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Les Paul In His Own Words (Book)

The Centennial edition of the legendary musician's autobiography

by Phil O'Keefe

Les Paul. When many people hear those words they immediately think of the popular Gibson guitar model that bears that name, while others remember his many musical accomplishments and the string of hits he enjoyed with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, while others remember him for his many recording studio inventions and innovations. When Les Paul passed away in 2009 he was 94 years old, and in those years he accomplished more than most people can imagine doing in multiple lifetimes. In celebration of the centennial of his birth, and as part of a year-long celebration which kicked off on June 9 2015, Backbeat Books has released the first paperback edition of Les Paul In His Own Words, the amazing story of the extraordinary life lived by the legendary musician and inventor.

What You Need To Know

  • Written by Les Paul and Michael Cochran and previously published in hardcover editions by the Russ Cochran Company (2005) and Gemstone Publishing Inc. (2008), this Centennial Edition from Backbeat Books (an imprint of the Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group) is the first release of this book that has appeared in paperback form. It was written based on numerous in-person interviews between Michael and Russ Cochran and Les Paul himself that were conducted over a three-year period.

  • The forward is written by Sir Paul McCartney.

  • The book is written in narrative form, so it's the voice of Les himself that recounts the story of his life to the reader. Written honestly and without evasion, it addresses all the aspects of his life, including some of the tougher periods and personal challenges and interpersonal struggles.  

  • The story starts with the birth of Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha Wisconsin n June 9 1915 and discusses his family and upbringing. His mother's piano playing and singing had a big influence on young Les. His father was "a good man, a great rascal and storyteller", so while he may not have been around a lot, he obviously had an influence on him as well.

  • While largely later known as a guitarist, the first instrument Les was given was a harmonica, and the story of how he acquired it at age 8 is included in this book. But don't worry - he also shares with us all the details about his first guitar too, which he got in 1927 when he was 11 years old.  

  • Home was where young Les began to explore his interest in not only music, but in mechanics and electronics as well. The story about how he punched holes into the scrolls for the family's player piano to create new parts is just one example of his curious nature that is described in the book, another being the recounting of how he took the tone arm from his father's phonograph and shoved the needle into the top of his cheap guitar, which he then filled with plaster. The guitar may not have survived, but the idea behind the solid body guitar certainly did, and the story of the many experiments Les made with guitars is all spelled out here, along with many rare color photos of his various instruments.  

  • Les succeeded in multiple areas in his life, and his early successes as a teen Country musician - first under the name Red Hot Red and later as Rhubarb Red are detailed, as are his experiments with radio and recording.

  • Leaving Waukesha for St. Louis, and then later Springfield, Kalamazoo, New Jersey, California and New York, the various cities, studios and homes Les occupied are are all covered, as are his forays into Jazz, and his associations with Bing Crosby and extensive coverage about his association with Gibson guitars.

  • In-depth coverage of his experiments with different guitar designs is included, as well as background on his many recording studio innovations, techniques and inventions, including the story behind his first Ampex 200A tape deck (the second one manufactured) and his famous Ampex 8 track - the first multitrack recorder of its type and the ancestor of all modern multitrack recorders.

  • Other aspects of his life, such as the various artists he performed with as a sideman, his stints as a bandleader and solo artist and radio and TV star, and the venues he played at are all remembered and recounted by Les, including his very successful partnership with Mary Ford. His affection for her is obvious from the book in spite of their divorce in the 1960s.  

  • It's interesting to read about the musical influences and idols of a man who has himself influenced and inspired people like Jeff Beck and Paul McCartney, but the love for Eddie Lang and Django Reinheart that Les had is very obvious from his comments about them in this book.

  • The inquisitiveness and humor that were such a huge part of who Les Paul was as a person, and the intrinsic musicality of the man come across loud and clear in the pages of this book, making for very entertaining reading.


  • The only downside to reading this book is that it reminds you of what a inventive and creative spirit we lost when Les Paul passed away on August 12 2009.



There is no doubt that Les Paul left his mark on the world unlike anyone else before or since. Whether you realize it or not, whether you're a guitarist, recording engineer or just a fan of modern music who likes to listen to records, you owe Les Paul a great debt of gratitude. While many people can rightfully claim to have involvement of the early invention and development of the electric guitar and music and recording technology, no one had quite the influence that Les did in so many areas. Not only was he a extremely talented guitarist, but also a pop music radio and TV star, a recording pioneer, a groundbreaking producer, hall of fame inventor and a character the likes of which the music industry will probably never see again. This book tells his story in a very entertaining way - the way only Les himself could tell it. Like Les, it is extremely entertaining, and absolutely essential reading.   


Les Paul In His Own Words - Centennial Edition ($29.99 MSRP, $22.19 "street")

Backbeat Books product web page


You can also purchase Les Paul In His Own Words from The Les Paul Foundation's online web store

$29.99 (US)


Inventory #HL 00151772

ISBN: 9781495047398

UPC: 888680090739

Width: 9.0"

Length: 12.0"

366 pages


You can purchase Les Paul In His Own Words - Centennial Edition at





Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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