Les Paul has died at 94, according to a press release. The electric guitar innovator succumbed to complications from pneumonia at a White Plains, N.Y., hospital today.
Born in Wisconsin, Paul gained some success as a country and jazz guitarist before he began experimenting with the instrument itself in the 1930s. By 1939, he had managed to create something known as “The Log” — a wood-based contraption, primitive by today’s standards, that was nonetheless a major step forward in electric guitar technology.
Paul’s recording career flourished as the 1940s went on, when he backed stars like Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters on a number of hit singles, while releasing his own music. Along the way, he essentially invented modern multi-track recording with 1947’s “Lover (When You’re Near Me),” for which he dubbed over a tape of his own guitar-playing eight times — an unheard-of technique at the time that rapidly become standard throughout the industry.
Paul kept on researching electric guitar design, and in the early 1950s Gibson Guitar introduced the Gibson Les Paul model, based in part on his ideas. Soon it became a key artifact of the rock & roll revolution, wielded by countless axe men in the rising genre: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and many more all used the Gibson Les Paul to craft some of their most memorable riffs.
Paul continued performing and tinkering in the decades that followed. As recently as 2005, he won two Grammy Awards for his Les Paul & Friends album. “It’s a shame so many kids don’t know about Les,” Slash told EW that year. “It’s hard to keep up with him. He’s 90 years old and he’s out there playing every week!”
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Photo Credit: Andrea Renault/Globe Photos