Gibson CEO Remembers Les Paul, "The Father of the Modern Guitar"

August 13, 2009 5:52 PM ET

When news broke of guitar legend Les Paul's death, Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO of Gibson Guitars (which has been associated with the Les Paul model guitar since 1952), offered to reflect upon the man who was a groundbreaker in creating the electric guitar. "Most people, when they think of Les Paul, they think about the guitar. Which is the most popular guitar — certainly in the Gibson line, and probably in the world. But very few people know the inventive genius behind the scenes," Juszkiewicz says. "I think an appropriate title for Les would be 'the father of modern guitar.' Before Les Paul, the guitar was being used with amplifiers, but it was still just a loud acoustic guitar. Les really brought the guitar into the modern age, and created the modern sound."

Les Paul's life in photos: Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and more stars with the father of the electric guitar.

And with that modern sound, the Gibson Les Paul became synonymous with rock & roll, as such renowned players as Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, and Slash have all played Les Paul guitars throughout their careers. "As a guitar player, he's our godfather. He's 'the guy.' He loved musicians and he had a relationship with virtually every great musician," Juszkiewicz says. "Everyone knew he played gigs on Monday night — if you ever went to the Iridium, people would walk on. Jimmy Page would be there, Jeff Beck would be there, and Chet Atkins would be there. He knew them all, he talked to them, and he had a relationship with all of the really great guys. He had the ultimate respect in the guitar playing community."

As a result, Les Paul is often pointed to as popular music's first bona fide guitar hero. "If you look at music in the '40s and the '50s, it was big band music, and musicians weren't really known. There were a few that were known, but the general public wouldn't know the guitar player — you usually knew the bandleader and the lead singer. Well Les, when TV just emerged in the '50s, the format hadn’t even developed yet, and Les went on the air with Mary Ford with a six-minute format — I would call it 'MTV.' It was two songs, and all of a sudden, the frontman had his name on the show. Music was going into America's living room, and all of a sudden, the whole nation knew Les and Mary. Yes, they had great songs, but they were on national television — that was the start of a whole new era of music. TV didn’t catch up for quite some time, with music formatting."

Gibson plans on paying tribute to Les Paul in the near future, but in the meantime, Juszkiewicz offered some parting praise. "The world lost a really great person. It's a sad day for us here at Gibson."

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