Archival collection Les Paul Papers

Collection Number:
Bulk, 1952-1963; Inclusive, 1925-2008, undated
7.59 Linear feet (5 records cartons, 2 oversize boxes) 
These materials are primarily in English, though some of the files contain materials in German, Japanese, Danish, French, Swiss, Polish, and Dutch. These materials are identified at the file level.

[Identification of Item], Les Paul Papers, Library and Archives, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

American jazz and country guitarist, songwriter and inventor. Includes contracts, copyright documents, correspondence, hit charts, lyrics, music arrangements and manuscripts, photographs, publicity materials, recording notes, and set lists.
Finding Aid Permalink:
Scope and Contents note

The Les Paul Papers span the years 1925 to 2008, with the bulk of the material dating between 1952 and 1963. The Papers comprise 7.59 linear feet of materials related to the life, career, invention, and artistry of Les Paul and Mary Ford. The bulk of the collection consists of publicity materials, including advertisements; newspaper and magazine clippings from publications such as Billboard, Cash Box, Melody Maker, Tuney Tunes, and The Music Reporter; newsletters and dailies, such as "Top Hit Club News," "This is Nashville," "The Motion Picture Daily," "Officer's Open Mess" (Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska), and "The Columbia Record;" handbills; press kits; press releases; and programs. These materials are primarily in English, though some of the files contain materials in German, Japanese, Danish, French, Swiss, and Dutch. The Papers also contain academic papers on Paul, biographical information, brochures, catalogs, chord sheets, contracts, copyright documents, correspondence, hit charts, index cards of jokes, lyrics, music arrangements and manuscripts, orchestrations, Paul's passport, photographs, publications, record covers, recording notes, royalty reports, scrapbooks, scripts, set lists, sheet music, stage design drawings, and miscellaneous materials. Persons of note featured in the collection include columnist, radio critic, editor, and talent agent Buddy Basch and artist manager Gray Gordon. Also featured in the collection are The American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Capitol Records, Columbia Records, the General Artists Corporation, Gibson, the Iridium Jazz Club, Music Operators of New York, Oahu School of Music in Cleveland, Professional Music Men, Robbins Music Corporation, Roz Starr, Star Sound Record Company, WGN, Wurlitzer, and Young and Rubicam Advertising. Only a portion of the original order was able to be maintained; most faithfully in the correspondence. The collection as a whole is organized alphabetically by file title, and then chronologically where possible, with undated materials at the end.

Biographical Note

The name Les Paul (June 9, 1915 – August 12, 2009) is synonymous with the electric guitar. As a player, inventor and recording artist, Paul was an innovator his entire life. Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Paul built his first crystal radio at age nine, which was about the time he first picked up a guitar. By age 13 he was performing semi-professionally as a country-music guitarist and working diligently on sound-related inventions. In 1941, Paul built his first solid-body electric guitar, and he continued to make refinements to his prototype throughout the decade. It’s safe to say that rock and roll as we know it would not exist without his invention.

But Les Paul didn’t stop there. He also refined the technology of sound recording, developing revolutionary engineering techniques such as close miking, echo delay, overdubbing, and multitracking. He also busied himself as a versatile bandleader and performer who could play jazz, country, and pop.

The guitar that bears his name--the Gibson Les Paul--is his crowning achievement. It grew out of his desire, as a musician and inventor, to create a stringed instrument that could make electronic sound without distorting. What he came up with, after almost a decade of work, was a solid bodied instrument that didn’t have the deep, resonant chamber of an acoustic guitar.

Paul made his mark as a jazz-pop musician extraordinaire, recording as a duo with his wife, singer Mary Ford (born Colleen Summers). Their biggest hits included “How High the Moon” (1951) and “Vaya Con Dios” (1953), both reaching #1. The recordings of Les Paul and Mary Ford are noteworthy for Paul’s pioneering use of overdubbing, or layering guitar parts one atop another, a technique also referred to as multitracking or “sound on sound” recording. He also sped up the sound of his guitar. The results were bright, bubbly, and a little otherworldly--just the sort of music you might expect from an inventor with an ear for the future.

Les Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Custodial History note

The majority of the Les Paul Papers were received by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc., as a gift from the Les Paul Estate on June 21, 2012. Other items were purchased by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc., from the Les Paul Estate via Julien's Auctions on June 10, 2012. The purchases are noted at the file level.

Separated Materials

One LP and a 10" vinyl record have been transferred to the library collection. Please search for the "Les Paul Papers" in the library catalog for a list of donated titles. If you are unable to find what you are looking for, consult the Library and Archives staff to ensure these materials are available.

Processing Information

Processed by Jennie Thomas, Head Archivist; Alana Jansen, Intern; William Jackson, Public Services Assistant; and Adonees Sarrouh, Intern. Completed May 3, 2013. Descriptive sources and standards used to create this inventory: DACS and local processing manual.

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open for research. Patrons must sign the Acknowledgment of Legal Responsibilities and Privacy Rights statement on the Researcher Registration form before using this collection. Some of the materials in the collection are available upon advanced request only. Some materials are confidential and are, therefore, RESTRICTED. Access copies of these materials will have to be created prior to use. Some of the materials are particularly fragile and require special handling and are, therefore, RESTRICTED. Consult the Library and Archives staff to ensure access to these materials is available. Restricted materials are identified at the folder level.

Conditions Governing Use note

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. For more information, please consult the staff of the Library and Archives.

Collection Inventory
Item Materials
Academic papers, 1988, undated
Box: 1, Folder: 1 (Documents)
American Federation of Musicians contracts and correspondence [RESTRICTED], 1954-1964
Box: 1, Folder: 5 (Documents)
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, 1957-1959
Box: 1, Folder: 6 (Documents)
Biographical information, undated
Box: 1, Folder: 7 (Documents)
Brochures, 1955-1961, 1988, undated
Box: 1, Folder: 8 (Graphic materials)
Catalogs, undated
Box: 1, Folder: 9 (Graphic materials)
Box: OS1, Folder: 3 (Graphic materials)
Chord Sheets and lyrics [RESTRICTED]
Handbills, undated
Box: 2, Folder: 26 (Documents)
Hawaii songs for the Les Paul / Mary Ford Columbia album - Contracts, clippings, and correspondence, 1959
Box: 3, Folder: 1 (Documents)
Hit charts, 1952-1959
Box: 3, Folder: 2 (Documents)
Hit charts - BMI, 1954-1959
Box: OS1, Folder: 4 (Documents)
Index cards - Jokes, undated
Box: 3, Folder: 3-5 (Documents)
Iridium Jazz Club
Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home television show - Clothes, credits, and information, 1956
Box: 3, Folder: 9 (Documents)
Miscellaneous, 1944-1960
Box: 3, Folder: 10 (Documents)
Oahu School of Music (Cleveland, Ohio) lesson books, 1930-1942
Box: 3, Folder: 11-12 (Documents)
Orchestrations, arrangements, and manuscripts
Passport, 1962-1966
Box: 3, Folder: 22 (Mixed materials)
Photographs, undated
Box: OS1, Folder: 5 (Graphic materials)
Box: 3, Folder: 23 (Graphic materials)
Press kit, "The Les Paul Experience and Exhibit", 2006
Box: 3, Folder: 24 (Graphic materials)
Press releases, 1954-1960, undated
Box: 4, Folder: 1 (Documents)
Press releases - WGN, 1954-1955
Box: 4, Folder: 2 (Documents)
Publications, 1950-1959, 2002
Publicity - Foreign, 1955, undated
Box: 4, Folder: 13 (Documents)
Radio and television scripts and correspondence, 1948-1953, 1956-1957
Box: 4, Folder: 14 (Documents)
Radio and television scripts and correspondence, 1958-1960
Box: 4, Folder: 15 (Documents)
Record covers
Recording notes, undated
Box: 4, Folder: 17 (Documents)
Register of Copyrights - Library of Congress, 1960, 1962
Box: 4, Folder: 18 (Documents)
Road equipment, checklist, and lighting cues, 1960, undated
Box: 4, Folder: 19 (Documents)
Scripts, miscellaneous, undated
Box: 5, Folder: 13-14 (Documents)
Sheet music, 1925, 1952-1955, undated
Box: 5, Folder: 15 (Documents)
Songs and suggestions - Returned, 1951, 1955-1959, undated
Box: 5, Folder: 16 (Documents)
Songs and suggestions - Returned, 1953-1957
Box: 5, Folder: 17 (Documents)
Stage drawings, undated
Box: 5, Folder: 18 (Graphic materials)
Wurlitzer Company, 1961
Box: 5, Folder: 19 (Documents)
Young and Rubicam Advertising, 1954
Box: 5, Folder: 20 (Documents)