Les Paul, recording-tech pioneer, dies at 94

Legendary jazz guitarist Les Paul's reputation as a guitarist and recording artist are overshadowed by his contributions to music technology.

Les Paul with his iconic Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Legendary jazz guitarist Les Paul, known for his contributions to guitar design and recording technology, has died at the age of 94, according to a joint statement released by Gibson Guitar, the company that produced his iconic Gibson Les Paul guitar, and New York's Iridium jazz club, where he continued to play weekly gigs almost until the end of his life.

Paul's reputation as a guitarist and recording artist are overshadowed by his contributions to music technology. He pioneered many sound recording techniques still in use today, and was also instrumental in developing the modern solid-body electric guitar, which formed the backbone of decades of popular music.

In the mid-1930s, Paul experimented with building an amplified guitar, using a plank of lumber as the starting point, and adding a pickup connected to an external amplifier (both Leo Fender and Adolph Rickenbacker developed similar designs for solid-body electric guitars around the same time). The Gibson Guitar Corporation eventually designed a solid-body electric guitar based on Paul's concepts and signed him to a long-term endorsement deal.

Perhaps more important, Les Paul was among the first musicians to employ multitrack recording--the basis for nearly all modern recorded music. His 1947 recording of, "Lover (When You're Near Me)," was made from eight separate guitar parts, dubbed over each other. While this early experiment was done with acetate disks, the technique moved onto magnetic tape and today's nonlinear hard-drive recording.

His work on multitracking also led to popular recording techniques such as phasing and delay, which were achieved by manipulating the actual magnetic tape used in the recording process.

While he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame, it was his work on the solid-body electric guitar and multitrack recording that earned him a spot in the National Inventors Hall of Fame--not the usual place you'd find a jazz guitarist.

 

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