Les Paul dead at 94

Categories: Obituary
lespaul500.jpg

The solid body electric guitar. Overdub. Tape delay. Multi-track recording. Do a Google search of his name, and you won't find the man's picture. What you'll find is scores of guitars, pedals, and recording consoles.

Without a doubt, Les Paul is the most important technological innovator in rock and roll's history, and perhaps one of its most influential practitioners, even if you never heard a note of his music.

At the age of 94, Les Paul died last night from complications of pneumonia.


Les Paul and Mary Ford in the 1940s.

Rock and roll is a musical genre passionately married to its technology, and Les Paul was its master technician. An inventor, an innovator, a musical virtuoso blessed with an expeditioner's foresight, Paul crafted his first solid body electric guitar in the late 1930s, which used a 4 x 4 hunk of lumber for its body. Called "the log," it is unofficially considered the first solid body electric guitar, and it spawned not only Les Paul's career as a godfather of guitar innovation, but also the very sound that made rock-a-billy and rock and roll possible.

More than Grandmaster Flash and his peek-a-boo mixer, more than Moog's synthesizers, Les Paul's innovations put millions of musicians in his debt. His contributions took a single folk instrument and turned it into a sonic tool that musicians eight decades later are still plumbing for new, unheard sounds.

Though it's his technological achievements for which Paul will be most remembered, his musicianship shouldn't be overlooked. On the instrument he helped renovate, he was a virtuoso, pioneering trills and chord schemes previously unexplored. He was rock and roll's true forefather, a title to which no one can lay greater claim. He was 94 years old.

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