Les Paul: 1915-2009 – obituary

Guitar maker passes away aged 94

Guitar pioneer Les Paul died today (August 13) aged 94 in New York from complications arising from a severe case of pneumonia.

The musician and inventor was an enormous influence on modern rock music, releasing the pioneering Les Paul Goldtop guitar model through the Gibson company in 1952. His Les Paul Standard model, first released in 1954, remains hugely popular today.

Paul, real name Lester William Polfuss, was born in Wisconsin in 1915. He played guitar semi-professionally from his early teens, dropping out of school aged 17 to earn his living playing in bands.

Starting off playing country music, Paul went on to play jazz on Chicago radio but released country records under a stage name, Rhubarb Red.

His interest in guitar design was stoked when he made the “log” guitar – one of the first solid-bodied electric models. Moving through New York and Hollywood, he played in various bands and with the likes of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.

Later Gibson created a guitar based on his specifications which he agreed to endorse, resulting in the Les Paul Goldtop model being released in 1952. He released various models with the company – although their relationship cooled with their 1961 release of the SG model, which he disliked and asked to have his name removed from.

He later agreed to endorse further models and the relationship got back on track.

As well as guitar model design, Paul was innovative in developing multi-track recording – allowing musicians to record various musical parts and meld them together as one track.

Paul received various honours in his lifetime, including being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988 by Jeff Beck. He was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1978.

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