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Public pays respects to electric guitar inventor

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Family members, longtime friends and music fans of all ages lined up Friday at a public visitation for Les Paul, a renowned inventor whose creation of the first solid-body electric guitar helped pave the way for rock 'n' roll.

Adam Bollinger never got a chance to see Paul play live.

But the 15-year-old from Plainfield, Ill., knows how important Paul was to rock 'n' roll. That's why he and his mom, Coleen Bollinger, drove two and a half hours to be among the first in line.

"It's just about me paying respects and being here for him," Bollinger said.

Billy Soutar, 46, met Paul in 1985 and struck up a friendship that lasted to Paul's death Aug. 13 in White Plains, N.Y., at age 94.

"He was the kind of guy that no matter how big or lowly you were, he'd be interested in you," Soutar said. "I'm just a schmuck from Chicago who plays guitar. He took me into his house."

Soutar, a musical instrument repairman, drove from Chicago on Friday morning to be at the closed-casket viewing at the Discovery World museum. It was the public's only chance to pay respects to Paul, and more than 100 people showed up in the first hour.

Paul's closed casket was on display in a small theater in front of a row of windows overlooking Lake Michigan. His music played over loudspeakers. Paul's son Rus and other family members were on hand.

Most of the visitors were like Tim Glander, a music fan who never got to see Paul live.

"It's just my way of saying thank you to him," said Glander, 59, a former school music teacher who drove an hour from Whitewater, Wis.

Paul's New York City funeral on Wednesday, like his burial at Waukesha's Prairie Home Cemetery following the visitation, was private.

Milwaukee native Steve Miller, of the Steve Miller Band, was expected to sing at the burial service.

Born Lester William Polfuss in 1915 to a German immigrant family in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Paul built his first crystal radio at age 9, about the time he first picked up a guitar.

Nicknamed the "Wizard of Waukesha," Paul built his first electric guitar prototype in 1929 and the first solid-body version 12 years later. Gibson began mass-producing a six-string electric guitar based on his design in 1952.

Versions of that guitar became the standard in rock music, used by such guitar heroes as Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page.

Paul also was a master in the studio, developing technology and recording techniques that set the standard in the industry. They included using tape echo, multitrack recordings and overdubs.

He was a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.