Today is the birthday of the iconic music legend Les Paul, who passed last year and would have been 96 today. Many people know Les Paul as a name on a guitar, but the man that invented the solid body as we know it is an icon in and of himself. Paul singlehandedly changed music as we know it through not only his song, but his many musical innovations.
Les Paul learned harmonica, guitar and banjo before his thirteenth birthday, and throughout his life, he played a variety of genres, including Country and Blues, both professionally and semi-pro. His playing style was innovative and different, and his inventing and experimenting with musical hardware produced some of his biggest contributions to music. His first monumental achievement was, essentially, the first solid body electric guitar, playfully dubbed “the log”. It wasn’t much to look at, a four by four piece of fencepost with a sawed in half guitar body plastered on either side, but it was the first generation solid body guitar, and it’s children would soon be used by millions of musicians around the world. Initially, the Gibson company rejected his model, but in the 1950’s started branding the famous Gibson Les Paul solid body, with Les Pauls’ endorsement. His never-ending experimentation led him to be the first to utilize the now widely used “close-miking”, (singing/playing very close to the microphone), as well as the very first multi-track recording in history (recording a sound and recording something else over the top). Much of the Blues and Rock recording foundations that are now standard were laid by Paul.
In the 1940’s, he famously paired up with his wife, Mary Ford, for a number of country music hits. In 1948, he suffered a car accident which shattered his right arm, almost ending his playing career. Instead, he had it reset at an angle so that he could still play his beloved guitars. In the 1950’s, Les’ experimentation led to another musical contribution; the first eight track tape recorder. In 1964, Ford and Paul divorced, and in 1977, Ford died from complications of diabetes. In the late 70’s, Les Paul invented the “Les Paulverizer”, which was intended to reverberate, playback, and amplify sounds. He continued to record, entering semi-retirement in the 70’s, and recording a mix of Jazz, Country, and Blues styles.
In 1988, Les Paul was inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2001, he won a Grammy for his technical achievements. President George W. Bush awarded him the highly prestigious National Medal of Arts award. For many years Les Paul played a gig every Monday at the Iridium Club in New York City, until several weeks before his death. In 2009, Les, ever the musician, released a hard rock album. On August 12th, 2009, Les Paul passed away at 95 years old. Even after the titan’s passing, Les Paul is an American institution and one of, if not the, greatest contributor to our music as we know it today. He will be forever missed, but forever celebrated.
Today, Google honored Les Paul with one of their famous Google Doodles; a fully playable — and even recordable — guitar in the form of the Google logo. People who share the link with their friends can play and record together. Just a side note, the guitar doesn’t work in all countries outside the U.S.