Epiphone’s Impact On Les Paul’s Guitar Inventions
The solid body electric guitar has been a staple of innovation in the guitar world for over half a century, pioneered by the unveiling of the first Gibson Les Paul in 1952. Not coincidentally, the namesake of Gibson’s signature guitar had visions of solid body perfection long before it became a reality, and it was fostered into existence with a little help from Epiphone.
It was in Waukesha, Wisconsin, that Les Paul, born Lester William Polsfuss, spent much of his boyhood experimenting with combining electronics and music. His living room workshop consisted of a player piano, record player, crystal set, harmonica, telephone, and radio. In fact, Les Paul spent so much time tinkering with his mother’s player piano, that she was convinced he knew more about the piano than the salesman that sold it to her.
With a Gibson L-50 Arch Top guitar, self-made neck-worn harmonica holder, and playing under the pseudonym of “Red Hot Red,” a 13 year old Les Paul started his career as a professional musician. One night he realized that people too far away from the stage couldn’t hear his guitar, so he used his talents as an inventor to fashion a guitar pickup and amplifier out of a telephone earpiece, radio, and record player needle.
Improving Upon The Les Paul’s Success
Despite its success, Les Paul realized that the resulting feedback and lack of sustain required another innovation in the form of a solid body guitar design. After experimenting unsuccessfully with stuffing clothes and linens in his acoustic guitar’s body and later filling it with plaster of Paris, effectively ruining the guitar, Les Paul fastened a string across a railroad rail hinged on a railroad spike on each side. The end result was limited feedback and ideal sustain.
Les Paul then built a 4×4 piece of wood to an Epiphone neck, along with two “wings” that made it look like a regular guitar, and the first solid body electric guitar was born. Thanks to a constant drive to be as creative and innovative as he could, this development was just the start of Les Paul’s journey to musical immortality. Epiphone also played an integral part in Les Paul’s later guitar experiments.
In 1940, a 35-year-old Les Paul spent many after hours in Epiphone’s New York guitar factory refining the design and sound of his first official solid-body electric guitar, affectionately dubbed “The Log.” It consisted of a solid pine block core, and when Les Paul pitched the idea to the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1945, they initially rejected the solid body design.
By 1952, Gibson had changed their tune, and entered into an agreement with the rising star guitarist and inventor to create and brand the first solid body, glued-in neck Gibson guitar after Les Paul. Thus continued Les Paul’s journey towards multiple Grammys, going from having idols to becoming one, and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Les Paul’s name can be seen on countless Gibson and Epiphone Les Paul models, and it continues to signify high quality craftsmanship, innovative sound and design, and the versatility that spawned a legion of legendary guitarists spanning all musical genres.vv