Rock and Roll's Most Popular Instrument
In 1948, Paul was critically injured in a car crash and almost lost the use of his right arm. Rather than having it amputated, he pleaded with his doctors to set it in such a fashion that he could still pick a guitar.
Thankfully, they did - and this renewed lease on not only life but also his career, was the springboard for Paul's most important decade as a musician.
In the 1950s, he began to write, record and play guitar on numerous gold records with his then-wife, Mary Ford. He also helped to design what would go on to be one of the most important instruments in rock and roll: the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, played at various times in their careers by such notable musicians as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Bob Marley, John McLaughlin (the jazz star, not the fellow with the talk show on PBS), and Slash of Guns and Roses. And when they're in New York, many of these musicians often stop by to watch the man whose name is on their guitar, in action.
That's a pretty impressive pedigree for an instrument that was designed in 1952 and today still sells in massive numbers. Paul's personal stage guitar, while still a Gibson Les Paul electric, is not one of the highly desired 1950s versions. So how old is she? "I don’t know - I didn't ask her!" is his response, proving that ultimately, it's the musician, and not his instrument, that counts the most.
Perhaps the appeal of the guitar he helped to design is its duality: its often beautiful finishes belie the fact that it's essentially a solid plank of wood with strings. It was designed to be the cleanest, warmest sounding guitar possible for jazz and country musicians, but it only achieved its true popularity when it began to be played loudly and with mammoth distortion by rockers and bluesmen.
Another duality: the genre that Paul's guitar would come to dominate, rock and roll, which also exploited the potential of his mulitrack recording theories the most, and bought his guitar by the thousands, significantly damaged Paul's recording career, putting it into a slump for much of the 1960s, until the mid-1970s. During this period, he and Mary Ford would divorce in 1964, and she later died in 1976.