An homage to all things Waukesha
& its hometown hero Les Paul.

A celebration of the 125 year old city and how it found its place in Wisconsin history.

1972 Gibson Les Paul Recording Guitar

The Waukesha County Museum dedicated an exhibit to the most notable musical inventors born in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Les Paul designed the first functional solid body guitar and multitrack recording. The 1972 Gibson Les Paul Recording model is one of Paul’s favorite designs and on display at the Waukesha Historical Museum. Paul’s legacy is still prominent in his hometown, ranging from the renamed middle school to his gravesite.

Gibson Les Paul guitar statue outside of the Waukesha Historical Museum. Source

The “Ultimate” Gibson Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul Recording Guitar was referred to by Paul as the “ultimate'' guitar. It was produced from 1971 to 1980 and originally only available in a clear or walnut finish. This model was intended to have a clean sound. Called the Recording model, many musicians preferred to use this guitar when recording music. When creating the Gibson Recording guitar, Paul was attempting to use different recording techniques, adding transformers and low-impedance pickups.

A Guitar is Born- entrance to the permanent Les Paul exhibit. Source

Wizard of Waukesha sign Source

The Wizard of Waukesha
Les Paul was a musician and inventor. Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 9th, 1915, Paul began playing music at 8. At 13, Paul was performing as a country singer on Milwaukee radio stations. He moved to New York City to play on national radio stations. In 1941, Paul invented the solid-body electric guitar. He was introduced to Mary Ford, who became his wife and musical partner. The first time they ever played together was in Waukesha’s Club 400. He continued inventing and elevating music through his creations. Paul passed away on August 12, 2009 and was buried in Waukesha. Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and was named one of the top ten electric guitarists of all time.

Making Guitars
In 1941, Paul invented a solid-body electric guitar. He built it after hours at the Epiphone guitar factory. Dubbed “the Log,” Paul’s prototype was a piece of 4 by 4 lumber with a bridge, neck, strings, and hand-wound pickup. In that same year, Paul pitched his idea of a solid-body electric guitar to Gibson Guitar Corporation who rejected the proposal. They ended up revisiting and working with the idea once competitor Fender advertised the Esquire and Broadcaster guitars in 1950. Ted McCarty was the main guitar designer, who based the design on Paul’s drawings and called the guitar the Gibson Les Paul. The original Gibson Les Paul guitar entered the market in 1952. Paul suggested modifications, and in 1960 a newer model (known as the SG) was dropped by Gibson. In 1971, the Les Paul Recording model was released. Into the 1980s and 1990s, more models of the Gibson Les Paul were released including The Paul and Studio models. Nowadays, there are still Gibson Les Pauls being created and sold with pricing ranging from $1,000 to upwards of $20,000.

A rotating exhibit in the Waukesha Historical Museum. Source

Waukesha has fully embraced their native son. Les Paul Chasing Sound, a biographical film, premiered in Waukesha in 2007. In 2012, the Gibson Foundation announced that Waukesha was selected for the GuitarTown project to raise money and commemorate Les Paul. 10 foot tall guitars modeled after Paul’s designs were decorated and placed around the city. In 2013, a permanent exhibit titled “The Les Paul Experience” opened at the Waukesha County Museum. The town’s middle school was renamed to the Les Paul Middle School. Paul’s grave is a revered site, visited by both locals and tourists to this day.

1752 Electricity is discovered by Benjamin Franklin
1915 Paul is born June 9th as Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin
1928 Paul begins performing on Milwaukee radio stations as a country singer
1934 Paul performs at the Chicago’s World Fair with Sunny Joe Wolverton
1936 The hollow bodied electric guitar is created by Charlie Christian
1941 Paul invents the solid-body electric guitar, nicknamed “the Log”
1949 Paul marries his musical partner Mary Ford in Milwaukee
1951 Paul and Ford record “How High the Moon” which sells 6 million records
1971 The Gibson Les Paul Recording Model is released
1994 Paul performs his last regular gig in New York City at Fat Tuesdays
2004 Paul receives an Emmy Lifetime Achievement in Engineering and a permanent exhibit about him opens in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
2009 Paul dies on August 12th in White Plains, New York. He is buried in Waukesha.

Why I choose this object?
Brief Biography (Why did you choose this object?): I am a History and Environmental Studies student at the University of Wisconsin Madison. I am passionate about music, and dream of one day owning my own Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Lucille Johnston


History 401 [Spring 2022]

Leslie A. Bellais