The inventor of the electric guitar has gone off to the great amplifier in the sky. Les Paul was 94. The legendary guitarist remained active as a musician, guitar hero and will always be known by his namesake Gibson guitar, The Les Paul.
Paul had apparently already achieved a degree of fame as an accomplished musician when his desire to amplify guitars led to his innovation of wiring a microphone directly onto the body of a guitar and run that signal through an amplifier. Of all the innovators of the 1940s and ’50s who gave rise to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, Les Paul certainly deserves a big pile of credit for making it possible.
Paul told his story to Spinner.com, including this excerpt”
“And there was no such thing as amplifiers, so I had to build my own — I took my mother’s radio and I turned it into one. I did the same thing with a guitar. I just took the guitar and said, ‘Hey, it’s not loud enough.’ I was playing a little barbecue stand halfway to Milwaukee and some critic that was sitting in the backseat of a car, ordering a sandwich, wrote a note that said, ‘You know, what you’re doing right out there is great, but your guitar is not loud enough.’ So I went home and told mom about it. She said, ‘You’ll figure it out, you’ll figure it out.’ What I figured out was how to make that guitar louder and better. First, I took an acoustical guitar and ended up filling it with Plaster of Paris. I tried everything, and it finally worked. I said, ‘I’m gonna make two guitars, one out of wood and one out of a big long piece of railroad track and make both of them identical.’ I used the same telephone for a pickup, the part that you listen to on the telephone, the magnet and the coil. I placed that under the string and I was just playing through my mother’s radio. Between the wooden guitar and the metal one, the railroad track was much better. I ran to my mother, saying, ‘I found it! I found it!’ My mother said, ‘The day you see a cowboy on a horse playing a railroad track,’ and she blew me right out of the water with that. I said, ‘It’s got to be wood. Okay, we’re gonna make it the most beautiful piece of dense wood that will be as close to that railroad track as we can get with that good sound.’ ”
Paul was clearly ahead of his time: “In 1930, I was already playing on the electric guitar, playing in a little bar in Cleveland, in Rochester, some state fairs.”