Guitar Hero: Les Paul, 1915-2009

Les Paul tinkers with a control board - 1963 i i

hide captionLes Paul tinkers with a control board at his New Jersey home in December 1963. Paul died Aug. 13.

Dan Grossi/AP
Les Paul tinkers with a control board - 1963

Les Paul tinkers with a control board at his New Jersey home in December 1963. Paul died Aug. 13.

Dan Grossi/AP
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Purchase Featured Music

  • "How High the Moon"
  • Album: Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition
  • Artist: Les Paul & Mary Ford
  • Label: Capitol
  • Released: 2005
 

Guitarist and inventor Les Paul — who invented the device that made the electric guitar possible — died Aug. 13 at the age of 94.

Paul's contributions to rock 'n' roll went well beyond one gadget. He designed guitars — vintage models were selling for thousands of dollars even before news of his death came — and made the first multi-track recorder. He introduced innovations that established the recording studio itself as a legitimate musical instrument. And in doing so, he shaped much of the genre's sound.

He was himself a gifted musician, moreover, with his own radio and TV shows and many a Top 40 hit in the mid-century years. Fresh Air remembers him with an archived interview from 1992.

  • Guitar legend Les Paul died Thursday at age 94. Paul is credited with changing the music industry with the electric guitar.
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    Guitar legend Les Paul died Thursday at age 94. Paul is credited with changing the music industry with the electric guitar.
    Richard Drew/AP
  • Paul and his wife, Mary Ford, practice in their Oakland, N.J., home on Dec. 20, 1953. The duo earned 36 gold records and 11 No. 1 pop hits from 1949 to 1962.
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    Paul and his wife, Mary Ford, practice in their Oakland, N.J., home on Dec. 20, 1953. The duo earned 36 gold records and 11 No. 1 pop hits from 1949 to 1962.
    Dan Grossi/AP
  • Paul repairs one of the many control boards in his New Jersey home on Dec. 20, 1953. He popularized the use of multitrack recording, which has influenced many recording artists since.
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    Paul repairs one of the many control boards in his New Jersey home on Dec. 20, 1953. He popularized the use of multitrack recording, which has influenced many recording artists since.
    Dan Grossi/AP
  • Former Beatle Paul McCartney tries out a custom-made left-handed "Les Paul Lite" guitar presented by Paul himself, in New York City on May 1, 1988. Gibson Guitars began producing the Les Paul guitar in 1952.
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    Former Beatle Paul McCartney tries out a custom-made left-handed "Les Paul Lite" guitar presented by Paul himself, in New York City on May 1, 1988. Gibson Guitars began producing the Les Paul guitar in 1952.
    AP
  • Paul and blues guitarist B.B. King put their heads together during a jam session at the third anniversary celebration of the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York's Times Square, June 17, 2003. Paul holds King's signature guitar, "Lucille,"  which he played.
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    Paul and blues guitarist B.B. King put their heads together during a jam session at the third anniversary celebration of the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York's Times Square, June 17, 2003. Paul holds King's signature guitar, "Lucille," which he played.
    Richard Drew/AP
  • Paul and Chet Atkins (left) are presented Grammies by Dolly Parton and Freddie Fender at 19th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 19, 1977. Paul continued to win awards for his music well into the later years of his life. He was in the hospital in February 2006 when he learned he had won two Grammys for an album released after his 90th birthday, Les Paul & Friends: American Made, Wor...
    Hide caption
    Paul and Chet Atkins (left) are presented Grammies by Dolly Parton and Freddie Fender at 19th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 19, 1977. Paul continued to win awards for his music well into the later years of his life. He was in the hospital in February 2006 when he learned he had won two Grammys for an album released after his 90th birthday, Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played.
    George Brich/AP
  • Paul is presented with a National Medal of Arts at the White House along with Henry Z. Steinway (right), the great-grandson of piano maker Henry E. Steinway, founder of Steinway & Sons, Nov. 15, 2007.
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    Paul is presented with a National Medal of Arts at the White House along with Henry Z. Steinway (right), the great-grandson of piano maker Henry E. Steinway, founder of Steinway & Sons, Nov. 15, 2007.
    Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Paul continued to draw crowds even in recent years. Here he performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City on Feb. 26, 2007.
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    Paul continued to draw crowds even in recent years. Here he performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City on Feb. 26, 2007.
    Colin Archer/AP

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