Monday, August 31, 2009

Remembering Les Paul

Responsible for inventing half of the electric guitars used in contemporary rock and pop music for starters, try imagining the music industry without Les Paul?

By: Ringo Bones

2009 could be remembered as a very sad year for the music world’s icons. First, it was the untimely passing of the King of Pop back in June 26, then Les Paul – the inventor of the now iconic Gibson Les Paul – passed away last August 13 a week after his 94th birthday after succumbing to medical complications due to pneumonia. It would be very hard to imagine our contemporary music world without Les Paul because he invented the two very important things that made rock / pop music possible – i.e. solid-bodied electric guitar and multi-track recording.

Les Paul’s journey to fame and fortune is by no means easy. After inventing his now famed “The Log” which became the prototype of his now iconic solid-bodied Gibson Les Paul, it was first rejected after he offered his invention to the Gibson Guitar and Mandolin Company for mass production. But Gibson did succumb in the end to purchasing the manufacturing rights to Les Paul’s invention due to the increasing necessity of electric guitars that can be played loud without breaking into acoustic feedback.

Another of Les Paul’s invention that made our contemporary popular music possible is the multi-track recording without which laying down tracks would be a more expensive and time-consuming affair. Les Paul used to great effect the merits of multi-track recording when he and his wife – Mary Ford – began recording hits in the late 1940s that became million-selling records. Like the songs “How High the Moon”, “Vaya con Dios”, and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”.

Les Paul also pioneered the two-handed playing technique, long before it was being popularized by Eddie Van Halen during the late 1970s. Which the now Fender-Stratocaster-with-Lace-Sensor-pick-ups-using Jeff Beck describes Les Paul’s guitar playing as not only lightning quick, but also musical as well. When I saw a then very rare early 1950s black and white footage of Les Paul doing a blisteringly fast two-handed playing as a somewhat pricey VHS recording back in the 1990s, it made me speechless as well. His archival footage really did show electric guitar playing techniques that in this day and age is still more advanced than the norm.

And let’s not forget the now iconic solid-bodied electric guitar named after the great inventor without which heavy metal rock music would hardly be viable. Imagine former Guns N’ Roses axeman Slash, Jimmi Page of Led Zeppelin, Brijitte West of NY Loose, and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt without their trusty Gibson Les Pauls played through Marshall amplifiers? Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler “might have” invented the musical theory and the decibels behind Heavy Metal Music but Les Paul made the genre a technical possibility.

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