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Les Paul, Guitarist and Audio Inventor Dies aged 94

Mon 14 Sep 2009

Les Paul, Guitarist and Audio Inventor Dies aged 94

Guitar legend and studio pioneer Les Paul sadly passed away on August 12th. Les displayed an unusual array of talents with many remembering his sublime guitar playing, accompanied for much of his career by his wife, Mary Ford.

Les was perhaps most famous for arguably inventing the electric guitar with the "Log". This home built instrument was created back in 1940 and was similar in construction to the acoustic jazz guitars of the time. Les replaced the hollow central body with a block of hardwood and mounted a simple magnetic pickup which, when connected to am amplifier, made the guitar considerably louder. This fulfilled his desire to match the volume levels of the brass instruments he played with in the larger jazz bands of the time. Eventually Gibson Guitars asked Les to help develop the Les Paul solid body electric guitar which went on to be one of the most recognisable and widely played guitars of all time and also the most successful product endorsement deal in musical history.

Audio enthusiasts though will recognize the role Les Paul played in the creation of multi-track recordings. Taking a conventional reel-to-reel tape deck, adding an additional record heard and turning off the erase head meant Les could record multiple guitar tracks for each recording. Recorded one over the other, Les gradually built up complex guitar ensembles using a single instrument. The first public outing for his new technique was on his self recorded record "Lover (When You're Near Me)" released on Capitol Records in 1948. Not only did Les "overdub" multiple guitars but he also used pitch shifting (running the tape at half and double speed) to add notes that a normal guitar couldn't even reach!

Les and Mary went on to use the recording technique for many years (Mary recording multiple vocal harmonies over Les's guitar parts) and they enjoyed considerable success on the US charts until the new Rock and Roll artists (such as Elvis, Chuck Berry and co.) exploded on to the scene in the 1950's. Multi track recording and overdubbing has been used ever since and, although the technology moved on to multi track tape and digital audio workstations, the basis of modern recording methodology still has its basis in Les Paul's first development work.

Les carried on playing guitar until his early nineties in a regular Monday night Jazz slot in New York City.

Les Paul - 1915 to 2009.

Image courtesy - Thomas Faivre-Duboz under license (CC-BY-SA)