Les Paul, creator of the electric guitar in 1941, passed earlier today at the age of 94. He’s probably known most famously by all for his signature line of electric guitars manufactured by Gibson and used by stadium rock heroes of the 70’s and 80’s (now copied by elementary school kids via Garageband/Rockband).
Creating something as culturally ubiquitous the world over is an amazing feat for anyone. Yet Paul also helped usher in everything from Pet Sounds, ‘Hammer Time’, whatever Lady GaGa is up to or even podcasts: he created multi-track recordings. This is the process of combining different tracks into one unified output. Your Apple GarageBand is an example. Every recording artist (pro or amateur) of the modern era in whatever genre/subgenre, classical, pop, hip hop to the various metal tribes takes his genius for granted every day. Paul’s use of sonic layering also helped lay the foundation for how software tools are structured that create graphic design and multimedia for the Internet.
In an age of crushing, almost Brazil-like bureaucratic suffocation and incompetence, governmental and private sector alike, how inspiring to remember one man (and his wife, Mary) can change world popular culture. He also was a major music star in his day with numerous number one hit records. Without entourages. Sans reality-TV shows. None of the self-applied slime of contemporary American celebrityhood. It’s true perhaps that for every Les Paul there is a Tucker. Who knows what gifts we haven’t been lucky to see from others unlike Paul who were unable to break through.
Perhaps one day the founders of Twitter will be remembered so by some future Metasphere commentator long after the trivial news cycles of our time are mercifully forgotten. But we bet even then someone will still be using multi-tracked audio and some boy or girl will pick up a guitar, hit a chord and dream.
We don’t own a Les Paul Gibson guitar. We’ve always wanted to play one. All the iconic guitar heroes back in the day (yes, kids, we had running water then) on stage wore their Les Pauls gunslinger low. We probably lost a slice of our hearing back at various ice hockey arenas in the pre Beta-VHS, pre cable TV days that way. The later advent of the then miraculous original Walkman didn’t help in that regard, probably. (That’s the other side to the Les Paul story – the invention of unidirectional cardoid microphones allowed each element on a stage to be miked successfully without feedback, giving birth to modern pop PAs and spectacle).
Earlier, we had for a short while a Gibson ‘down market’ copy of a Les Paul from their Epiphone subsidiary. Contrary to contemporary perceptions in some quarters, guitarists can be real ‘gear heads’ like computer geeks about the underlying technology and harmonic issues. As Les Paul showed, it’s not just the pickups but the wood and its construction. The non-U.S. made guitar was fine. But it wasn’t a Les Paul. No matter the pick-up tinkering.
We play a different guitar. One actually Les Paul didn’t care for and demanded Gibson remove his name from it. It’s a USA made Gibson (not Epiphone) ash SG with 6 pickups. Tonally, it runs from ‘Peggy Sue’ to ‘Live at Leeds’. Still not a Les Paul but more versatile. Maybe one day we will add one to the bunker. We’re getting on and it would be likely for little ones to pick up. (But then again, we could see the Stiftung — ala Nigel Tufnel — bark out ‘Don’t touch that !’).