One More for Les Paul

Guest Post by Max Pheiffer

Let’s tip our hats to a fallen hero, shall we? As you may or may not know, Les Paul died Thursday, August 14th, 2009 from supposed respiratory failure at the ripe old age of 94. Most guitarists would recognize the man’s name in a flash, as it is attributed to one of the best-selling, and most popular, guitars on the market today – the Gibson Les Paul.


Photo by Motionblur

His impact on music was one of many layers, one of textured depths. In the 1950’s, he was an accomplished musician, jamming with the blues and jazz greats of the time, and being featured on multiple radio shows for his string of hits. However, his musical ability did not stop with writing and performing. He was unhappy with the hollow-body acoustics being made and sold at the time, and using a regular old 4×4 and some unrivaled ingenuity (usually leading to either disaster or arrest for the rest of us), managed to make an electric guitar, giving birth to one of the world’s first solid-body electric guitars, the granddaddy of the Gibson Les Paul that we know and love today.

By creating a solid body electric guitar, music as a whole was changed immensely. Replacing the standard acoustic guitar, which was largely the only option at the time, with the more powerful Les Paul (or “ancestor of the Les Paul, rather) led to longer sustain, deeper, fuller tones, and the crunchy sound characteristic of the solid-bodies. Music itself was catapulted from the early days of blues and jazz into the era of rock, eventually giving musicians such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and more the power to play out their rhythms with the force of the electric guitar backing them.

But wait, there’s more. In order to become a musical triple-threat of genius, Les Paul also was an early innovator of multi-track recording. Although the technique of simultaneous tracks being recorded and meshed together separately was already being used by many movie companies at the time, it was still being waded into by the artists in music and record production. Although not as sophisticated as modern day recording devices and techniques (obviously), Paul’s experimentation with, and mastery of, multi-track recording led to huge breakthroughs in the way that music was to be recorded in the decades to come.

Les Paul was truly a great American musician, whose influence can be felt anytime we pick up our guitar and start jamming. Without him, the guitar as an instrument would be lacking, and we as musicians would be devoid of the Gibson Les Paul, and all the unforgettable patrons of the unique guitar. His visions of new instruments, innovations in recording techniques, and his unique style is the evidence that Les Paul changed music. Let’s send him off right.

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