Within the very foundation of rock, blues, jazz and pop, the very same inventions of Les Paul denotes guitar-heavy music with an extreme debt owed to him. Les Paul guitar models, Telecaster and the Gibson, are the most popular electric guitars among rock performers.
The effects have been wide ranging, from rock and rolls Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia to legendary jazz great Duke Ellington, Les Paul has had a profound influence on musicians not only in the United States but around the world as they listened to his records and copied his style.
The history of the modern jazz guitar began with many who played with Benny Goodman, (In Los Angeles in 1942, Les played with Nat King Cole on “Blues”). During his years on the main jazz scene, he revolutionized guitar playing. To be sure, there were guitarists with a longer history but it almost seems as if there are two different types of guitars. What played before Les Paul and what played after he finished.
Before Paul, the guitar was essentially an instrument of rhythm and harmonic accompaniment. Paul was known interestingly enough to develop guitar leads as he was simply creating the sound of many guitars and singers from one guitar and one voice.
From the development of the electric guitar to the tape recorder were all possible only through the innovative vision of Les Paul. Paul’s ingenious overdubbing or layered construction process of recording music was revolutionary.
Examining the development of original American music, whether it’s blues, country, jazz or rock, the reader has found, intertwined that in American music all roads lead to the guitar which in turn leads to Les Paul.
Like all ironies of the truth, Les Paul’s interest in music began at age eight with an interest in the harmonica. It’s been said the inspiration came from a Waukesha ditch digger. Even though he played the piano professionally, his formal musical training consisted of a few unsuccessful piano lessons.
A bad automobile accident in Oklahoma in January 1948 almost silenced his music forever. He could not play the guitar for a year and a half. It also gave him two choices; the first was to have the arm amputated or have the right arm set at a permanent right angle suitable for guitar playing. Clearly he chose the latter.
Les Paul is the most significant contributor in the development of modern electric instruments and recording technology. Paul has lead the way in the development of the Gibson Les Paul guitar, bearing his name; the solid-body electric guitar. This concept was developed under his design. To this day, the Gibson is one of the most well known and market tested models that still stands up as an excellent product. On merits of its own that would satisfy as a single most important contribution to the music industry, Les Paul also the developed the multi-track recording process and various reverb and echo effects.
Technically, the guitar is a fretted, stringed instrument, and is a member of the lute family. Originating from Persia, the instrument reached Spain during the 12th century. Through the years, the guitar has shown versatility as both a solo and accompanying instrument.
In essence, Paul was unsatisfied by the electric guitars available in the mid 1930s so he began to experiment with the design the basic guitar.
The product solved two main problems for guitar players; the “feedback” and “sustain” issues, respectively.
Les Paul designed and constructed one of the first solid-body electric guitars in 1941. Based on Paul’s designed in the early 1950’s, the Gibson Guitar Corporation of Nashville, Tennessee designed a guitar integrating Paul’s properties. Subsequently, the company and Paul got together and professional relationship was established.
Hence, what is now known as the “Les Paul” model was born. Originally it was developed only in a “gold top” version which was the central part of the agreement between Paul and Gibson. However there were a few rough spots along the way between the two entities. Gibson Les Pauls were modified by the company over the years and clearly Paul always preferred to oversee the process. But in the end Paul resumed his relationship with Gibson, and endorses the instrument even today. To this day, the Gibson Les Paul guitar is used all over the world, both by novice and professional guitarists.
In an experiment that bean in Les Paul’s garage, Paul played eight different parts on electric guitar, some of them recorded at half-speed, hence “double-fast” when played back at normal speed for the master. Paul would record a track onto a disk, and then record himself playing another part with the first. This was the first time that multi-tracking had been used in a recording. Capitol Records released the recording “Brazil” in 1947.
“As multi-track recording gradually became standard practice in rock, the distinction between recording and mixing as separate stages of a project grew. It is not uncommon at the mixing stage to move a project to a different studio or to hand over recorded tracks to a new engineer. (Zak, pg 128)
Making records is intrinsically a collaborative creative process, involving the efforts of a team whose members interact in various ways. Because of Les Paul’s the “artist” is mostly the tasks involved in making a record. Pre and post production has become the foundation to many artists’ careers, once again thanks to Les Paul.
Without equal, even within today’s music industry a legacy of innovations has been handed down by Les Paul and taken up by Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai’s playing and guitar designs as they too help to redefine the instrument. (Bennett, pg 7)
Les Paul has had a staggeringly life long influence over the way American and world popular music has sounded over the last 5 generations. Even today the influence is honored and recognized and as on of the most significant impact upon the jazz, blues, rock, hip hop music worlds.
What seems most striking about Les Paul, even at the age of 91, is how he has bridged popular music-making and technology. Paul touches on what will be central issues in the aesthetics of production and reception in pop: relations between the performers’s body and instrument, how sounds are attached to instruments and the way musical sounds.
And because of him, in homes that could scarcely afford furniture of any kind, let alone a piano, the heart of the musician, found its outlet wood or metal across which a few wire strings.
Zak III, Albin J. The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of Publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication Year: 2001. Page Number: 128.
Bennett, Andy Guitar Cultures Publisher: Berg. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 2001. Page Number: 7.