When you talk about Les Paul, you have to talk about two equally important spheres of influence. There´s the great guitarist who played jazz, country music, blues, and rock and roll, and then there´s the tireless inventor whose many innovations really were game changers for musicians and audio engineers.
As a player, Les Paul played with many of the greats of the golden age of jazz such as Art Tatum, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, as well as early jazz influenced pop musicians such as The Andrew Sisters and Mary Ford (with whom he was also married for 15 years).
Les Paul began playing music professionally as a teenager. As early as thirteen, he was performing as a country music singer in his home state of Wisconsin, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica.
It was during his early adolescence that he not only began playing music live, but also began what was to become a lifelong fascination with sound, and a compulsion to tinker with musical equipment. For example, have you seen those harmonica holders that folk singers wear around their necks? That was a Les Paul invention! He wasn´t even in high school yet, and he had already modified a wire clothes hanger to come up with the first hands free harmonica holder. The commercial harmonica holders that are manufactured today still adhere to Les Paul´s basic design.
It was also during his early formative years playing country music that he first attached a phonograph needle to his acoustic guitar, and ran the signal out through a radio speaker in an early attempt at amplification. However, what were undoubtedly his greatest contributions to the world of music have to be his inventions of the solid body electric guitar, and his pioneering of modern recording techniques.
In the late 1940s he helped lay the groundwork for multitrack recording with his single ¨Lover¨ which featured eight guitar parts that he layered by ¨bouncing¨ tracks using an Ampex Sel Sync tape machine.
As for Les Paul´s being the inventor of the solid body electric guitar in the late 1930s, this was borne out of his frustration with existing electro acoustic hollow body guitars. He felt that these instruments were overly susceptible to feedback, and that they were unable to produce the level of sustain he desired. In order to rectify these problems, he decided to mount the guitar´s neck, bridge, strings, and pickups directly onto an unexceptional 2 by 4 inch piece of wood. The result was the aptly named ¨the log¨.
Paul was eventually able to sell the popular guitar manufacturer Gibson on the concept of a solid body electric guitar, and after a few iterations, the classic ¨Gibson Les Paul¨ —perhaps the most iconic signature model guitar— was born.
The legendary Les Paul shows off his prowess on the guitar and then shows off his invention, his “Little Black Box” or the “Les Paulverizer.” He also talks with Merv about his early days and his mother’s influence on him. Merv Griffin had over 5000 guests appear on his show from 1963-1986. Footage from the Merv Griffin Show is available for licensing to all forms of media through Reelin’ In The Years Productions.