Thursday, August 13, 2009
Les Paul, inventor of the solid-body electric guitar, died at 94 in White Plains N.Y. Although both Leo Fender and Adolph Rickenbacher independently invented solid-body guitars near the 1939 date that Les Paul build his first model--called "The Log"--it was his design that was immortalized when Gibson Guitar Corp. licensed his name for their first solid-body guitar in 1952. The Les Paul guitar remains the longest lived and most popular solid-body guitar model today. Les Paul also invented many commonly used recording techniques include overdubbing, tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording.
Les Paul was born "Lester William Polsfuss" on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wis. His grade school piano teacher told his parents that he would never learn music, but by high-school he had learned the harmonica, banjo and guitar. At 10 he invented the harmonica holder with a coat hanger. As a teenager, he amplified an acoustic guitar by by wiring it into a tube radio after adding a home-made electronic transducer--today called a guitar-string pickup--he made from ham-radio parts. He recorded his songs with a homemade multitrack recorder made from a Cadillac flywheel and a belt from a dentists drill. Unfortunately, feedback plagued his amplified acoustic guitar in concert, because of the strong resonance associated with the dimensions of their hollow body, prompting him to invent a solid-body guitar which did not feedback on stage.
Besides its lack of feedback, Les Paul's guitar also harnessed the vibrational sustain of a solid piece of wood to length the time that notes would sound. Acoustic guitars depended on the resonance of a hollow cavity to increase the volume of sound coming from a guitar, but at the expense of shorter sustain. Les Paul's solid-body guitar, on the other hand, sacrificed volume for longer sustain, then used an electronic pickup to compensate for the lower volume by amplifying the sound.
Today electric guitarists continue to use electric models that are based on these principles established by Les Paul and Gibson over 50 years ago. The Les Paul "Standard" model has remained unchanged by modern innovations from 1958 until today. The Les Paul is used by many guitarists to this day, including icons like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Slash of Gun's N' Roses.
Gibson has introduced many different alternative models of the Les Paul guitar over the years, including the Les Paul Robot Guitar that debuted in 2007. The Les Paul robot guitars include all the modern gadgets that could be strapped onto the original design, including motorized self-tuning, digital signal processing and acoustic modeling that enables the guitar to mimic the sound of other popular models from Fender, Rickenbacher and others.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 6:15 PM