Les Paul, 94, a Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso and inventor of the solid-body electric guitar who helped bring his instrument to the forefront of jazz and rock-and-roll performance, died today at a hospital in White Plains, N.Y. He had pneumonia.
Paul first came to prominence for his fast and flashy jazz-guitar style, which backed such entertainers as Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he and singer Mary Ford, his wife, had hits with “How High the Moon,” “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Vaya con Dios” and “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise.”
All along, he refined musical inventions in his workshop. He was an early designer of an electric guitar that had a solid body, and his model managed to reduce sound distortions common to acoustic instruments.
He actively promoted such guitars for the Gibson company, and the Les Paul line of guitars became commonplace among such musicians as bluesman Eric Clapton and rockers Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page.
Paul called his first solid-body guitar “the Log.” It was made of a four-inch thick piece of wood from a nearby railroad track, a neck he borrowed from an Epiphone guitar and two pickups to give it the electric pulse. Audiences and music executives laughed at the ungainly device, and he spent years honing its visual appeal.
Photos by Dan Grossi-AP/Richard Drew-AP.
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