While our gui­tars gen­tly weep…

World mourns death of pi­o­neer­ing gui­tarist Les Paul, who am­pli­fied oth­ers’ mu­sic, writes NEKESA MUMBI MOODY

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

MU­SI­CIANS world­wide are pay­ing trib­ute to Les Paul, the mu­sic icon whose solid-body elec­tric gui­tar paved the way for rock ’n’ roll, af­ter his death this week at the age of 94. Paul, a gui­tar vir­tu­oso, per­formed with some of early pop’s big­gest names and pro­duced a slew of hits, many with wife Mary Ford.

But it was his in­ven­tive streak that made him uni­ver­sally revered by gui­tar gods as their orig­i­nal an­ces­tor and earned his in­duc­tion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the most im­por­tant forces in pop­u­lar mu­sic.

“He ac­tu­ally taught him­self to play gui­tar in or­der to demon­strate his elec­tronic the­o­ries,” said Rolling Stones gui­tarist Keith Richards.

“All of us owe an unimag­in­able debt to his work and his tal­ent.”

Paul, who died on Thurs­day in White Plains, New York, of com­pli­ca­tions from pneu­mo­nia, was a tire­less tin­kerer, whose quest for a par­tic­u­lar sound led him to cre­ate the first solid-body elec­tric gui­tar. His in­ven­tion be­came the stan­dard in­stru­ment for leg­ends like Pete Town­shend and Jimmy Page.

“The name Les Paul is iconic and is known by as­pir­ing and vir­tu­oso gui­tar play­ers world­wide,” Kiss front man Paul Stan­ley said. “That gui­tar is the cor­ner­stone of a lot of great mu­sic that has been made in the last 50 years.”

Paul also de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy that would be­come hall­marks of rock and pop record­ings, from mul­ti­track record­ing that al­lowed for mul­ti­ple lay­ers of “over­dubs” to gui­tar re­verb and other sound ef­fects.

“He was a fu­tur­ist and, un­like some fu­tur­ists who write about it and pre­dict things, he was a guy who ac­tu­ally did things,” said Henry Juskiewicz, chair­man and CEO of Gib­son Gui­tar, which masspro­duced Paul’s orig­i­nal in­ven­tion.

Pri­vate ser­vices are be­ing planned for New York and Wauke­sha, Wis­con­sin, Paul’s home­town, ac­cord­ing to an obituary posted by the Irid­ium Jazz Club in New York City, where un­til re­cently Paul had played ev­ery week. Pub­lic memo­rial tributes are also be­ing planned.

A mu­si­cian since child­hood, Paul ex­per­i­mented with gui­tar am­pli­fi­ca­tion for years be­fore com­ing up in 1941 with what he called “The Log”, a piece of wood strung with steel strings. He later put the wooden wings on to the body to give it a tra­di­tional gui­tar shape.

The use of the elec­tric gui­tar gained pop­u­lar­ity in the mid to late 1940s.

Leo Fender’s Broad­caster was the first mass-pro­duced solid-body elec­tric gui­tar on the mar­ket in the late 1940s.

Gib­son so­licited Paul to cre­ate a pro­to­type for a gui­tar and be­gan mak­ing the Les Paul gui­tar in 1952. The Who’s Town­shend, Steve Howe of Yes, jazz great Al DiMe­ola and Led Zep­pelin’s Page all made the Gib­son Les Paul their trade­mark six-string.

Born Lester William Pol­fuss on June 9, 1915, Paul joined Fred Waring’s Penn­syl­va­ni­ans in the mid-1930s and soon moved to New York to form the Les Paul Trio, with Jim Atkins and bassist Ernie New­ton. His first records were re­leased in 1944 on Decca Records.

Later, with Ford, his wife from 1949 to 1962, he earned 36 gold records for hits in­clud­ing Vaya Con Dios and How High the Moon, which both hit No 1. Ford died in 1977, 15 years af­ter they di­vorced.

Paul had made his first at­tempt at au­dio am­pli­fi­ca­tion at the age of 13. Un­happy with the amount of vol­ume pro­duced by his acous­tic gui­tar, he tried plac­ing a tele­phone re­ceiver un­der the strings. Al­though this worked to some ex­tent, only two strings were am­pli­fied and the vol­ume level was still too low. By plac­ing a record­player nee­dle in the gui­tar, all six strings were am­pli­fied, which proved to be much louder. Paul was play­ing a work­ing pro­to­type of the elec­tric gui­tar in 1929.

His work on record­ing tech­niques be­gan in the years af­ter World War II, when Bing Crosby gave him a tape recorder. Draw­ing on his ear­lier ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with his home­made record­ing ma­chine, Paul added an ad­di­tional play­back head to the recorder. The re­sult was a de­layed ef­fect that be­came known as tape echo.

Tape echo gave the record­ing a more “live” feel and en­abled the user to sim­u­late dif­fer­ent play­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

Paul’s next idea was to stack to­gether eight mono-tape ma­chines and send their out­puts to one piece of tape, stack­ing the record­ing heads on top of one an­other. The re­sult­ing ma­chine was the fore­run­ner of to­day’s mul­ti­track recorders. Many of his songs with Ford used over­dub­bing tech­niques that Paul had helped de­velop.

Paul’s use of mul­ti­track record­ing was unique. Be­fore he did it, most record­ings were made on a sin­gle tape. By record­ing each el­e­ment sep­a­rately, from the vo­cals to in­stru­men­ta­tion on dif­fer­ent tracks, they could be mixed and lay­ered, adding to the rich­ness in sound.

In the late 1960s, Paul re­tired from mu­sic to con­cen­trate on his in­ven­tions. His in­ter­est in coun­try mu­sic was rekin­dled in the mid-1970s, and he teamed up with Chet Atkins for two al­bums. The duo won a Grammy for best coun­try in­stru­men­tal per­for­mance of 1976 for their Ch­ester and Lester al­bum.

In 2005, he re­leased the Gram­my­win­ning Les Paul & Friends: Amer­i­can Made, World Played, his first al­bum of new ma­te­rial since those 1970s record­ings and his first of­fi­cial rock CD. Among those play­ing with him: Peter Framp­ton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clap­ton and Richie Samb­ora.

“They’re not only my friends, but they’re great play­ers,” Paul said. “I never stop be­ing amazed by all the dif­fer­ent ways of play­ing the gui­tar and mak­ing it de­liver a mes­sage.”

Paul was in­ducted into the Na­tional In­ven­tors Hall of Fame in 2005. – Sapa-AP


CHORD UP IN THE MAGIC: In this 1987 file photo, Les Paul, cen­tre, signs for­mer Led Zep­pelin gui­tarist Jimmy Page’s chest af­ter sign­ing his gui­tar at a 72nd birth­day party thrown for Paul by Gib­son Gui­tar Com­pany at the Hard Rock Cafe.


FIN­GERS ON THE PULSE: Les Paul, pi­o­neer­ing US gui­tar player and lead­ing in­no­va­tor in gui­tar and elec­tron­ics de­sign, died this week.

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