If it’s true that the most important thing a man leaves behind is his name, then Les Paul left behind a legacy that will be around for a very long time.
August 13th, 2009 marked the end of one of the most inspiring lives in the history of American music. Les Paul, father of the modern electric guitar and inventor of much of the equipment and methods of modern recording, passed away at the age of 94. He died of complications from pneumonia, but up until his final weeks, still mantained a weekly gig near his home in White Plains, NY.
Born Lester William Polsfuss, on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Les was already a semi-professional guitar player at the age of 13. He played and toured with music legends like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. In the early 1940’s, Les built his first prototype solid-body electric guitar, which he called “the log”. Gibson Guitars first declined his design, but came back to Paul after some refinement and after the competition, Leo Fender, released the first mass produced solid-body electric guitar, the Fender Broadcaster.
In 1948, Paul began experimenting with recording techniques. Using two disc machines, he created the first multi-tracked recording, paving the way for modern studios. The same year, however, Les Paul nearly lost one of his most important assests. After suffering a near-fatal car crash, Paul nearly lots his right arm. Accoring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Paul “shattered his right arm and elbow, and he also broke his back, ribs, nose and collarbone.” Rumor has it that the doctor wanted to amputate his arm, but Les told him to do his best to set in a position that he could still play guitar and leave it. After a year and a half of recovery, he was able to play again.
In 1952, in the midst of his comeback, he created the first 8-track tape recorder, the Gibson Les Paul Standard, and the Gibson Les Paul gold-top. Pretty good year, I would have to say. Of all his inventions, Paul had this to say in a New York Times interview: ““Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison. The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”
In 1978, Les Paul was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Toward the end of his life, Paul suffered arthritis and several other health complications, including a quintuple-bypass heart operation. Through all of this, Les Paul continued creating music and new inventions.