Publicists for Les Paul reported this afternoon that the legendary musician and pioneer of the electric guitar and multi-track audio recording has died. Paul had been battling complications from pneumonia at a hospital in White Plains, New York, and died surrounded by friends and family. He was 94.
Known as the “Father of the Electric Guitar,” Paul had always been a musical misfit in his own right. Since he was a child, he had a passion for “tinkering” with musical and electronic devices to see how they worked and devised ways to improve them. He built his own electric guitar in 1928 at the age of 13 by hooking up microphone and telephone parts to an acoustic guitar and routing the electrical signal to radio speakers using a needle.
His exploration led to the invention of the electric solid-body guitar, which to this day still bears his name. The Gibson Les Paul guitar is an iconic symbol among musicians and is known for its rich sound. It has also been credited as one of the driving forces behind the rise of rock and roll music.
"I was interested in proving that a vibration-free top was the way to go," he has said. "I even built a guitar out of a railroad rail to prove it. What I wanted was to amplify pure string vibration, without the resonance of the wood getting involved in the sound."
Such tinkering also led to the creation of multi-track recording technology. His experiments with dubbing live tracks over recorded ones, adding heads to traditional recording devices, and close-miking vocal techniques led to the production of the first true multi-track time recording in 1950: "How High the Moon." The track was a No. 1 hit and is now considered a historic release.
In addition to innovating musical equipment, Paul also invented a new style of jazz, one more accessible to the masses. It’s described as a blending of “Reinhardt-inspired jazz playing and the western swing and twang of his Rhubarb Red persona into one distinctive, electrifying style.”
Paul’s music has inspired countless musicians and placed him in the company of music legends, such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, B.B. King, Nat King Cole, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton – just to name a select few. His passion for music drove him to never stop playing, whether at home or in public. For the last 12 years, the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City hosted the Les Paul Trio for two shows weekly, in addition to countless special appearances with the likes of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Joe Satriani and other musical luminaries.
"Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed,” Satriani was quoted as saying by CNN.com. “He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls. Last October I joined him onstage at the Iridium club in [New York], and he was still shredding. He was and still is an inspiration to us all."
Funeral services will be held in both New York City and Paul’s hometown of Waukesha, WI. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Les Paul Foundation, 236 West 30th Street, 7th Floor, New York, New York 10001.