Guitarist Les Paul Remembered On His 100th Birthday

Musicians the world over paused on Tuesday (June 9) to remember inventor and guitarist Les Paul, on the day that would have marked his 100th birthday.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Les Paul is legendary for his contributions not only to recorded music, but also to the early innovations behind the electric guitar. Paul got his start in the industry that he would help transform as a country musician who performed on the radio, taking jazz gigs at night, according to NPR. Falling in love with jazz, he eventually made his way to Los Angeles by the 1940s, where he ended up performing with some of the biggest acts of the day, including Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters. Taking part in the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series, Les even jammed with Nat King Cole.

Les Paul found his breakthrough as a solo artist, with a number of innovative recordings he made in his own garage. Paul pioneered multitrack recording techniques which would go on to revolutionize the way in which music was put to tape. He also altered the speed of his recordings, making it appear that he could play faster than he truly did. His multitracked, heavily harmonized recordings with his then-wife, Mary Ford, made the pair international stars.

Just as his solo career seemed ready to take off, Paul was injured in a 1948 car accident, which irreparably damaged his right elbow. Les told the doctors to set it at a 90 degree angle so he could continue playing the guitar, and the appendage remained that way for the rest of his life.

Paul also famously helped develop the electric guitar, crafting a prototype he dubbed “The Log,” which was constructed from a four-inch-square railroad tie with a guitar neck affixed to one end. The instrument was one of the first solid-body electric guitars, and in the early 1950s, Les teamed up with the Gibson Guitar Corporation to manufacture the Les Paul model, an instrument that would go on to be played by Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and countless other musicians in every conceivable genre since. Earlier this year, one of Les Paul’s personal instruments, which dated from 1954, went to auction, as the Inquisitr previously reported.

Les Paul retired from performing in 1968, yet by the 1980s, he established a weekly gig in New York City where he hosted friends and pursued his love of jazz for the remainder of his life. Though arthritis robbed him of the speed of his earlier years, Les Paul continued to perform every Monday night, until just a few weeks before his death in 2009.

Though Les Paul didn’t live to see his centenary, a variety of events were held across the United States on Tuesday to honor him. As Ultimate Classic Rock points out, Hollywood, Nashville, and Waukesha all hosted events dedicated to Les Paul, while several took place in New York City. Peter Frampton was on hand at the Nashville ceremony, in order to help declare “Les Paul Day,” while numerous other musicians, including Steve Miller, Joe Satriani, Neal Schon, and Steve Vai, were set to appear in New York. A mobile exhibition, Les Paul’s Big Sound Experience, was also present in New York City, beginning a 40-stop-tour of the United States.

Though time has robbed the world of Les Paul, Tuesday’s events proved that his impact, and the admiration directed toward him, have hardly diminished over the years.

[Photo by Ron Burton / Getty Images]