Paul began performing semiprofessionally as a country-music guitarist at the age of 13 and at 93 he still performs weekly at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. “It’s therapy,” Paul said.
He built a solid-body electric guitar in 1941, inspired after he played at a barbecue stand between his hometown of Waukesha, Wis., and Milwaukee and a man told him his guitar wasn’t loud enough.
After trying to sell the Gibson guitar company on his invention for 10 years, Gibson introduced the Les Paul model in 1952.
“They thought it was a crazy idea to make a guitar come through an amplifier,” he said – but musicians such as Duane Allman and Jimmy Page quickly took a liking to the guitar.
Paul is also responsible for coming up with recording techniques like close miking, echo delay, overdubbing and multitracking. As a jazz-pop musician he recorded hits like “How High the Moon” with his second wife, singer Mary Ford. He’s currently working on designing four new amplifiers and two new guitars for Gibson.
“I’m very grateful to the generation that came after me and picked up the instrument and carried on with it,” Paul said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”