Rock N’ Rolls Greatest Inventor

When you hear Les Paul chances are you think Gibson. The man behind the self-titled machine, who’s guitar’s have been backed by the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Paul McCartney, is essentially the reason Rock N’ Roll has developed such an iconic and distinguishable sound. From an outstandingly young age, Les Paul’s curiosity and musical obsession led him to creating some of music’s most significant pieces of gadgetry.

In 1927 at the mere age of twelve, Paul unveiled his first noteworthy invention. Inspired by his favorite musician Pie Plant Pete, known for simultaneously playing the guitar and harmonica, Paul adapted a wire coat hanger into a contraption that could be worn around his neck to secure a harmonica while successfully playing a guitar.  Astonishingly, modern versions of this holder are still manufactured according to the twelve year old’s basic design.

Paul’s mechanical abilities continued to flourish throughout his childhood and into his junior high years. He next crafted his own crystal radio using a simple receiver that ran off power from radio waves that it received via an antenna. A few years later, he then built his very own radio station by using a one tube radio transmitter and extended the antenna to the roof,  so that he could be heard throughout the neighborhood.

By the time Paul was in high school he was regularly performing at clubs. Determined to improve as a player, Paul yearned to decipher a way to record his music. With a father who worked at an automobile dealership, Paul constructed a lathe with a discarded flywheel from a Cadillac, several endless belts and parts from his local dentist, and an old juke box motor, which with he was able to emboss his performances onto aluminum disks.

As his interests with amplification took shape, Paul decided to attach a broomstick to a cinder block as a makeshift mic stand, then using his mother’s telephone attached to a radio to sing into, he created a magnified vocal sound that emerged from the speaker. Though an successful invention, this new powerful vocal device led to another issue. No one could hear his guitar over the heightened vocal sound.

As a fix to this new found problem, Paul hoped to then amplify his guitar. In regards to this he once said,  “I took a phonograph pick-up and jabbed the needle into the top of the guitar, right at the bridge, to see if I could amplify the guitar. It worked but fed back, so I stuffed napkins, socks, everything I could think of into the hole to prevent feedback. I ended up filling it with plaster of Paris.” With this, the world’s first electric guitar had been invented.

It took Les Paul until 1941 to perfect the electric guitar. Paul had dropped out of school, moved to New York, and become friends with the workers at Epiphone guitar factory. Through this relationship he was able to spend time at the factory building and experimenting with guitar parts until he finished his first official electric guitar called, “The Log”. One piece of pine wood with the strings stretched a long it’s body, Paul was laughed out of Gibson when he went to pitch his new invention.

It wasn’t until Rock N’ Roll music became a national phenomenon, did Gibson reach out to Paul for his model of an electric guitar. Adapting a new shape, the Les Paul Gibson guitar transformed the music world and became a massive component to the sound that we deem as Rock music. Without Les Paul’s consistent interest and efforts in musical technology, it is difficult to imagine where music would currently be. Though only highlighting a few of his life long achievement, it is simple to acknowledge how crucial and impact Les Paul was onto Rock N’ Roll music.

–Victoria Shaffer

 

Sources:
Wadey, Paul. “Les Paul: Influential Guitarist Whose Technical Innovations Helped Create the Sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 13 Aug. 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/les-paul-influential-guitarist-whose-technical-innovations-helped-create-the-sound-of-rock-n-roll-1771897.html.
“The Inventions – Les Paul.” LesPaul.com, http://www.les-paul.com/timeline/les-the-inventor/.
Adams, Owen. “Les Paul: The Rock’n’roll Pioneer Who Didn’t Play Rock.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Aug. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2009/aug/14/les-paul-rock.
Utton, Dominic. “100 Years of Les Paul: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.” Express.co.uk, Express.co.uk, 7 June 2015, http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/582847/Les-Paul-Gibson-guitar-music-rock-and-roll-culture.

17 thoughts on “Rock N’ Rolls Greatest Inventor

  1. Nicely done. I’m an equipment “geek” (I study how the sounds were made as well as the people who made them), so I appreciate seeing a good overview like this. Roots rock owes a lot to Gibson’s ES-295 archtop. 🙂

    Like

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