Les Paul

Les Paul entered this world on June 9, 1915 — 37 years before the iconic guitar that bears his name did the same. He departed on August 12, 2009 at the age of 94. But his legend and his legacy live on, not only in the Gibson Les Paul model and it’s many variations and imitations, but in his other inventions and refinements that are part of daily life for musicians and listeners alike.

Those include multi-track recording, reverb and delay effects, tape manipulation, extended playing techniques and the home-recording concept. And, of course, the sound of the Gibson Les Paul guitar echoing across the decades and into the future via timeless recordings made by Les and myriad other greats such as Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Warren Haynes, Gary Moore, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Joe Perry, Randy Rhodes, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Mick Ronson, Dickey Betts, Gary Rossington, Toy Caldwell, Marc Bolan, Mick Taylor, Joe Bonamassa, Peter Frampton, Robert Fripp, Zakk Wilde, Don Felder, Neal Schon and… well, you get the drift.

But this year, as Gibson Brands prepares a major celebration of Les Paul and his legacy, it’s also important to remember that there’s something else about Les that makes him an iconic figure whose essence is still vibrant and present six years after his death. Les embodies the entrepreneurial heart and restless drive for invention that’s an important part of the American spirit. In an era racked by unemployment, racial tension, global warming, war, domestic gun violence and other dilemmas, Les is a reminder of the goodness and the potential in all of us and in the American Dream. Les remains proof that Horatio Alger stories sometimes come true, that a boy from the sticks with big dreams can grow up to make a lasting positive contribution to the lives of millions of people.

Another thing: Les the demi-myth would not be so enduring if Les the man had not been such a warm, open and generous human being. Everyone who saw him perform was swept up in the delight he emanated and shared while playing the guitar, in his relentless stream of silly jokes and by his generosity in sharing the stage with not only the greats but aspiring players — for whom he always had a kind word and a pat on the back. Anyone who was lucky enough to encounter Les offstage found the same person: friendly, smiling, welcoming, full of great stories and, again, those irrepressible jokes. Every famous musician who admired Les and was lucky enough to spend time with him, from Jeff Beck to B.B. King, would say the same.

And there’s more. Les gave away ideas for inventions like a kid sharing his box of Cracker Jacks. He wanted everyone to benefit from his ideas, regardless of how or through whom they reached the public. And speaking of kids – to whom Les was especially kind and encouraging — Les also established the Les Paul Foundation. The Foundation’s missions include awards to music, music engineer and sound programs that serve youth as well as grants for medical research and programs related to hearing impairment.

Look for much more about Les on these pages during this important Les Paul anniversary year ahead — stories celebrating his inventions and achievements, his recordings, the instruments that bear his name, and Gibson’s initiatives to honor all of the above. But most important, remember Les as not only a genius inventor and musician, but as a man who truly cared about his fellow man and found joy in that. And perhaps, in that caring, he left us his brightest beacon.