Legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul dies aged 94

Les Paul, the legendary guitarist and inventor whose technical innovations were fundamental to the birth of rock'n'roll, died today. He was 94.

According to Gibson, the firm which sold the first Les Paul electric guitars in 1952, "the world's most influential innovative guitar player and inventor" died of complications from extreme pneumonia in hospital in White Plains, New York. "He had been receiving the best available treatment through this final battle and in keeping with his persona, he showed incredible strength, tenacity and courage," it said in a statement.

Born Lester Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in 1915, he was a radio star in country, or "hillbilly" as it was known, and jazz by his early 20s. But it was for his creation of one of the first solid-bodied electric guitars that he would become most celebrated. Generations of guitarists, among them Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton, owed much of their sound to his invention. Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has said: "We must all own up that without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets."

It was not only for his guitar that Paul deserves credit: in the late 1940s he pioneered multitrack recording, which permitted a close harmonic layering of guitar and vocals.

With Mary Ford, his wife from 1949 to 1962, he earned 36 gold records and 11 No 1 pop hits, including Vaya con dios, How High the Moon, Nola and Lover. Many of their songs used overdubbing techniques that he had helped develop.

"There are always people who don't want to make changes, who are set in their ways," Paul told the Guardian last July. "It's just the same today. We know we are going to find new and better music."

"The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today," said Henry Juszkiewicz, the head of Gibson Guitar. "I cannot imagine life without Les Paul. He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyone's face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world."


Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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