If he were alive, he would have been 96 by now. He is the man behind most of the music you hear today and this is a tribute to him.

Les Paul, ca. January 1947 (Photograph by William P. Gottlieb) This image is in Public Domain since February 16, 2010.
Les Paul, ca. January 1947 (Photograph by William P. Gottlieb) This image is in Public Domain since February 16, 2010.

Les Paul (born Lester William Polfus) is recognized as the man behind the most iconic solid body guitar ever – the Gibson Les Paul.  Les Paul had approached Gibson with The Log solid body guitar prototype, but this design was rejected. However facing competition from Fender’s Stratocaster in 1951, this initial rejection became a design collaboration between the Gibson Guitar Corporation and Les Paul. They agreed that the new Les Paul guitar was to be an expensive, well-made instrument.

The significance of Les Paul’s contributions to the guitar’s design remains controversial. The book 50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul restricts Paul’s contributions to two: advice on the trapeze tailpiece, and a preference for colour; Paul preferred gold as “it looks expensive”, and a second choice of black because “it makes your fingers appear to move faster on the box”, and “looks classy―like a tuxedo”. On January 30, 1962, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Paul a patent, Patent No. 3,018,680, for an ‘Electrical Music Instrument’.
He had a rough patch with the folks at Gibson because when they advised changes to the design, Paul ended his contract and this new guitar design came to be known as the Gibson SG. The Les Paul guitar became popular when Eric Clapton started using it and it was then that Gibson signed on Les Paul to endorse it again. His personal Gibson Les Pauls were hugely modified by him— he used his own self-wound pickups and customized methods of switching between pickups on his guitars. The Gibson Les Paul has become a cultural icon today.

Gibson Les Paul. (Creative Commons license:Zeppelin4life)

Les Paul’s techniques of sound recording were equally revolutionary. His inventions in the domain of recording have changed the way we hear music today. His experimental innovations have earned him a place in the Inventors’ Hall Of Fame, bringing him at par with inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, Edison and the Wright Brothers.

Les Paul’s successes as an inventor have always overshadowed his ineffaceable competence as a absorbing performer.
The way he used licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing, differentiated him from his generation and inspired most guitarists today. The fact remains that his euphonious jazz and pop-laced compositions and his skill as also adds to his being a musical genius. He achieved phenomenal success as a solo performer as well as a duo with his wife, singer Mary Ford. His musical work of art is also noteworthy because of his radical techniques in recording.

Gibson Billie Joe Armstrong Les Paul Jr.         Designed in close cooperation with Billie Joe, the signature guitar is modeled closely after “Floyd,” Billie Joe’s original 1956 Les Paul Junior.

He pioneered techniques such as overdubbing, multi-tracking and echo delay. These techniques changed the way music was recorded and this allowed musicians to play around with a variety of sound-effects while making music.

Quoting Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page – He’s the man who started everything. He’s just a genius.”

Musicians such as Slash, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Billie Joe Armstrong, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton  owe a lot of their success to this man.

Les Paul Live @ Iridium Jazz Club / NYC ( Creative Commons License:  Thomas Faivre-Duboz)
Les Paul Live @ Iridium Jazz Club / NYC ( Creative Commons License: Thomas Faivre-Duboz)

Among his many honours, Paul is one of the few artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But his true contribution to the music industry is best put by Eddie Van Halen who once told Paul (while playing with him), “Without the things you’ve done, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do.”

(A large amount of information in this article has been sourced from writings available in the public domain, the biggest source being Wikipedia, licensed under a Creative Commons License)