Les Paul, born in 1915, has been called the godfather of modern music, and for a good reason too. At an early age he took to tinkering in electronics, dabbling here and there in the realms of amplification, recording and guitar building. At the age of 13, he was busking and found that his audiences couldn’t hear him well. So he went home, “…took the electric pickup (cartridge and needle) from a phonograph and jammed it into the top of his guitar and fed the output signal through a wire to his mother’s table radio…”(Blakely n.d.), and successfully made his first electric guitar.
As he got older, his interests turned to recording. After acquiring a tape recorder, he added other playback heads to the machine to achieve his “sound on sound” technique. After this, he worked in unison with Ampex to build an eight-track multichannel tape recorder, and by 56 it was operational making it possible for others to work with the idea of “sound on sound”.
He built his first solid body guitar in 1941 by carving down a piece of 4 x 4 wood, gave it some pickups and called it “The Log”. After having Gibson deny his ideas on the solid body guitar, the competition from others like Fender in ‘46 got him employed and he built the Gibson Les Paul, “When I built it I didn’t make it for anybody else; I built it for myself”.
Having now built the guitar to be used by later iconic guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Les Paul paved the way for other rock musicians. Being an accomplished rock, jazz and folk guitarist himself, the guitar immediately resonated with musicians of the same genres.
The ‘70s band Led Zeppelin’s guitarist, Jimmy Page, used the guitar on numerous occasions, a stand out track being “Whole Lotta Love”, in which he plays fast, plays power chords or the “5” chord and with distortion. At the same time being an accomplished session musician, Page would also play in jazz like fashion like in the song “Since I've Been Loving You”. This proves the versatility of the guitar as well as inspiring specific types of guitar to be made for specific genres. The electric guitar had the ability to play rhythm or exhibit the virtuosity of the player.
In the 1980s Indie/Punk rock scene, the Fender Jaguar, a guitar used throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s, was used more as a sound source, with bands taking influence from “The Byrds” and “ The Velvet Underground”. Bands would play in a droney fashion or play long, sustained chords. The electric guitar was still central to rock, “…but not as a vehicle of personal, expressive virtuosity. Punk took a more confrontational approach, approaching the guitar more as an impersonal noise generator…”(Bannister 2006, p.121).
Not to mention the guitars used by heavy metal players made by brands like Ibanez, the influence of Les Paul in not only the amplification of recording, but the electric guitar as well, is astonishing. In having done this, he simultaneously influenced playing technique, timbre and helped made possible the playing to large audiences. All electric guitars today, except for the hollow bodies of course, can trace their heritage back to Les Paul’s and in a way that is quite ambiguous, has influenced most, if not all music today in which a guitar is played.
· Bannister, M. 2006, White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and the 1980s Indie Guitar Rock, Ashgate publishing Limited, Hampshire, England.
· Blakely, L. n.d. Progressions: Les Paul, The Mix Vol 6. No. 2. Viewed 30/4/11 2:56p.m. <http://mixonline.com/ms/les_paul/LP_interview_spread.jpg>