PM: When did you get the inventing bug?
LP: From the second I got my first guitar, I noticed things that could be improved upon. I corrected the obstacles and made it easier to play. I was the kid who was always taking things apart. I would either have the light socket off, or a switch, or I would be cutting some board down because it resonated at too high a frequency. When I went up the stairs in my house, there was a whole string of boards. I made them like a marimba, so they changed pitch. When mother said, "Time to go to bed, Lester," I would run up the stairs and it would go [sings melody to "Shave and a haircut, two bits"].
PM: What led up to the invention of your first solid body, also known as "The Log?"
LP: At the barbecue stand where I was playing, someone said, "Your voice is fine, your harmonica is fine, but your guitar's not loud enough." I went home determined to find an answer. First, I took a steel railroad track and strung a string along it. Underneath I put the receiver part of the telephone. I hooked it up to the radio, then I went running to my mother and said, "I found it, I found it!" She said, "That'll be the day you see a cowboy on a horse playing a piece of railroad track." [laughs] So that idea went right out the window. Next I tried a 4 x 4 plank, with a string stretched on it. That was the very first time I ever made a solid body guitar. Everything after was refining it, or making a better block of wood with a string on it.
PM: How was the reaction when you brought "The Log" onstage?
LP: I took it to a tavern in Queens, and people looked at me like I was nuts. So I added wings, fastening two sides on it so that it looked like a guitar. Then they applauded. I realized that many people hear with their eyes.
PM: What did Gibson say when you brought it to them?
LP: They didn't say it to my face, but later, the chairman of the board told me, "Les, for ten years, we laughed at you, and we called you 'the guy with the broomstick with the pick-ups.' We jokingly thought what a weird idea it was. None of us realized how serious it was."
PM: When Gibson came back to you in the early '50s, did they present you with the Les Paul shape?
LP: We all faced the fact that the dense wood would be too heavy and we had to lighten it up. There's no sense in making a large guitar when you don't need one. As for the shape, I had presented this flat-surfaced guitar to Mr. Berlin, chairman of the board at Gibson. He said, "Do you like violins?" I said, "I love them." We went back to his vault and looked at the Stradivariuses and all the fine violins. He said, "We could make a beautiful arch-top guitar." I said, "That would be great." And right there we decided to make the shape of the guitar like we did.
The next thing that came along was how beautiful you could make it and what a great friend it could be. Instead of a railroad track, we had this beautiful piece of wood. It turned out to be beyond anybody's dream. continue