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Les Paul, 1915-2009
August 13, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Les Paul, musician, pioneer of multitrack recording, and creator of one of the most successful and recognizable guitars in history, passed at the age of 94.

Known to guitarists around the world through the guitar that bears his name (built initially using a hunk of 4"x4" lumber), Les Paul also is credited with being the first to develop multitrack recording in 1955 to overcome the noise problem of using the overdubbing technique used at the time. Aside from releasing many popular jazz guitar albums throughout the 40s and 50s, he had a radio program and a short TV show with his wife, Mary Ford, in the early fifties. He won two Grammys for his 2005 album American Made World Played (bringing his total to 7), and even recently played regularly at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York. He has left a lasting influence on American music and culture.
posted by mrg (169 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by monospace at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by terrapin at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by kellyblah at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by ardgedee at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2009


. <--- Overdubbed!

I saw him in 2000 at the Iridium in NYC. He was a bit slower but still killed. Chances are, you probably heard something today that he invented.
posted by chillmost at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Inventor, innovator, tinkerer, musician. I think I'll listen to some of my favorite guitar pieces played on Les Paul guitars in tribute.
posted by fixedgear at 10:08 AM on August 13, 2009


It's inspiring how much he accomplished in his life and how he always pushed himself both creatively and technically. And to still be playing into his 90's is amazing. The Les Paul box is one of my favorites to listen to at night with headphones. I'm quite fond of most of the Les Paul and Mary Ford songs, but my personal fave is "Johnny Is The Boy For Me" - that guitar sound is other-worldly.

One of my favorite Les Paul stories is that when he shattered his right arm in a car crash in the late 40's he convinced his doctors to set his arm in the guitar picking position so he could continue to play. RIP.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:08 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


He had a great run.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 AM on August 13, 2009


Well, I guess I'll never get to see him at Iridium now. Should've done it years ago - it was always one of those things I never got around to doing. Sigh.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:09 AM on August 13, 2009


And we lose another essential creator of the 20th century.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:10 AM on August 13, 2009


bloody hell
posted by edgeways at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Navelgazer at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by HumanComplex at 10:13 AM on August 13, 2009


It's a sad day when I have to cross something off my lifetime "to-do" list, not because I accomplished it but because it isn't possible anymore. Attending one of Les Paul's jam nights at the Iridium was on that list. *sigh*

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posted by hippybear at 10:13 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by kathrineg at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by The Card Cheat at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Pecinpah at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2009


Word is that he played his weekly gig this Monday. Working musician till the end.
posted by daHIFI at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by chihiro at 10:16 AM on August 13, 2009


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multi-track recording explained + exemplified 40+ years ago.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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Guess I will plug in my $75 Lotus Les Paul copy and play a song or two tonight.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009



posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


. Love that he was performing until the end.
posted by octothorpe at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by bigmusic at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by toastchee at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2009


My guitar, one of many, gently weeps.
posted by adipocere at 10:18 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:18 AM on August 13, 2009


. Hard to imagine popular music over the last ~60 years without the influences of Les Paul and Leo Fender.
posted by mosk at 10:19 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by scrutiny at 10:19 AM on August 13, 2009


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Reading about his radio career, I am amused. Reading his wiki profile, I am astounded.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:20 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Tacodog at 10:20 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by shmegegge at 10:20 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by _dario at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by aerotive at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2009


They were touring in 1948 when Mr. Paul’s car skidded off an icy bridge. Among his many injuries, his right elbow was shattered; once set, it would be immovable. Mr. Paul had it set at an angle, slightly less than 90 degrees, so that he could continue to play guitar.

That's hardcore.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


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He's the Paul I'd rather have discussed on MeFi. Sad to see him go.
posted by ORthey at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2009


I can't imagine the last 50 years of history without all the stuff this dude literally invented.

He earned some rest! I hope he enjoys.
posted by sparkletone at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2009


. (Patent Applied For)
posted by tommasz at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by paulus andronicus at 10:27 AM on August 13, 2009


One of the greatest musical innovators and mensches of the 20th century passes into eternity. Like many of you, I'm now kicking myself for not getting my ass to one of the Monday night shows at the Iridium, but I did indeed get to meet him and shake his hand at an AES conference in NYC a couple of years ago, with my buddies Joe and Ron. Make sure to get a copy of The Language of Music with Tom Dowd, there's some great Les Paul footage (and outtakes), and it's a great doc about another amazing human. My 1970 Les Paul Custom is at my honey's place, but I'm gonna be sure to give it a hug this weekend.


posted by dbiedny at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2009



posted by geekyguy at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by motty at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2009


Thanks Les. Rock n roll would not be the same without you.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2009


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When I was a kid I lusted after his guitars. Never was able to afford one. I absolutely adore their sound.
posted by e40 at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2009


If you want an idea of the impact this guy had on the music world, The Current (Minnesota Public Radio) is playing a shit-ton of artists who play (or played) Les Paul guitars. Live feed link is on the site.

Also the Gibson site has a list of 15 iconic Les Paul guitar players.

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posted by caution live frogs at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Shohn at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2009


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Very sad day. I had a cheap Gibson Les Paul Studio guitar in the 90s. But it was a Les Paul! A real Les Paul guitar. I've always wanted a Les Paul ever since I was an Ace Frehley fan when I was little.

Still though, 94 is a good run. I hope we all get to live that long.
posted by cazoo at 10:34 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by weezy at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by The World Famous at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


E||--------
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posted by Spatch at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't be a musician today if it weren't for his innovations. The man was a genius. The irony that I'm bringing my Les Paul in to the shop to have it set up today... Rest in piece.

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posted by self at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Mali at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by fourcheesemac at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


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posted by lungtaworld at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2009


Here's Les performing with another of the finest guitarists of their generation, Chet Atkins
posted by deadmessenger at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2009


I can't even begin to imagine myself making music without multitrack recording or my LP (knockoff, but still). Thank you, Les Paul, for making it possible.
posted by malocchio at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by DaddyNewt at 10:41 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by el_lupino at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2009


The story of "The Log" is one of my favorite examples of the enduring power of creativity and imagination.

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posted by lekvar at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by rahnefan at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2009


I bought a used (1976 or 1977) Gibson Les Paul in 1985. It's followed me around on all of my subsequent moves...it's really the only tangible thing I still have from that period, and I'll be passing it on to my kid when he's big enough. Hopefully he'll be able to play it better than me.

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Thanks Mr. Paul, you were truly an innovator.
posted by dabug at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2009


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(Seconding hippybear's comment about the Iridium shows. Damn, damn, damn.)
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2009


There is Les Paul today than there was yesterday.
posted by sourwookie at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Saw him several times at Iridium when I used to work near there. He really seemed like he was communing with the music and just in his own world. I got the sense then (8 or 9 years ago) that he was living the good life and loving his work. We should all be so lucky.
RIP

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posted by mattbucher at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by threetoed at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2009


Well damn.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by SinisterPurpose at 10:50 AM on August 13, 2009


The Country Music Hall of Fame has one of the Log prototypes. It's pretty much a fence post with two halves of a peach box L-bracketed to the sides (since people "wouldn't accept an electric guitar that didn't look like a guitar"), and pickups at the bottom. They keep it in the archives, but since we were on a behind-the-scenes tour, the archivist took it out, and I got to hold it for a minute.

I'm not much of a sentimental man, nor unduly affected by artifacts, but holding that thing had to be one of the coolest moments of my life.
posted by klangklangston at 10:51 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


His contributions are, and will always be, immortal.
posted by rocket88 at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2009


i have an es-335, but i'm sure i wouldn't if it wasn't for les paul
posted by pyramid termite at 10:56 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by kimota at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by lalochezia at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2009


Too late to see him at Iridium.
Too late to match his energy and creativity.
But with his inspiration and a tail wind
I'll aim to keep playing my Les Paul
When I'm 94.

Thanks for everything, Les.

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posted by Herodios at 10:59 AM on August 13, 2009


I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I V
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:02 AM on August 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


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posted by lapolla at 11:02 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Ber at 11:06 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:08 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by brevator at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2009


Somewhere there's music
How near, how far
Somewhere there's heaven

It's where you are
posted by hortense at 11:10 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


In the mid 80s when I lived at 17th and 3rd in NYC, I would catch his show at a bar on 3rd (name escapes me now). I learned to appreciate music rather than just enjoy it from his shows. I will miss him.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:12 AM on August 13, 2009


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I saw him at the end of April at the Iridium. My wife and I went to New York for our 10th anniversary and one of my caveats was that we have to stay Monday night to catch Les Paul, I'm lucky we did. We went to the late show (he was still playing 2 shows every Monday night) and afterwards we waited about a half hour for him to come out and meet his fans. There was quite a line up of people with albums and guitars for him to sign. I didn't want his autograph, I just wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much I loved his playing. He was a frail guy, arthritis had robbed some of his fingers of their movement, but he still loved what he did, even at 1 in the morning, greeting a bunch of strangers.

RIP Les,
thanks for the music and your tinkering!
posted by phirleh at 11:14 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by JeffK at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by jlkr at 11:16 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Sys Rq at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2009


I just sold my Les Paul Standard this weekend. I am convinced this is his way of reminding me I should have kept it. Good bye sir, and thanks for everything.

With apologies to Spinal Tap:

The sustain, listen to it.
I don't hear anything.
Well you could, if he were still playing...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


RIP Les!

Took a special trip to NY last year to see him play at the Iridium. I consider him a hero and a true visionary.

Thanks for your light!
posted by goalyeehah at 11:23 AM on August 13, 2009


Not sure if it was linked above already, check out the documentary Chasing Sound. Rest in Peace Les Paul.
posted by fatbaq at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by disclaimer at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by ob at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2009


We were just watching a documentary about his life, music, and inventions the other day in my Mass Media class. No one under the age of 35 knew who he was. After being amazed by all that they learned about this singular man, I wonder what they will make of this news.

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posted by tzikeh at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2009


All guitar lovers should watch the BBC's The Story of the Guitar. Les is featured quite a bit.
posted by smackfu at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by cookie-k at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2009


Well damn. Just finished restringing my Les Paul. A damn fine piece of design that will remain iconic.
posted by blixco at 11:36 AM on August 13, 2009


There are a million Les Paul guitar stories in the naked city, and this one's mine (by marriage):

Mr. Padraigin had a Les Paul silverburst that he played back in his band days in Tempe, Arizona. When it was time to leave Tempe, he sold everything that had value, including that guitar, and headed to San Francisco.

He never stopped regretting it, and once he had a good job and some money, every now and then he'd check Craigslist or eBay, thinking maybe, just maybe, that guitar would find him. He once bought a different Silverburst, played it for a while, it wasn't the same so he sold it, bought a custom Telecaster instead. But he never stopped missing the sound and feel of that Les Paul. That specific one.

A couple of years ago he was telling my sister about that Les Paul about how he would know it when he saw it, about the belt-buckle rash here and the dent there and the cigarette burn on the neck. By then it had been ten, almost fifteen years since he pawned it.

The next morning, because it was fresh on his mind, he checked eBay. And guess what he found.
posted by padraigin at 11:37 AM on August 13, 2009 [16 favorites]


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posted by fire&wings at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2009


He was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I'm going to drive down the road named after him on my way home tonight, and while doing so, I'm going to listen to some music that wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for him.

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posted by quin at 11:46 AM on August 13, 2009


In the 1920s in Waukesha, WI, Les Paul's childhood piano teacher wrote to his mother, “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music.” Well, he proved that piano teacher wrong, that's for sure.
posted by blucevalo at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2009




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posted by snsranch at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2009



posted by Smart Dalek at 11:57 AM on August 13, 2009


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posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2009


So sad to hear this-- I'll be playing a Les Paul Saturday night to show my respect
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2009


I'll miss you, Rhubarb Red.
posted by Paid In Full at 12:03 PM on August 13, 2009


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(My 1960 Les Paul Standard Sunburst and I will mourn properly when I get back to my cave in San Pablo this weekend.)
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:11 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by sapo at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by mwhybark at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2009


Good story, Padraigin. It's surprising how many people have almost eerie stories about losing and then searching for belongings that carry sentimental value, and then eventually finding them against all (seeming) odds. Maybe it's just a small world. Maybe more.

People of a certain generation who didn't like jazz, loved Les Paul. He had a quality that transcended.
posted by cribcage at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by c*r at 12:28 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by dan g. at 12:37 PM on August 13, 2009


I saw him perform at the iridium with my wife (it was a surprise birthday present) a few years ago. It was a great night. He was funny, charming and a fun player to watch.

M==

Still my favorite performance!
posted by JBennett at 12:39 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:44 PM on August 13, 2009


Maybe the first celebrity death I've ever gotten sad about. He all but invented my favorite art form.

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posted by abcde at 12:54 PM on August 13, 2009


"Hold that tiger...where you been, you no good tiger" Mary Ford sang in harmony with herself accompanied by Les Paul
posted by Cranberry at 12:55 PM on August 13, 2009


94 yrs old is a good run.

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posted by Sailormom at 12:57 PM on August 13, 2009


There's a tribute video documentary I saw somewhere where he's playing with Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards and others who loved him. What an amazing life.

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posted by Seekerofsplendor at 1:00 PM on August 13, 2009


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(Re-stringing my loaner Les Paul knock-off in memoriam.)
posted by joe lisboa at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2009


You learn and learned something just by listening to him play.
posted by goalyeehah at 1:05 PM on August 13, 2009


I honor Les Paul for his inventions and playing and genius at marketing...but another musical innovator died last month. This is Les Paul's memorial thread and I am glad he is being honored...

but George Fullerton, inventor of the Fender electric guitar with Leo Fender (another genius at promotion), founder of both Fender Guitar Co. and G&L Guitars (G stands for 'George', L for 'Leo'), creator of the color "Fullerton Red", died last month. He got an obit in the L.A. Times and at CMT. He'd say that was too much; he was the shyest, most humble man I ever met. I've known the family for 27 years.
He never had a mean word for anyone, even people who said they'd invented things when they really hadn't. Not ever in private. He was the best Christian (in the true sense of the word) I ever knew. I miss him. He just didn't want the spotlight- although, if you play an electric guitar, most of what you think of as a guitar came out of his head; most of what you're playing out there in the lights was born on that little kitchen table in Fullerton, California, with a pencil in his hand.
Sorry, but I thought it had to be said.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 1:19 PM on August 13, 2009 [8 favorites]



posted by Schlimmbesserung at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2009


flowerofhighrank, you ought to make an awesome front page post about George Fullerton. I'm primarily a Fender player, and I would love to see that post.
posted by The World Famous at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2009


George Fullerton deserves his own post. It's a weird "BUT…" post. Les Paul, Leo Fender, George Fullerton, Freddie Tavares, Paul Bigsby, Jimmy Webster… they all had a role in modern music along with countless other tinkerers, players, marketers. Rather than being defensive of George's place in the shadow of Les Paul, just turn your paragraph into an FPP and let people read about his contributions and his life.
posted by JBennett at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2009


I'm a Strat man myself, but just this year I decided to pick up a Les Paul copy just for completeness. Damn he was one smart player. How High The Moon indeed!

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posted by djrock3k at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2009


Also, I don't think anyone every thought Leo Fender was a genius at promotion. Wasn't that Don Randall, Fender's president. Leo was known as a grumpy workaholic genuis who management kept away from the public and in the lab where his best work was done.
posted by JBennett at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by clearly at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2009


God bless you, Les Paul.

The guitar bearing your name played through a Marshall stack is one of the things that gives my life meaning.

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posted by black8 at 1:54 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


and one by one my heroes fall into their graves.

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posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2009


My '76 LP Custom is on the short-list of Items I Must Grab if There's Ever a Fire. Just above the cats.

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posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:59 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by fingers_of_fire at 2:01 PM on August 13, 2009


He is one of my only heroes. I wish I had gotten to see him play.
posted by nosila at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2009


My favourite guitar was a hollow body Epiphone Sheraton, copy of the Gibson 335.

Thank you for the music, Les Paul. RIP.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by badger_flammable at 2:20 PM on August 13, 2009


A real man and artist who deserves recognition and respect.
posted by 2sheets at 2:53 PM on August 13, 2009


Les Paul, sunburst finish - dang. The best electric guitar I ever got to play. Thanks for all the good times and tunes, Les! Lots of folks up in heaven waiting to jam with you.
posted by Lynsey at 3:13 PM on August 13, 2009


. (a moment of silence a then a few riffs on my Les Paul Special - TV yellow).
posted by christopher.taylor at 3:20 PM on August 13, 2009


So glad I got to see him live at Iridium, about 5 years ago. It was astonishing how clear, relaxed, likable, funny, passionate and youthful he seemed on stage and in his playing. At 89. Incredible. I liked his sweet face.

Just yesterday I was listening to some Hendrix, while writing on the Woodstock memorial thread, thinking how delicious the solidbody electric guitar sound is, how it thrills me to the core.

Vaya Con Dios Les Paul.
posted by nickyskye at 3:26 PM on August 13, 2009


For the Los Angelenos, here's where you can find his star on Hollywood Blvd. should you want to pay your respects.
posted by the_bone at 3:45 PM on August 13, 2009


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Forget the stupid hibernating blog, but here's a post I made after seeing Les play last October. You can click on the pic for a larger version. I love the look on his face.

I'm so glad I was able to see him then.
posted by kram175 at 3:47 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by paisley henosis at 4:38 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by MythMaker at 4:44 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Wolof at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by jonp72 at 4:55 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by futility closet at 4:58 PM on August 13, 2009


Damn.

There are very few things in this world that I would not, under any circumstances, give up - for any reason. One of those things happens to be my Les Paul Custom.
posted by bradth27 at 5:21 PM on August 13, 2009


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(my first metafilter silence! and for such a worthy man too)
posted by Think_Long at 5:58 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Kinbote at 6:35 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by kuppajava at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2009


I was sad til I realized it didn't say "Les Claypool." Whew!
posted by Eideteker at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by bardic at 6:49 PM on August 13, 2009


Saw him at the Iridium in 2004(?) and only vaguely knew who he was. He kept making jokes about the female band member's nice tits. I was the only one in the room who excused myself multiple times during the show to go outside for a smoke.

I wish that one of you guys had my seat, it was completely wasted on me.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:51 PM on August 13, 2009


For years, I checked the New Yorker's club listings to see if Les Paul kept his regular weekly gig (and WHY didn't I go see him when I finally got to New York?!?). I can't remember when I stopped checking, but it wasn't that long ago, maybe a couple years ago, and he was STILL listed.

He kept that gig almost until he died. That's something to emulate.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by keijo at 9:40 PM on August 13, 2009


Right when I saw the obit on some news site I rushed over here. And sure enough, a great thread on a great man.

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posted by telstar at 10:57 PM on August 13, 2009


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posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:52 AM on August 14, 2009


Nice collection of Les Paul videos.
posted by telstar at 1:42 AM on August 14, 2009


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posted by jiroczech at 1:42 AM on August 14, 2009


Questionable Content is on the ball.
posted by darksasami at 2:44 AM on August 14, 2009


An American original. With a 24.75" scale--and now with infinite sustain.

Vaya con dios. Mr. Paul.

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posted by rdone at 3:42 AM on August 14, 2009


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posted by RussHy at 4:47 AM on August 14, 2009


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posted by molecicco at 5:21 AM on August 14, 2009


I wouldn't have recognize Les Paul if I tripped over him. Which is why this commercial really made me smile.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice turn from the New York Times political blog:

Les Paul on Jimi Hendrix.
posted by sid abotu at 5:41 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:58 AM on August 15, 2009


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