds sound diffusing wall for Studio 2 in Mahwah home.
TEC Hall of Fame inaugurates annual Les Paul Award. Les is first recipient.
Launches two Monday night gigs at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club. Performs until two months before he passes in 2009.
Inducted into New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.
Receives John Smithson Bicentennial Medal from Smithsonian Institution.
Featured in popular Coors beer commercial: Young guitarist: “What’s your name?” Les replies: “It’s on your guitar.”
Awarded Technical Grammy by Recording Academy.
Receives Emmy Lifetime Achievement in Engineering.
Permanent exhibit opens at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Celebrates 90th birthday with tribute concert at Carnegie Hall.
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Receives Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Receives Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for “Caravan”.
Receives second Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for ”69 Freedom Special”. Both recordings are from Les Paul & Friends (Capitol), his first new album in almost 30 years. Among Les’ musical partners for recording were: Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy.
Named Inventor of the Year by EQ Magazine.
Receives National Medal of Arts from U.S. President George W. Bush.
Release of documentary, Les Paul: Chasing Sound.
- Plays sold out concert in his hometown of Waukesha, WI.
Receives American Music Masters Award from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Plays sold out concert in Milwaukee for opening of exhibit at Discovery World.
Named One of the Ten Best Electric Guitar Players of all Time by Time Magazine.
Receives Bravery in Radio Award from William Patterson University’s Brave New Radio Station for his 1950s’ radio shows.
Dies in White Plains, NY on August 12. Buried in Waukesha, WI.
Receives Honorary New York Emmy.
Receives Joe Meek Award for Innovation in Production from Music Producers Guild.
Inducted into New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Receives star on Nashville’s Walk of Fame.
Google creates iconic playable Google Doodle guitar to honor Les Paul’s 96th birthday.
Included among Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
- Inducted as first person into Audio Engineering Society of Wisconsin’s Hall of Fame.