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One year ago: Les Paul

August 13, 2010 |  6:00 am


Les Paul was a Midwestern jazz man who became enthroned as rock royalty. Paul, who died one year ago, was one of the early innovators of the electric guitar, creating a brand name that has thrived long beyond the musical style that popularized the instrument.

Paul's guitars became so widely used during the rock era of the 1970s and '80s that he's often mistaken for inventing the instrument. Although he was not the first person to amplify a guitar, it was his work that enshrined it as a musical icon.

When Paul died, rock stars laid out the compliments for the man who spent much of his own musical career playing in jazz clubs. Joe Satriani called him "the original guitar hero," and the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards said "all of us owe an unimaginable debt to his work and his talent."

"When most people think of the electric guitar, they think of Les Paul," said Dan Del Fiorentino, historian for the National Assn. of Music Merchants, a trade group for the music-products industry. "He wasn't the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar, but he certainly made it famous."

Perhaps even more important than Paul's role in the electric guitar were his recording innovations.

To get a fuller sound on some songs, Paul tinkered with one of the first tape recorders to figure out how he could record one track at the same time he was playing back another track. It was the beginning of multi-track recording and sound-on-sound -- an essential approach to modern music-making.

For more on the music legend, read Les Paul's obituary by The Times, and see a photo gallery of his life.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Les Paul rehearses on Oct. 4, 2004, at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York before his regular Monday-night gig. Credit: Associated Press