John Lennon famously said that if one were to name rock and roll something other than rock and roll, you might call it Chuck Berry. The same can be said of Les Paul. The musician, inventor, and innovator died today at the age of 94 in White Plains, New York.
Born Lester William Polfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he began his career as a musician. He was unhappy with the volume his acoustic guitar provided and began tinkering with the instrument. Those tinkerings led the now Les Paul to invent the solid-body electric guitar, an instrument that has forever changed rock and roll and music as a whole.
Gibson Guitars began manufacturing the Les Paul model in 1952, a model that has been tweaked and changed slightly over the year and continues to be manufactured today. Among prominent rockers who play Les Paul guitars are Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Guns N' Roses' Slash, The Who's Pete Townshend, and hundreds more.
In addition to his invention of the solid-body guitar that bears his name, Paul developed the concept of multitrack recording. This technique allowed musicians to record their parts of songs at different times, mixing them together later on.
Paul retired from working as a musician in the late '60s to focus more on his inventions and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005. In his later years, he returned to playing music at clubs on Monday nights in New York. Page, former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Van Halen were known to drop by to pay tribute to the legend and even sat in with him.
Among those paying tribute to Paul are guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, calling Paul the original "Guitar Hero."