American Masters: Les Paul

I’m a huge fan of music; all kinds, but I lean to the modern. I love rock-n-roll, techno, [some] country, and just about everything in between.

And when you talk of modern music, there is one man whose inventions and accomplishments impacted modern music more than anyone else.

Les Paul.

PBS’s American Masters has now covered Les Paul. Amazing show; interviews with the man himself accompanied by contributions from many others and plenty of examples of Mr. Paul’s amazing recordings.

Excellent show.

If you are in New York City on any given Monday evening, go see Les Paul live at the Iridium Club.

I have been three times and it was amazing. Every single time. Given that Les invented basically all of the technologies behind modern rock-n-roll — from the electric guitar to multi-track recording to overdub — you never know who might show up.

(Funny — the part where Paul McCartney is relaying a story to Les on stage … that happened at the Iridium on a night I was there. McCartney was sitting at the next table. That is just how the show works.)

The first time I saw him, I went with a friend that did a bunch of engineering work with Les in the early years (50s or so) and we sat and chatted with Les Paul until about 5 in the morning.

About inventing, engineering, life, and everything… For the Make crowd, there is your poster child right there– amazing.

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8 Responses to “American Masters: Les Paul”

  1. Houman says:

    What’s your take on Robert Moog’s contributions, especially from a modern perspective?

  2. bbum says:

    Obviously, Moog had huge impact in that his synthesizers were widely used and colored the sound of many a popular record. But he had nowhere near the impact of Les Paul; Moog’s synthesizers were neither the first, nor have they remained the dominant force in electronically generated music for decades.

    Paul’s electric guitar was a first and the fundamental design — metal string vibrating over a coil to generate a signal that can be amplified — remains unchanged to this day. That one invention enabled the entire rock and roll genre.

    Beyond that, Paul’s multi-track recording and overdubbing were ground breaking technologies that enabled smaller and smaller groups of people to make recordings that sounded like full bands or entire choral groups.

  3. I love Les Pauls!!! says:

    Great show. Les Paul is amazing.. the man and the guitar.

    Moog.. what can you say. I’ve been dreaming of getting a mooger fooger or moog delay for my set up for years.


  4. Joe Germuska says:

    Les Paul really seems like an amazing guy. I haven’t watched the American Masters yet but it’s on the TiVo. I was hit with a strong wave of admiration and affection for Les when he was part of a feature on American Routes in May.

    In my mind it’s the multitrack recording that is really revolutionary. I guess there’s no reason to privilege one over the other, but how wonderful that one person did both. And when you hear him interviewed, he’s so humble and cool.

  5. Houman says:

    I’ll definately check out the documentary. Nothing beats a good documentary.
    Coming from a love of (authentic) Hip-Hop music myself – Roger Linn is a personal favorite of mine.

  6. Charles says:

    I saw the show, and I was saddened when Les Paul played at the end, seeing him wracked with arthritis and barely able to pick out a slow tune. As a guitar player myself, I couldn’t possibly go see his show today, it would demoralize me completely. I talked to a friend of mine who also plays guitar, he just watched the show, he’d even seen Les Paul about 25 years ago while he could still play pretty well, and he agreed with me.
    One other note on the show, I am irritated at Les Paul for taking such poor care of his personal collection of historic guitars. But as a guitar builder, he must regard them like an old auto mechanic with a backyard full of junked classic cars.

    Anyway, I would never play anything but a Les Paul. The best guitar I ever owned was a ’59 Les Paul Jr. (one single-coil pickup, SG body shape) that I bought for $350 back in the ’80s before classic guitar prices went insane. Stupidest thing I ever did, selling that guitar.

  7. Ibanez Guitars says:

    A guy as cool and influential as les paul deserves to have the best guitar names after him. Les Pauls RULE!!! I have a ’72 LP Custom and it is just awesome.

  8. Ibanez Guitars says:

    The best instruments for me are Ibanez RG super-strats, they just play like a glove, and scream like no other guitar, I cant imagine finding a faster playing piece of craftmanship, and to be fair the range now that they offer is awesome, the andt timmons model is lovely :OP

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