Passings: Les Paul

You know that you’re a success when your name is used to represent your creation and, in the same breath, endows in it a sense of quality and authenticity. I’m going to defer to the many guitarists who are mourning the 94-year-old Les Paul online today, who love what he created and did with his life — they are better than I am at describing how his work changed the world. But I want to acknowledge the passing of this man and what he accomplished.

By all accounts, a master with a guitar in his hands, Lester Polfus didn’t settle for what he had. He innovated, attaching amplified strings to a 4-by-4 piece of wood — lovingly called “The Log” — when he was dissatisfied with the volume of his acoustic guitar. Brought aboard by Gibson Guitars, he continued to innovate, developing the solid-body electric used by so many musicians, whose sound is loved by so many music fans. He is also credited for multi-track recording and numerous recording techniques. Always innovating, exploring and crafting new possibilities. I’m so proud to count him among the many talented and restless folks to come out of my home state of Wisconsin.

It’s a safe guess that Les Paul held a guitar in his hands nearly every day of his 94 years. But after he mastered it, he transformed it. It’s a sentimental cliche to talk about the big concert being staged every night in heaven. But I bet there are a lot of tributes tonight to the new guy, who inspired so many.

RIP Mr. Paul.

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