Sunday, August 16, 2009

Les Paul, the 'Inventor' of Modern Music 1915-2009

"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.” - Les Paul

Les Paul, a man whom all musicians today owe deep gratitude for many things taken for granted, died on August 13 from complications due to pneumonia. He was 94 years old.

Les Paul, born Lester William Polfuss in Winsconsin, started his interest in music at the age of eight when he started playing harmonica, and after an attempt at learning banjo, he opted for guitar. It's said that at this time, he invented the neck-worn harmonica holder, so that he could play the harmonica hands-free while playing the guitar.

His inventions were always out of necessity. Dissatisfied with acoustic guitars that were sold in the 1930s, Les Paul experimented at home with some ideas of an electric guitar of his own design. He created "The Log", the famous prototype simply made from a common 4" x 4" piece of lumber with a bridge, guitar neck and pickup attached, and for aesthetics, he attached the body of an Epiphone hollow-body guitar, sawed lengthwise with "The Log" in the middle. Two problems were solved: the acoustic body didn't resonate with the amplified sound, so it cut out feedback; and sustain, because the energy of the strings didn't fade out because it was resonating through a thicker guitar body. Hence, the 'electric guitar' was born.

Les Paul approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation at the time with his 'solid body' design, but didn't pick it up until Fender had started to produce theirs. The prototype was made, with Les involved in the design aspects, and it was given to him to try in the early 50s. We can say from this point, the rest is history: the guitar that we now know as the "Les Paul Standard" is the choice guitar of musicians everywhere.

One of the few remaining prototypes of the Gibson Les Paul Standard, in the classic 'gold top' finish.

Les Paul was also responsible for bringing the multi-track recorder, an invention that most, if not all, recording musicians nowadays use in their studios and demo tracks. Starting as an experiments in his garage, Les Paul was the first musician to use multi-tracking in a recording, using eight recorded guitar tracks in one song. He had built the multi-track recording by overlaying tracks, but soon did usher in the 'necessity' for a parallel track recorder, working with Ross Snyder in the design of the first 8-track recording deck, designed by Ampex for Les' home studio. He refined this technology even furthur to produce such inventions to the music industry as reel-to-reel audio tape recorders, recording techniques such as 'close miking', and furthur revolutionary designs made by Gibson, all with his seal of approval.

He's worked with the likes of Georgia White, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Oscar Moore, The Andrews Sisters and Louis Armstrong. He has inspired modern guitar heroes like Slash, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and many others. He has been immortalized in awards such as the Les Paul Award, which honours "individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of audio technology." He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Audio Engineering Society.

To most of us who aren't professional musicians, he was a man who understood our needs for simplicity, because creating music in itself is an enduring task. Thank you, Les Paul, for giving us what we needed.

And just to show that Les still had a sense of humour in his final years:

We love you, Les. Rest in peace, playing the "great gig in the sky."

Click here to see my Led Zeppelin tribute performance with Brent Lindsay on guitar.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...