Guitarist Les Paul dies at 94

Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul in 2004
Image: didi46.

Les Paul, the American jazz guitarist whose eponymous electric guitar remains one of the most popular and influential designs of musical instrument in modern history, has died at the age of 94 of complications from pneumonia.

Born Lester William Polfuss in 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, United States, Les Paul was establishing himself as a jazz musician in Chicago when in 1939 he built "The Log", reputed to be the first solid-body "Spanish-style" electric guitar ever made. Discussions with Gibson Guitars led to the development of the Gibson Les Paul guitar, which with its unprecedented tonal properties (caused in part by its unprecedented weight) quickly established itself among players of both the emerging rock & roll style of music and the developing electric blues.

A 2005 reissue of the 1958 Gibson Les Paul
Image: Zeppelin4life.

Paul was also a pioneer of recording techniques. Paul's experiments with multi-tracking in the 1940s led to a string of chart successes with songs like "How High The Moon", in which Paul's guitar work and then-wife Mary Ford's vocals appeared a novel many-layered setting, Paul playing up to eight guitar parts and Ford harmonizing with herself.

Although Paul entered semi-retirement in his 50s, he remained active and performing almost until his death; his last album was released in 2006. Les Paul received a number of accolades throughout his career: he was the recipient of numerous Grammy awards, an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the namesake of the Mix Foundation's Les Paul Award for "individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of audio technology." He was also the subject of two biographical films.

While Les Paul had no children, he is survived by a godson, the guitarist Steve Miller.


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