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.
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.
The 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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