Les Paul: The Guitar, the Logo, the Legend

Yesterday, a deafening cry of disbelief was heard from every electric guitarist on the planet. Les Paul had died. He was 94. We all knew the day would come but the shock was seismic.

<a href=Les Paul guitar" width="300" height="400" />Guitarist, entertainer, pioneer, inventor, audio engineer, hit maker, Grammy winner, "Architect of Rock & Roll": Les Paul earned all of these titles. He's best known for creating the first functioning solid body guitar back in 1941. Other inventions include multi-track recording and special effects that changed the course of 20th-century music. If you could imagine a Mount Rushmore of innovation featuring Thomas Edison, Edwin Land, and Tim Berners-Lee, Les Paul would be in their company.

What was truly remarkable about "the legend" was how accessible Les Paul was. He chose to appear weekly at a small club in New York City because he just liked to play. His devoted following included special guests like Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton, who would stop by to pay tribute.

I purchased a vintage Les Paul guitar in 1968, while in high school. The $250 price was a fortune for me at the time. It was 1952 Gold Top, the first Les Paul model introduced by the Gibson Guitar Company. Today, as a collector's item it could command tens of thousands of dollars. A 1958 Les Paul Standard, the Stradivarius of electric guitars, with its cherry sunburst finish, is priced even higher.

les paul guitarThe Les Paul is a beautifully-designed instrument with a luscious, warm tone, and sculpted body. The script logo that's stamped on every guitar is not a typographic masterpiece. It's a simple signature and feels a bit like a naïve attempt at elegance. However, its global recognition and the product's high quality reputation, imbues this logo with a magnetism that has attracted a fanatically loyal customer for over fifty years. This logo is a classic and represents what every great brand aspires to be.

If you're not a guitarist, the name Les Paul might look like a French bistro. If you are a guitarist, I feel your loss. If you just love music, think about it this way: His life is the recorded history of music. Everything on your iPod can be traced back to him.

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Ken Carbone is among America's most respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany & Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie's, Nonesuch Records, the W Hotel Group and The Taubman Company. His clients also include celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.

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10 Comments

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • mikescheiner

    To Ken's point, this is an excellent example of a brand that has maintained both its image and perception for almost 70 years. I wonder, how many brands out there have this type of staying power and have maintained their value and growth without altering their logo or branding? Especially ones that are willing to put their signature on it. I would think very few.

  • Stephen Ang

    I am sad to say, I did not see/listen to Les Paul perform at Iridium in NYC. However, over the years, I felt his prominence whenever anyone spoke of his charisma on stage and certainty with the guitar. His influence on me was not through Gibson's instrument design, but in a studio with my Fender bass. With his insatiable appetite to explore multi-tracking, I had the opportunity to experience recording various instruments and voices with joy and ease. Thank You for your bright spirit and contribution Mr. Lester Polsfuss, to all who hear and are willing to listen.

  • Stefan Bucher

    Ah, Les... we'll miss him. I just got into his recordings again this year. Such a genius. Back in 1991, when I was just a teenage tourist in this country, I went to see him at his weekly gig at Fat Tuesday's in New York, and he was kind enough to sign a sketch I had made of him during the show. He was a sweet guy, clearly crazy, and clearly a blazing guitar demon until the end. Vaya Con Dios.