Google’s doodle today is celebrating the birthday of an individual who made his mark on the world of music and left a legacy of six-stringed desirables in his wake. Les Paul, immortalised by Gibson guitars is the man of the hour.
Owning a Gibson Les Paul is making a statement; you are a rock legend. With their twin humbuckers and 3 way rocker switch, the Les Pauls give a distinct sound and versatility in a unique looking body. As a lead guitar, for me there is nothing better. Perfectly weighted, easy to play and raucous as you like, the Gibson screams quality.
The Les Paul is a bit like a Porsche 911 Turbo. Everybody wants one – even those that don’t know it yet. Once driven (or played) there is no looking back. There is of course a certain amount of prestige involved and well-to-do dick wavers without a modicum of talent are often seen brandishing the axe as a kind of trade-off between ability and credibility.
As with much of the pop industry these days, image rules and talent doesn’t matter.
But the real Les Paul, the man who inspired the guitar brand; he could play.
Born in Wisconsin on June 9th, 1915, Lester William Polfuss was destined for musical greatness. By the age of 13 he had invented a neck rest to hold a harmonica so he could play guitar at the same time, something he was already doing live by that age.
His influences derived from jazz and country but over the years he developed a thirst for adventure in sound and although not the first person to use effects such as tape delay, sound-on-sound, multi-tracking and phasing effects, he was considered a pioneer as his music took these sounds to a wider audience.
By 1939 Les Paul was performing in New York with his three piece band and it was there that he was noticed by Fred Waring who gave them a featured spot on his Pennsylvanians show.
In the early 1940‘s he developed his own guitar. Being unhappy with the hollow body of the semi-acoustic he experimented with a solid body and solved various problems such as feedback and sustain in one fell swoop.
He continued to use his home made guitar through the war when he was drafted into service and played as backing for Nat King Cole. Les Paul then became friends with Bing Crosby who regularly featured him on his radio show and the pair recorded several big hitters including the 1945 classic, It’s Been a Long Time.
After a horrendous car accident in which his wife, Mary Ford was driving, almost claimed his life, Les Paul’s arm was badly damaged and surgeons gave him the option of amputation or a fixed position because they couldn’t repair the damage. He chose the latter and had it positioned at almost 90 degrees meaning he could still pick and strum the guitar.
Aside from his guitar design which Gibson were not at first interested in, Les Paul also invented other devices to aid his playing. After a near fatal electrocution in 1940 he studied electricity more carefully and his research led him to invent the Les Paulverizer; a device which sampled a lick or other sound and allowed him to overdub with additional samples, creating a live multitrack recorder – a recording principle excellently demonstrated here by Reyn Owuehand.
The principle behind his technology has been adapted into multi-track recorders and DAWs such as Cubase and Logic and he was truly a pioneer in the field of recording.
When you pick up a Les Paul you’re touching a piece of history so vital to the music industry that not to acknowledge it is an insult to the man behind it all. Without his experimentation and inventions the world of music would undoubtedly look and sound very different, so with the greatest respect and admiration I would like to say, “Happy Birthday Les Paul.”
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Read about other Google Doodles like Charlie Chaplin; Robert Bunsen; Jules Verne, Houdini and Ernest Shackleton.
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