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Les Paul was more

A few minutes ago it was reported that Les Paul, the man who put the juice in electric guitar, has died at the age of 94. Paul’s name wasn’t just synonymous with guitar design — his name was actually on millions of guitars that aspiring musicians, rock superstars and everyone in between used at one time or another, and reached nothing less than the stratospheric heights of pop culture meaning in that “Les Paul” is actually now a vernacular noun.

Born Lester William Polsfuss, Paul also invented multitrack recording and overdubbing, techniques that have now been key to myriad seminal recordings for more than half a century. We have three biographies on Paul, including the one excerpted below.

Ever since he had started to play the electric guitar, Paul had dreamed of a different sound than the instrument had produced thus far. Electric guitars of the 1930s tended to produce short blasts of sound, actuated by the player’s plucking of the strings and then decaying in much the same way an acoustic guitar chord would. As he played in large dance halls, Paul experimented with ways of creating a more sustained sound. He realized that the sound decayed partly because it was diffused by the soundbox, so he tried filling in the hollow body of the guitar. “”I chucked rags in it. I poured it full of plaster of Paris. I tried everything with the guitar to try to get it to not feed back and not sound like an acoustical box,” he told Jim O’Donnell of the Rock and Roll Journal. The plaster of Paris idea seemed promising but resulted in an unacceptably heavy guitar. He began working on further refinements during off hours at an Epiphone guitar factory on 14th Street in New York City, while taking time off after an accident in which he received a severe electric shock from a radio transmitter.

Finally, in 1941 Paul constructed a guitar he called the Log, made from a solid four-by-four piece of wood. He noted with satisfaction that he could plug the guitar into an amplifier, pluck a string, go out for a meal, return to his workshop, and hear the note still sounding. Paul is often recognized as the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar. The claim is difficult to evaluate, for guitars were evolving rapidly at the time, and other inventors were pursuing similar paths; the Rickenbacker company had manufactured a solid electric lap steel guitar as early as 1934. But Paul’s Log, onto which he soon glued two wings from another Epiphone guitar to make it look more guitar-like, was undoubtedly a major step in the development of the modern electric guitar. Moving to Los Angeles in 1943, Paul quickly attracted the attention of other guitar designers such as Leo Fender.

This chord’s for you, Les.

Source: “Les Paul.” Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 28. Gale, 2008.

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Posted on: August 13, 2009, 1:02 pm Category: Factoids Tagged with: , , , , ,

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