Les Paul (born Lester William Polfuss on June 9, 1915), creator of the solid-body electric guitar, pioneer in modern recording techniques (electronic echo, studio multitracking) and guitarist extraordinaire has left our world today at the age of 94.
Paul had a full, fat life. Though he couldn’t stick around another century to further shatter and expand music as we experience it, his distinctive signature will continue to shape sound for years to come.
This would be a good time to watch or re-watch Chasing Sound, a fascinating PBS Documentary about Les Paul. Beyond the mind-boggling contributions to music Paul made with his Einstein-like genius inventions, what struck me most in this film was Les and Mary’s talk about the recording they did all over the house, including the kitchen. Not only did they describe nonstop creation, innovation and fun, but they also freely offered an intimate glimpse into the life and home of Les Paul, a man whose every breath and step was in tune with the everchanging pulse of sound.
From guitarist/producer/engineer Peter Malick: “When I was 15, I discovered the Les Paul guitar. At the time, Gibson had stopped making them. My first Les Paul was a 1955 Gold Top that I found in the closet of Suffolk Loan Jewelry and Pawnshop in Roxbury, Mass. It became the vehicle that energized my desire to really learn my axe. Quite simply, Les Paul was the Mad Genius of Music and Sound. Here’s the guy who pioneered multi-track recording, but wait, there’s more… He attempted to invent the electric guitar when he was a teenager. That was in the 1930′s. His first serious electric guitar design was laughed out of the Gibson Guitar headquarters. He had the last laugh when Gibson desperately needed to play catch up in the wake of the Fender Telecaster (then Broadcaster).