We have lots to thank Les Paul for; however, Les Paul was NOT the inventor of the solid body electric guitar, nor did he have much to do (if anything) with the iconic instrument which bears his name.
While not the first, Les was experimenting with different ways to amplify the guitar back to the 1930s. We would like to believe that this relentless experimentation led to the development (by others) of the pickups and combinations of materials and components which made Rock ‘n’ Roll possible (by the 1950s).
The first commercial solid body electric guitars were Rickenbacker lap steel guitars, first made in 1932. The first solid body electric bass arrived in 1935. Later “Electric Spanish” solid body guitars were made by Bigsby and others, and the 1949 Fender Broadcaster (later renamed “Telecaster”) guitar was the first solid body electric spanish (not a lap steel) that was mass produced. When Gibson saw that a little company out in California was getting good money for a neck bolted to a plank of wood, they knew something had to be done. The result was the “Les Paul” model of 1952.
Les did have LOT to do with multi track recording, especially “sound on sound”, multiple overdubs (by one player) to sound like many players. Les was involved in the early development of techniques and the machines themselves, starting with Ampex (1948). While the first multi track recording was Sidney Bechet (1941), that was done by recording onto acetate records, playing them back, and recording onto ANOTHER acetate record, Les was the first to have a hit record (1948) using a multi tracked tape recording. Les’ work with Ampex helped to develop the first multi track tape recorder. Now, individual tracks could be recorded without having to erase the previous takes, greatly speeding up music production. No longer would it take hundreds of tries for one player to get EVERY track “just right”, where one bad track meant having to go back and re-record the tracks which came before.
The other thing about Les was that he as a performer, a true showman who performed nearly every week up until his death at 94. Les used the sound on sound recordings as part of his act, claiming he was recording loops live on stage (he wasn’t, they were pre-recorded, as evidenced by occasional on stage missed notes that played back “correctly”). Still, that only created a demand for stage products which now can actually do what Les imagined in the 1950s. Les was a visionary, an artist and showman, and an inspiration to several generations of players and music lovers. He will be greatly missed.
We recently discovered that Les Paul’s estate auction included his Smokey Amp (in a cigarette box) and we couldn’t be more flattered. We’re honored to have been part of his collection.