Vale Les Paul, Pioneer Of The Solid Bodied Guitar

Posted on Fri 08/14/2009 by

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I couldn’t let today pass without mentioning the sad passing of Les Paul.

That name might not mean much to today’s young people, but if they love music of any sort, then they owe Les Paul a huge debt of gratitude. He was one of the original pioneers of the solid bodied guitar. Les Paul, Adolph Rickenbacker and Leo Fender were the three original guys who first pioneered and then perfected it. Even though Les Paul wrote a number of songs of his own that became minor hits, numbering around 25 or so, he was more famous for performing songs from other composers, and was instrumental in making a number of them them into huge hits.

This is one of those, ‘How High The Moon’, which he performs here with his wife Mary Ford.

This video was posted to You Tube by Sunday Funnies

In the 1930’s Les experimented with his first ‘hard body’, a lump of 4 X 4 lumber with all the electrics attached. To give the appearance of a guitar, he sawed up an acoustic guitar and passed ‘The Log’ through that. The problem he had with that was feedback, and he further worked on the idea and then took that idea to Gibson Guitars. They built a solid bodied guitar from his idea, and then presented it to him. His name was then attached to that Model as the Gibson ‘Les Paul’, that first version he used a ‘Gold Top’, and he was contracted to Gibson from that point to play only those guitars.

1958 Gold Top Gibon 'Les Paul' Custom Guitar

1958 Gold Top Gibon ‘Les Paul’ Custom Guitar

Later on, without his knowledge, Gibson changed the shape slightly, removing the upper rounded section close to the fret board, calling it the new ‘Les Paul’. Les saw the guitar in a shop and didn’t like it, or the fact that his name was attached to it. Gibson amicably solved the problem by changing the name to Gibson SG, the SG for solid guitar.

Les was an innovator as well, and is credited with inventing multi tracking. He would tape a session playing his guitar, and then run the tape while recording a second version over the top of that, and onto a second tape recorder. Then he did this again, and again. Then he would also ‘layer’ on the vocals of his wife Mary Ford, and also layer her vocals on top of that again and again. This is shown perfectly in the above song which sounds like numerous guitar sections and many vocal harmonies as well. He would sometimes put on as many as 24 layers. When you hear his records, it sounds like he has a big backing behind him, but in every case it was just him and Mary, as they also did in their popular TV show, and the myriad other stage performances the pair had.

This is the forerunner to what happens today with recording, and was made even more famous by Phil Spector with his ‘Wall of Sound’.

Incidentally, Mary Ford’s real name was Iris Hatfield, and Les chose her stage name Mary Ford from a phone book, so it would sound as short as his name was.

Mary was also an accomplished guitarist, and the following clip shows beautifully the play between the two of them, also showing that they could include humour into their act as well impeccable timing.

This video was posted to You Tube by HoughsVideos

The news tody that Les Paul has passed, aged 94 is a sad loss to the music fraternity as a whole. The Gibson ‘Les Paul’ Custom is the guitar of choice for thousands of guitarists from all the World’s top bands throughout the ages. Without the innovations Les Paul made commonplace, music today would not be what it is.

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