The night before his 90th birthday party, I had the pleasure to sit down with one of the most respected musicians of all time, Les Paul. Les and I talked about everything from digital music, old and new guitarists, the Gibson Epiphone line of guitars and Nova Scotia, the place where I grew up and live.
By the early 1950s Les Paul was one of the most popular guitar players in the world, but his contribution to the industry didn’t stop with his guitar talents or the
Gibson Les Paul guitar. Les is also recognized as the father of multi-track recording after playing six guitar parts in his 1948 hit “Brazil.”
I have trouble expressing what an honor it was to be sitting with this man. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet my fair share of famous people in my job, but Les Paul is the legends legend — he is the man.
Music and Guitars
Over the years, music and the way music is made has become more digitalized and relies much more on a digital process. The point we are at today is no surprise to Les who said he knew early on where we were going.
“It’s no surprise, we’ve been working towards that for a long time,” said Paul. “When I was a kid we had a player piano and a phonograph — I knew which one was going to win.”
While some musicians rely more frequently on the digital process to change the way the music sounds, Les points to the digital form as having some pros and cons. Changing tones digitally can give a guitar player sounds that they could never hope to get otherwise.
“That’s the advantage,” said Paul. “You can fill your dreams with the sounds in your head by alternating the tones coming out of the guitar.”
Even with the advantages of the digital tones, Les said he still liked some of the old time guitarists like Albert King and BB King better than some of the newer guitarists.
“It’s because of what they were saying,” said Paul. “It’s not the instrument; it’s the player. Guitars are on the rack by the thousands — one person can take a guitar and it won’t sound good, but another person can make it say something.”
When Gibson decided to make an Epiphone model of the Gibson Les Paul, he said he didn’t want to make a cheaper model of his namesake guitar. He wanted a quality instrument that would make people want to play.
“That’s the secret,” said Paul. “You make a guitar that people will fall in love with and want to play.”
Les said with a laugh that he had “too many” guitars and no real favorite to speak of. “I just pick up a guitar and play. I play everyday,” he said.
I hope you had a great birthday party Les. I appreciate the invite and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there — I really hope to hear you play one day soon.