100 Greatest Guitarists

18

Les Paul

les paul
David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Les Paul is best known as the genius who invented the solid-body guitar that bears his name. But he was just as imaginative as a player. "He made the very best guitar sounds of the 1950s," said Brian Wilson. "There's nobody that came close." A long string of hits in the Forties and Fifties (on his own and with his wife, singerguitarist Mary Ford) established his signature style: elegant, clean-toned, fleet-fingered improvisations on current pop standards. Paul created a groundbreaking series of technical innovations, including multilayered studio overdubs and varispeed tape playback, to achieve sounds nobody had ever come up with – check out the insect-swarm solo on his 1948 recording of "Lover." Until shortly before Paul's 2009 death at age 94, he was still playing weekly gigs at a New York jazz club, with adoring metalheads in the audience. In Richie Sambora's words, "He had all of the licks, and when you heard it, it sounded like it came from outer space."

Key Tracks: "How High the Moon," "Vaya Con Dios," "Tiger Rag"

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