NPR logo Guitarist Les Paul Dies

Guitarist Les Paul Dies

Legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul has died at the age of 94. Gibson Guitar is reporting Paul died of complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, N.Y. with his family and friends at his side.

Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

I remember the first time I saw Les Paul play guitar on television. I was probably in middle school at the time, and he struck me as one of the goofiest guys around. No doubt he was a gifted player. His fingers danced effortlessly on the strings, but he made playfully exaggerated faces and bobbed around. He had big glasses, and to a young kid he came off as a "nerd."

It wasn't until later that I learned this bubbly, gifted artist was credited with inventing the solid-body electric guitar, which ultimately made the rise of rock 'n' roll possible. It was hard to imagine the lines that connected Paul with bands like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. Without him, they may never have happened.

A tinkerer and musician since childhood, Paul also developed a number of critical studio techniques, including overdubbing, multi-track recording, and various effects, like tape delay. As a kid, he experimented with amplification.

Paul's first electric guitar prototype was a four-by-four piece of wood strung with steel strings, which he put together in the mid to late 1930s. He called it "The Log."

"I went into a nightclub and played it," Paul told the Associated Press. "Of course, everybody had me labeled as a nut." He eventually attached the body of an Epiphone guitar to his invention, making it look more like a normal guitar.

In 1952, Gibson Guitars began producing the Les Paul guitar, which eventually went on to become one of the most widely-used and imitated instruments in rock. Artists such as Pete Townsend and Jimmy Page made it part of their trademark sound.

By then, Les Paul had already made a name for himself as a songwriter and performer. From 1949 to 1962, he released 36 gold records and 11 number one pop hits, including "Vaya Con Dios," "How High The Moon," and "Nola." Paul made much of his music with his wife, Mary Ford. They even had a television program together.

In 2005, Paul released his first album of new material since his recordings made in the '70s. Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played featured guest appearances by artists such as Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton. At the time, Paul told the Associated Press "They're not only my friends, but they're great players. I never stop being amazed by all the different ways of playing the guitar and making it deliver a message."

I'm sure those artists would agree with Paul. He'll be greatly missed.