By Nick Paonessa
Last week, the music world mourned the death of Lester William Polsfuss, or as he was more commonly known, Les Paul, born June 9, 1915. To many guitarist, he will forever be known as a pioneer in the development of the solid body guitar. While electric, solid body guitars come in many shapes, it can be argued that there are really only a handful iconic shapes. The Les Paul and the Stratocaster being the two most common and most copied shapes in the world.
While my mother –in-law knows nothing of his contribution to the innovation of the electric guitar, she constantly reminds me that he was also a big TV and recording star in the 50’s (with his then wife Mary Ford), 60’s and 70’s.
Les Paul is also credited with many multi-track recording innovations. He once played eight different parts on electric guitar, some of them recorded at half-speed, therefore making them “double-fast” when played back at normal speed for the master. Les Paul was also responsible for the design of the first 8-track recording deck built for him by Ampex for his home studio.
But, for most guitarists he will be best remembered for the solid body guitar that bears him name. Though Les Paul approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation with his idea of a solid body electric guitar in the 40s, they showed no interest until Fender produced their version of the solid body guitar. Gibson designed a guitar incorporating Paul’s suggestions in the early fifties and presented it to him to try. He was impressed enough to sign a contract for what became the “Les Paul” model, originally only in a “gold top” version. Guitar greats like Slash, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Peter Frampton, Frank Zappa, Zakk Wilde and thousands more around the world, known and unknown are all benefactors of Les Paul’s innovative design.
While I’ve never been a fan of the Les Paul model nor have I ever owned one, (I’ve been a Fender guy for almost 30 years) it’s hard to deny the incredible tone that you get when you bring together the holy trinity of the a Les Paul equipped with P-90’s and vintage Marshall amp.
Rest in peace Les Paul. Your legacy is etched in stone and is in good hands.