How Incredible That every modern guitarist—hell, every musician who documents his or her sound on more than one track—owes at least a small debt of thanks to one man. And while Les Paul and his innovations belonged to the world, Guitar Player readers have enjoyed a close relationship with this extraordinary mind from the day Bud Eastman launched the magazine in 1967. Unlike some so-called geniuses who hoard their knowledge like pirate booty, Paul exhibited an almost missionary zeal in his desire to share his knowledge, reveal his secrets, help musicians make better recordings,unravel the mysteries of guitar tone, and evangelize the power of the solidbody electric. In fact, GP’s “Play Better, Sound Better” kicker on our covers is a small tribute to Paul’s mission.
To honor the relationship between the legend and every one of you now reading this tribute, the Guitar Player editors have decided not to serve up a biography that you can easily click to online (or by reading GP back issues such as the December 1977 Les Paul cover story). We’ve chosen a slightly more personal and interactive path.
First, inside a tattered paper folder from our archives, we discovered some old typewritten pages from Paul that, in their entirety, seemed to make up a “Tips from the Advisory Board” column. [Note: The GP Advisory Board was a group of stellar guitarists such as Chet Akins, Eric Clapton, and B.B King who would occasionally contribute to the magazine. As the music business became more commercial and management heavy, it was difficult to just “ring” Jerry Garcia or Howard Roberts, as we used to do in the ’60s and early ’70s, and we retired the original Advisory Board in 1998. Les Paul, however, never surrendered his membership.] We checked our index and past issues, and couldn’t find evidence that it had ever been published as a complete work. So, 35 years since the pages dropped into our mailbox, we’re finally including Les Paul’s “Starting Out the Right Way” in this tribute issue.
We also decided that, rather than writing something ourselves, we would let Les Paul speak about the guitar, sound, charisma, live performance, recording, and other subjects in his own words. We’ve collected some fabulous snippets of his tremendous musical wisdom from past GP issues for you to hopefully enjoy, learn from, and get inspired by.
Finally, GP Associate Editor Barry Cleveland— who penned the definitive recording tome about ’60s producer Joe Meek, Creative Music Production: Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques— details the evolution of Les Paul’s “new sound,” and his development of multitrack recording. In addition, Robb Lawrence—a friend of Paul’s who actually lived with the great man for a spell—tackles the difficult question of “Who invented the solidbody electric guitar?” Most media attributed the invention totally to Paul, but, as you’ll see, it’s a slightly more slippery tale. Also, GP Senior Editor Art Thompson studies why no one sounds like Les.
Obviously, no news report or magazine article or broadcast obit can comprehensively encapsulate the life of someone as monumentally influential to the guitar and guitarcraft as Les Paul. Here at GP, we can only wish that our readers remember him by the simple act of adopting his joyful sharing of encouragement and education to other players. Les Paul actively participated in the world community of guitar players, and he changed the community for the better— a boon none of us should ever forget. The least we can do is help keep the community thriving and evolving.