Les Paul Les Paul was a man with vision and instinctual genius— an inventor, virtuoso guitarist, performer and technical visionary. His solid-body electric guitar and studio advances changed popular music in the 20th-century, and his original designs will live on forever.

Paul passed away on Aug. 12, 2009, from complications of severe pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York, surrounded by family and loved ones. Here are 15 facts about Les.

  1. Les Paul’s original name was Lester William Polfuss. (A “Lester Polfuss” guitar just doesn’t sound as cool.)
  2. Paul was creating at an early age. He built his first crystal radio at age nine.
  3. Paul was a semi-professional guitarist at age 13, playing country music and starting to dabble in sound innovations.
  4. Paul built his first solid-body guitar in 1941 and continued to work on in through that decade.
  5. Paul’s experiments sometimes put him as risk. He almost electrocuted himself in 1940 during a session in the cellar of his Queens apartment.
  6. Paul suffered a severe car accident in 1948 in Oklahoma, when he slid off a bridge into a river in the middle of a snowstorm. His right arm and elbow were shattered, and his back, ribs, collarbone and nose were broken. He asked surgeons to set his arm at such an angle that he could still play guitar, and after a year and a half of recovery, could once again play.
  7. The year 1952 was a big one for Paul. He unleashed the first eight-track tape recorder and also released the Les Paul gold-top solid body electric guitar, forever changing rock ‘n’ roll.
  8. Paul and his wife Mary Ford performed together as a duo in the 1950s. Paul played the guitar and Mary Ford sang. In just 1951, they sold six million records.
  9. The final design for the new Les Paul Custom was finished in early 1954, and the guitar made its official debut at the Chicago NAMM show in July of 1954.
  10. Paul was guitarist Steve Miller’s godfather.
  11. Jimi Hendrix consulted Paul when building his famed Electric Lady Studios.
  12. Paul is a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
  13. Jimmy Page, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Perry, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Billie Joe Armstrong and Pete Townshend are all known for strumming Les Paul guitars.
  14. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to Paul in 2008 with a week-long celebration of his life. Paul performed at the celebration, too.
  15. In honor of Paul, the Les Paul Foundation continues to work to “inspire innovative and creative thinking by sharing the legacy of Les Paul through supporting music education, engineering and innovation as well as medical research.” The foundation awards grants to music, music engineering and sound programs for youth; gives grants for medical research and programs related to hearing impairment; and supports public exhibits displaying Les Paul’s life achievements. For more information, visit www.LesPaulFoundation.org.

Sources: Gibson.com, RockHall.com, LesPaulFoundation.org