Many people may not remember the music that Les Paul made with his guitar - including his 11 No 1 singles. But the music made on the guitar bearing his name - the solid-body Gibson Les Paul, by the likes of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Bob Marley and innumerable guitar legends - has echoed throughout generations.
Paul, 94, who died Thursday of complications from pneumonia, is credited with a series of innovations that changed the sound of rock music, beginning with his prototype solid-body guitar - dubbed "The Log" - in 1941. The earliest electric guitars had grafted amplification onto hollow-body acoustic guitars; the resonance of the hollow body, however, created distortion and feedback when amplified. Paul's prototypes, refined over the course of a decade and adapted by the Gibson company into the guitar that bears his name in 1952, transformed the sound of the electric guitar.
"What I wanted to do," he once explained, "was not have two things vibrating. I wanted the string to vibrate and nothing else. I wanted the guitar to sustain longer than an acoustical box and have different sounds than an acoustical box." But Paul did not stop there: in 1948 he released the first-ever multi-track recording, using existing technology to layer multiple parts onto a single recording before the advent of magnetic tape; in the 1950s, he obtained one of the first commercially available reel-to-reel tape recorders and his innovations proved critical to the invention of multi-track recording devices.
Born Lester William Polsfuss in 1915, he began to perform as a guitarist at age 13. During the 1930s and 1940s, he launched a successful career as a backing musician with bandleaders like Bing Crosby. His first experiments in recording came on records produced with his wife at the time, Mary Ford, and led to a string of hits. His musical and technological inventions led to his induction into both the Inventors and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.
News of his death brought an outpouring of tributes from music's biggest names: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, U2's The Edge, the former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, Joe Satriani and many others. "We all must own up," Keith Richards once said, "that without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets." * The National