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Les Paul Dies at 94

Les Paul, inventor, guitarist and American icon, died yesterday at a White Plains, N.Y. hospital. The cause was pneumonia. He was 94.

Paul, born Lester William Polsfuss on June 19, 1915, in Waukesha, Wis., started his career as a child playing music in the streets with his guitar and harmonica. He played country music as a teen and eventually started playing jazz, all the while demonstrating a knack for technological innovation. In the early 1940s he attached strings and electronic pickups to a crude slab of wood and connected a guitar neck. Dubbed “The Log,” it was arguably the first solidbody electric guitar, an instrument that allowed for greater levels of amplification without feeding back and an unprecedented sustain of pitches. The Gibson company eventually tapped Paul to develop a solidbody model for mass production in the early ’50s, and it became, along with Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster, an archetypal electric guitar. The Gibson Les Paul has been favored by many of the most important blues, rock and jazz guitarists of all time, among them Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Kiss’ Ace Frehley, Freddie King, Hubert Sumlin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Gary Moore, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and even Paul McCartney. The guitar made Paul a wealthy man, but he never stopped trying to innovate.

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