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February 2004

H.E.A.R. Honors Les Paul

Les Paul is a unique blend of musician and inventor. His performing career started at the age of 13 and by the early 1950s he was the greatest jazz guitarist of his generation. The Les Paul Trio, which included his talented wife Mary Ford, produced such hits as "Tennessee Waltz," "Mockin' Bird Hill," "How High The Moon," and "Vaya Con Dios." He also won a 1977 Grammy with Chet Atkins for the album Chester and Lester.

As an inventor, Mr. Paul's breakthrough creation of the solid-body electric guitar paved the way for electric music made the sound of rock and roll possible. In 1953 while performing with Bing Crosby, he perfected the first muli-track recording machine, allowing separate lines of instrumental music and vocals to be blended together. His many recording innovations--including sound-on-sound, overdubbing, reverb effects, and multi-tracking--greatly accelerated the advancement of studio recording.

By 1952 Les Paul was not only the most popular guitar player in America, he was also a leading innovator in guitar and electronics design. He had been experimenting with electric guitars for as long as there had been electric guitars. He had once mounted a guitar string on a railroad tie to confirm his belief that a solidbody guitar would maximize sustain, and he had incorporated a mini-railroad rail-a 4"x4" piece of pine-into the body of a homemade solidbody electric guitar he nicknamed "TheLog."

Les had approached Gibson in the '40s with his ideas for a solidbody electric guitar, but Gibson was already leading the industry with archtop electric guitars. Furthermore, Gibson had always been very conservative when it came to aligning with artists. In 50 years, only two players had their names on Gibson models: Nick Lucas, an early guitar star and crooner whose "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" was the biggest record of 1929, and Roy Smeck, a multi-instrumentalist so talented he was nicknamed "The Wizard of the Strings."

In the early '50s, when the solidbody guitar first became commercially viable, Gibson designed an instrument that would change the image of the solidbody electric from a simple plank of wood to an elegant, stylish piece of art. Such a guitar would be a radical move for a traditional company like Gibson, but Gibson had been founded on the radical mandolin and guitar designs of Orville Gibson back in the 1890s. This new model would have the same carved-top contours that had set Orville's instruments apart from all others.

With the new model almost ready for market, Gibson approached Les Paul, the obvious choice to help launch it. Les was already intimately familiar with the unique characteristics of a solidbody electric guitar. And he was at the top of his career. His 1948 hit, "Brazil," featured six guitar parts, all played by Les in a virtuoso demonstration that would eventually earn him recognition as the father of multi-track recording. When he combined his guitar and electronic talents with the vocals of his wife Mary Ford, the result was gold-two million-selling records in 1951, "Mockin' Bird Hill" and "How High the Moon."

The Les Paul Model, as it was originally called, has changed little since its debut in 1952. Except for an updated bridge and humbucking pickups, the Les Paul Standard of today is still the same guitar. The Les Paul has been the driving force behind many changes in popular music. It powered the blues rock sound of the late '60s and the southern rock of the late '70s. By the '90s the Les Paul was providing signature sounds for every genre of rock, from alternative to metal.

We are thrilled at H.E.A.R. to honor Les Paul as our featured artist of the month! The music industry and the world owe Les a great debt of gratitude.

H.E.A.R. will be auctioning off a very rare Gibson 100 Year Anniversary Les Paul Guitar during May Better Hearing and Speech month. There were only a very few made folks! Please check back with us for more details.





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