Les Paul, one of the most revered guitarists in history and the father of the electric guitar, passed away last night, August 12th at the age of 94. Paul’s manager confirmed to Rolling Stone that cause of death was respiratory failure, and a statement from Gibson indicates Paul was suffering from severe pneumonia and died at a hospital in White Plains, New York.
An inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Hall of Fame, Paul is credited as the inventor of the electric body guitar and the pioneer of recording techniques like electronic echo and multi-tracking. Paul also had a celebrated career as both a solo artist and with singer Mary Ford, his wife until 1964. In 2003, Rolling Stone named Les Paul to our list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and his influence on guitar greats who followed him is undeniable. “He was one of the most stellar human beings I’ve ever known,” Slash posted on his Twitter today, referring to Paul as his “friend and mentor.” Chickenfoot guitarist Joe Satriani released a statement that reads, “Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero, and the kindest of souls.”
In the early ’50s, Paul and Ford had a string of hits including Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “How High the Moon,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” and “Vaya Con Dios.” Paul also began experimenting with the electric guitar, building the Les Paul Recording Guitar, an instrument that allowed for “hot” pickups and “fatter” tone than the Fender on the market. Paul linked up with Gibson Guitars and his six-string became one of the guitar maker’s signatures.
Around this time, Paul also made the first-ever eight-track recording, as well as the dual-pickup guitar, the 14-fret guitar, and various types of electronic transducers used both in guitars and recording studios. For his achievements as a technician, Paul was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005, joining Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
Paul was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915, a fact noted in the name of the 1980 Les Paul documentary The Wizard of Waukesha. Last November, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored Paul with its annual American Music Masters Concert, where Slash, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Richie Sambora and the Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye paid tribute to Paul. Kaye told the audience, “Before Les, guitars were only amplified. Les made them truly electric.” During his acceptance speech, Paul joked, “Everybody thought I was a guitar until I played here tonight.” One thing is for certain: Les Paul is responsible for changing the way rock & roll sounds and he will be greatly missed.
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