August 13, 2009, - 1:40 pm
If, like me, you like the electric guitar and riffs from guys like Joe Satriani, then you should note the passing of Les Paul–the father of the electric guitar, multi-track recordings, reverb, and a number of innovations in music, the impact of which has not been eliminate by technology, but enhanced by it.
The solid body wood guitars bearing his name have been played and are the guitar of choice for many of today’s great rock musicians and those of the last several decades. He had so many innovations and inventions that made music better, whether it was the jazz he played as a musician or ear-splitting high-decibel tones from some rockers, much of what you hear on radio today was made better, more melodious by the ideas of Les Paul.
Les Paul, 94, a Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso and inventor who helped bring his instrument, typically assigned to chug along rhythmically and compliantly, to the forefront of jazz performance, died today at a hospital in White Plains, N.Y. He had pneumonia.
Mr. Paul first came to prominence for his fast and flashy jazz-guitar style. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he and singer Mary Ford, his wife, had hits with “How High the Moon,” “the Tennesse Waltz,” “Vaya Con Dios” and “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise.”
All along, he refined musical inventions in his workshop. He was an early designer of an electric guitar that had a solid body, and his model managed to reduce sound distortions common to acoustic instruments.
He actively promoting such guitars for the Gibson company, and the Les Paul line of guitars became commonplace among such musicians as bluesman Eric Clapton, jazzman Wes Montgomery and rocker Pete Townshend.
Mr. Paul called his first solid-body guitar “the Log.” It was made of a four-inch thick piece of wood from a nearby railroad track, a neck he borrowed from an Epiphone guitar and two pickups to give it the electric pulse. Audiences and music executives laughed at the ungainly device, and he spent years honing its visual appeal.
He said his efforts were toward one goal: to change the way people saw the guitar.
“I wanted people to hear me,” he told the publication Guitar Player in 2002. “That’s where the whole idea of a solid-body guitar came from. In the ’30s, the archtop electric was such an apologetic instrument. On the bandstand, it was so difficult battling with a drummer, the horns, and all the instruments that had so much power. . . .
Mr. Paul created his own recording studio, both to help his guitar career and his interest in electronics. He began to take advantage of new, still bulky, tape-recording machine technology. Facing initial skepticism, he persuaded Ampex to market his eight-track tape recorder.
After hundreds of false starts, he began recording with these new devices in the late 1940s . . . . His version of “Lover” boasted him playing eight electric guitar parts, which he electronically wove into a single record. It was a sensation. . . .
Mr. Paul’s right arm was crushed [in a car accident], and one doctor suggested amputation. Instead, he had it fixed at a right angle so he could play his instrument.
Although his personal life was somewhat rocky, his contributions to American music were incredible and made our musical listening experience, even today, better.
Les Paul, Rest In Peace.
Tags: American inventors, electric guitar, Great Americans, guitars, Joe Satriani, Les Paul, multi-track recording, music, musicians, Rest In Peace, reverb