Les Paul Road Trip: Wisconsin’s Rock n’ Roll Guitar Hero

By Amy Bayer
Staff Writer

Why travel to Cleveland to get a glimpse of rock n’ roll history when we have a rock legend right in our own backyard? The name Les Paul resounds in music history. It is widely recognized that the solid body electric guitar he helped invent paved the way for rock n’ roll music.

Some of the greatest guitar players in the world own a Les Paul Gibson Guitar, including Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton … and that’s just to name a few.

A Wisconsin native, Paul was born, raised and eventually buried in Waukesha. Throughout his life, he remained proud of his hometown and credited the community for encouraging his curiosity and love of sound.

Waukesha and the surrounding areas honor his memory with numerous tours and destinations for visitors to explore. Head to Waukesha to walk in the steps of this iconic inventor, musician and local legend, who changed the world we live in by opening our ears to a brand new sound.

Discovery World Museum – Milwaukee

Les Paul’s House of Sound allows visitors to explore his journey from Wisconsin to destinations around the world. The exhibit shares his creative spirit and displays more than 20 new guitars and never-before-seen memorabilia from his personal collection.

GuitarTown – Waukesha

Gibson Guitar chose Waukesha as the home of its GuitarTown community arts project. Located throughout downtown, visitors can view murals and 10-foot-tall guitar sculptures telling the story of Les Paul and how he loved his hometown.

Of course, an exhibit featuring guitars wouldn’t be complete without instruments to play. There are seventeen playable Gibson Les Paul guitars located throughout the downtown area, with a majority featured in businesses along Main Street.

Club 400 – Waukesha

In the 1930s, Les Paul played regularly in Club 400, which has become a historical landmark and is still open for business today. Stop by for happy hour at this cozy neighborhood bar and revel in the history that a rock legend perfected his trade in the very same spot.

Wilson Guitar Competition – Brookfield

Every August, musicians come together at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts for a multi-genre festival featuring guitar players from around the world. There are four competitions including Rock/Blues, Fingerstyle, Jazz and Classical.

The festival offers master classes with experts in each of the genres, as well as nightly headliners. Make plans to attend this annual event highlighting the instrument of choice by the area’s most famous resident.


Southeastern Wisconsin is loaded with museums, many of them in Milwaukee. See what else there is to do in Wisconsin's largest city!