To say Les Paul was an innovator would be the greatest of understatements. Although we might take his inventions and ideas for granted in 2017, his influence on the development of music—and the way it is recorded—is immense.
He saw the technological limitations of his day not as an impediment, but as a source of motivation to think outside the box and find his own solution.
That sort of thinking led Paul to create his own alternative to what he saw as the tinny, thin-sounding guitars of the day. With the help of Epiphone, Paul developed a solid-body electric guitar that he affectionately dubbed "The Log." While "The Log" was promising, it paled in comparison to what Paul would develop with Gibson years later.
Their collaboration, the Gibson Les Paul, would change popular music forever; it remains one of the most iconic and respected guitars ever created. Similarly, when Paul became dissatisfied with the sound of his own hit records (He was a highly influential jazz and country guitar player), he looked for ways to create a fuller, richer sound.
This led to experimentation with multi-track recording, not to mention a series of game-changing hits with his wife, Mary Ford. Today, the 102nd anniversary of the late, great Les Paul's birth, Guitar World pays tribute to one of music's greatest creative minds by checking out 10 of his greatest guitar moments—at least in terms of what's available on YouTube. Enjoy!
Les Paul, Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King and More, All Star Guitar Jam
Ever wanted to hear what would happen if Les Paul, Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King, David Gilmour, Brian Setzer, Steve Miller and Waylon Jennings got on stage together and cut loose? Well, in the video below, you can hear (and see) how Les Paul's inventions and playing style have been passed down through generations of guitar heroes. It's fascinating, and a total blast to watch.
Les Paul, "The Paulverizer"
Here, Paul demonstrates one of his greatest inventions, "The Paulverizer." With this "little black box," as he calls it in this video, Paul could "take my guitar here and multiply it into an orchestra." Imagine seeing a rock band today without a pedal that performs this function.
Les Paul and Chet Atkins, "Stompin at the Savoy"
What people often forget about Les Paul, amongst his countless inventions, is that he was an incredibly talented guitarist. This video, shot at New York City's Iridium in 1996, shows perhaps the two most influential country pickers of all time sharing stories and, in the video's second half, creating some truly gorgeous music together.
Les Paul and Mary Ford, "Alabamy Bound/Darktown Strutters Ball"
This video, taken from one of Paul and Mary Ford's five-minute TV spots from the early 1950s, is fascinating. Though the hokeyness of the spot places it "squarely" in the Fifties, the two songs Paul and Ford lay into, with Paul's frenzied playing and Ford's multi-tracked vocals, still sound fresh 60 years later.
Les Paul, "Sleepwalk"
This video, also shot at the Iridium in New York City, shows that even in his final years, Paul never lost it. Performed with the Les Paul Trio, this version of "Sleepwalk" has some of the most pristine, evocative playing you will ever hear. Not bad for a guy who was celebrating his 90th birthday the night this video was shot.
Les Paul and Mary Ford, "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise"
In this video, taken from another one of Paul and Ford's early Fifties TV spots, Paul is simply on fire. Though the term "shredding" only entered the popular lexicon a few decades ago, it's hard to describe Paul's mesmerizing playing in any other way.
Les Paul and Steve Miller, "T-Bone Shuffle"
This delightful video shows Paul jamming on some classic T-Bone Walker with the one and only Steve Miller. One particularly great moment comes when Miller has a bit of trouble getting his Strat ready to go, prompting Les to quip, "and that's why I play a Les Paul!"
Les Paul, "Dark Eyes" and more
Shot at the time when heavy metal was first starting to rise to mainstream prominence, Paul's playing in this live video is simply incendiary. The speed and chops Paul displays in these performances could've made anyone from Eddie Van Halen to Kirk Hammett blush.
Les Paul, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
Chances are, unless you've spent your whole life under a rock, you've heard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at some point. But chances are you've never heard a version that sounds like this. Paul's haunting, jazzy leads do wonders for the unforgettable melody and make it an emotional listen.
Les Paul and Steve Vai, "Summertime"
Shot at the Hollywood House of Blues in 1998, this meeting of two guitar legends is a classic example of old school meeting new school. With far fewer notes, Paul is able to gamely keep up with Vai's blinding pace and craft a beautiful musical contrast.