How many of you had heard the news? That one of the most defining people in the history of modern music has sadly passed away? Here, I’m going to provide a retrospective on the life of Les Paul, as he revolutionized the face of music forever..
Les Paul, as you are probably aware, helped to shape the way solid body guitars were made, with his infamous Gibson Les Paul. While I’m not personally a fan of these guitars – for me the bridge sits too high for me to play comfortably in the fashion I am accustomed to – I can’t deny the fact that the reason they have remained a staple of the music world is because they are damn good – Everybody at some point or another who has ever played a guitar has almost guaranteed to have played a Les Paul at some point in their life. In fact, Les Paul had made his own solid body guitar in the 1930s, long before Fender created theirs in the 40’s, but Gibson had no interest until Fender began marketing theirs.
Fun fact time, ladies and gentlemen – The Gibson SG was originally meant to be the “Les Paul 2”, if you will, apart from one minor detail – Les Paul didn’t like it, had his name removed from it and would only be seen using it out of obligation for the contract. Eventually it became renamed and Les Paul resumed endorsing the original Les Paul. The Les Paul design has changed very little over the years, which really goes to show how outstanding a guitar it is, to have remained the same since the early 1950’s. I won’t reel off a list of artists that use these guitars, as it would be far too long for this article, plus anyone who’s ever been to a gig has probably seen one being played by at least one of the acts.
I shall now move onto what is probably his most important creation, which redefined the way people created music. Multitrack recording. A quick overview for those of you who are not aware, this is basically where all the individual parts are recorded separately and then played back together. This allows a much bigger sound and even the adding of extra instrumental tracks (such as a rhythm guitar track underneath a lead solo in a band with only one guitarist, for example).
Before Les Paul, nothing like this had ever been done – at least, not documented and certainly never released. Until Les Paul innovated on his 1948 recording “Lover (When You’re Near Me)”, where he played 8 separate guitar parts on a song, which was obviously unheard of at the time. This led way for other people to take the idea and run with it, where it eventually evolved into the recording process that we know today. He also innovated with overdubbing, which essentially sound-on-sound and also with delay effects – Quite the back catalogue for a man most people only know as a make of guitar.
Now, we get to my personal favourite part the music. As you’d expect from someone with one of the most prominent guitar makes in history that also completely changed the face of recording, he has quite a vast discography. He’s always been a jazz player with a touch of blues within his very distinctive sound. Also recording with his wife of the time Mary Ford, he had some hits but nothing that has really carried on into the modern day as a classic. Which is a shame, as some of the guitar work is absolutely sublime, again influencing the sound of rock music for years to come. I would personally recommend that you go check out some of Les Paul’s recorded stuff, with such a vast back catalogue, he’s bound to have written something that you’ll love
I won’t go into Paul’s personal life, I feel that his life as a person and as a musician are two separate things and I’m here to pay respects to a man that innovated and continued playing on a regular basis until way beyond his 90th year. So, ladies and gentlemen, please, raise a glass, tip your hats, put on your favourite album and let us toast the man that made it all possible
Rest In Peace, Les. The world wouldn’t have been the same without you.
Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds/solo) purchased his first Les Paul, a 1959 model, for 150 while still a member of The Yardbirds. Beck’s fascination with the guitar sprang as much from his interest in Les Paul, the man, as from his love of the guitar itself. Beck told an interviewer: “It had a deep powerful sound and you could use it to imitate just about anything – violin, sax, cello, even a sitar.” Beck also used an “oxblood” coloured 1954 Les Paul Standard, with PAF pickups, from 1972-1976 and is pictured with the guitar on the cover artwork of his Blow by Blow album.
Marc Bolan (T.Rex) used Les Paul Standards. His main Les Paul model was refinished in an opaque orange to resemble the Gretsch guitars played by his hero Eddie Cochran
Mick Jones (The Clash/Big Audio Dynamite/ Carbon/Silicon) used a Les Paul Junior, Les Paul Standard, several Les Paul Customs, and a Melody maker during his tenure with The Clash. He currently uses Les Paul Junior Double Cut.
Bob Marley (Bob Marley and The Wailers) used a Les Paul Special. The guitar is buried with him in his mausoleum. Gibson has released a Bob Marley Signature Les Paul Special.
Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails/Guns N’ Roses) mainly uses Gibson Les Paul guitars with variation in woods and pickups between them.
John Lennon used a J-160E while with The Beatles. As a solo artist, Lennon used a Les Paul Special and a modified Les Paul Junior. Gibson makes a limited-edition replica of his J-160E and an “inspired by” John Lennon Les Paul replicating the modified Junior