Back to Rockville

Guitarists wish Les Paul a happy 100th birthday

Dee Radke with Les Paul guitar
Dee Radke with Les Paul guitar

Local musicians celebrated guitar pioneer Les Paul's 100th birthday by playing on their favorite guitars and talking about Paul's contribution to guitars and the music industry.

Les Paul’s vast influence cannot be overstated.

The inventor and skilled musician changed the sound of popular music. Among his many contributions: designing the first solid-body electric guitar and pioneering several studio techniques, most prominently multitrack recording.

Tuesday would have been Paul’s 100th birthday, and the music world is celebrating his music, his life and the electric guitar. The Star asked several local guitarists to talk about their first and favorite guitars and say a few words about the great Les Paul.

Dee Radke

Bands you are/have been in: Radkey

Age you started playing: 11 or 12.

First guitar: Epiphone SG.

Favorite guitar: My Les Paul Min-Etune Sun Burst. It’s a great guitar.

About Les Paul: Happy birthday, Les.

Christopher Tolle

Bands you are/have been in: Bon Echo, Federation of Horsepower, the Belles, Olympic Size, Creature Comforts.

Age you started playing: 13.

First guitar: A Japanese Les Paul copy.

Favorite guitar: My 1976 Les Paul Gold Top. Always been my preferred guitars. They just fit me right.

About Les Paul: My grandfather, a guitar player, was a huge fan of Les and Chet Atkins, so I heard a lot of his music growing up. “How High the Moon” is so stacked with vocal and guitar harmonies. It still blows my mind.

As much as I love his namesake guitars — I have four — his innovations in multitrack recording have had the most impact on me and likely the world. Modern record-making simply would not be the same without him. Thank you, Lester.

Katy Guillen

Bands you are/have been in: Katy Guillen & the Girls, Claire & the Crowded Stage, Quirk & Ruckus, the B’Dinas.

Age you started playing: 8.

First guitar: A 3/4 classical guitar.

Favorite guitar: My flamenco guitar, which was handmade in Paracho, Mexico. It’s my favorite because it is the most soothing and beautiful-sounding guitar. It relaxes me. I’ll play things that never come out of my fingers on an acoustic or electric guitar. If I wasn’t pursuing the blues and rock, I’d probably be in Spain.

About Les Paul: Happy birthday, Les.

Samantha Fish

Bands you are/have been in: I’m a solo artist who tours under my name.

Age you started playing: 15.

First guitar: A cool, old Alvarez acoustic guitar and a homemade Strat. My first professional/gigging guitar was a vintage mahogany Studio Les Paul.

Favorite guitar: My custom-made Delaney guitar. It’s tailored to my specifications, so it fits my hands perfectly. I love the Amalfitano pickups and the f-hole. It darkens and fattens up the Tele sound.

About Les Paul: He was an innovative force through his guitars, music and recording techniques. Who knows where we would be without his influence. Thank you and happy birthday, Les!

Jeff Freling

Bands you are/have been in: Mongol Beach Party, Grumpy, Blue Man Group, Tributosaurus, Doug Gillard Band, Victor & Penny.

Age you started playing: 10.

First guitar: Kay Les Paul copy.

Favorite guitar: The one I’m playing now, an early ’60s Kay Archtop. I love it for its playability and unique tone.

About Les Paul: He paved the way and set the course for electric guitar playing as we know it now. His innovations in design and playing are still prominent today. Thanks, Les, and happy birthday.

Marco Pascolini

Bands you are/have been in: The Naughty Pines, Scott Hrabko and the Rabbits, Kasey Rausch, Folkicide, Dead Voices, Mr. Marco’s V7, Expassionates, the Brannock Device, Snakebite Orphans.

Age you started playing: 13.

First guitar: A Peavey T-15 personalized (with rattle can) by my brother Carlo. It was a birthday gift.

Favorite guitar: A one-off “parts Caster,” aka green Fender Strat-o-thing made from discarded parts. Built in 1990. It’s my favorite because its versatility, playability and unique sound surprised me. It’s un-Stratlike and more like a warm hollow body. It resonates like a wet log unplugged, but through an amp it comes alive. Plus green is my thing.

About Les Paul: His influence on multitrack recordings still carries on today. Happy birthday, Les.

Mike Stover

Bands you are/have been in: Grisly Hand, Dead Voices, People’s Liberation Big Band, Ernest James Zydeco, James Isaac Group.

Age you started playing: 11.

First guitar: Harmony acoustic from Wal-Mart ($29).

Favorite guitar: ’50 or ’51 Fender Custom triple-neck steel. It’s a heavy old beast from another era. I have other steels that are more practical for gigging, but for recording or special events I always go with the Custom. Those 65-year-old trapezoid pickups have a warmth and sweetness that I’ve never heard anywhere else.

About Les Paul: The earliest electromagnetic pickups were built to amplify steel guitars in the ’20s and ’30s, then known colloquially as “Hawaiian” guitars. Les Paul enhanced the technology that was initially created for the steel and applied it to what we now know as the “standard” guitar.

Kristie Stremel

Bands you are/have been in: Frogpond, Exit 159, Kristie Stremel (solo).

Age you started playing: 12.

First guitar: Christmas Day when I turned 13, I got a Harmony electric guitar from Sears.

Favorite guitar: The no-name guitar my dad built for himself in high school. It’s my favorite because my dad made it out of necessity. He needed an electric guitar to play in his polka band.

About Les Paul: Les Paul guitars have been used by so many players in so many different genres. It showcases the versatility of a well-crafted guitar.

Mike Alexander

Bands you are/have been in: The Breakups, the Revolvers, the Gadjits, the Architects, the Buffalo Saints, the Gaslights, the Belles, the Roseline, Hipshot Killer, John Velghe and the Prodigal Sons, the Starhaven Rounders and probably a dozen or so tribute/cover groups.

Age you started playing: 14.

First guitar: A metallic-blue Kramer Striker.

Favorite guitar: My blue Telecaster Plus/Esquire. It was given to me by a true champion of humanity, Mr. Jim Strahm.

About Les Paul: What more can you say about Les Paul? Between him and Leo Fender, they essentially created every iconic American guitar shape and style. Happy birthday, Les.

Tyson Leslie

Bands you are/have been in: Pomeroy, Corey Taylor & JBKB, 90 Minutes, Banshee

Age you started playing: 12

First guitar: Orpheum SG copy purchased at a pawn shop in Greeley, Colo.

Favorite guitar: Ibanez RG550. I’ve had it since 1991 and it’s been used on every album I’ve ever recorded on and it’s diverse and can sound like a Strat, but can also sound “heavy” when I want to get gritty and play something more aggressive.

About Les Paul: When I think of Les Paul, I think of power, class, style, and just plain volume and guitar ferocity. Les Paul as an artist, however: challenging. He was an incredible guitar player. I love listening to that guy solo. Happy birthday, Les.

Jason Vivone

Bands you are/have been in: Jason Vivone and the Billy Bats; Mama Courage.

Age you started playing: 12.

First guitar: Peavey Falcon

Favorite guitar: My cigar-box guitar Nicotina is like a person to me. I was in a serious car wreck a few years back and would have had to have abandoned music if I hadn’t had Nicotina. She has an easy setup, which allowed me to play even with my physical limitations. I used to think about Les Paul having his arm reset after his own automobile accident. It gave me a sense that I could recover.

About Les Paul: Sadly, I think Les Paul’s music is forgotten. He needed a guitar that could play the music he imagined. It didn’t exist yet, so he had to create it. Fortunately his standards surpassed all of ours.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

Photos by Allison Long |


Related stories from Kansas City Star