Legendary guitarist, inventor Les Paul dies, age 94

Thu Aug 13, 2009 2:48pm EDT
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul, who pioneered the design of solid body Gibson electric guitars that bore his name, died Thursday at a New York hospital of complications from pneumonia. He was 94.

The rock 'n' roll icon was playing regular gigs at a New York City nightclub as recently as a few months ago until he began battling a series of illnesses that put him "in and out of the hospital," his attorney Michael Braunstein said.

"At 94, it's hard to fight a lot of stuff," Braunstein said. "He's a historical person. He certainly has left his mark here on Earth and had many, many friends."

Paul had been a dominant force in the music business since World War Two. He and wife Mary Ford enjoyed a string of hits in the 1940s and 1950s that included "Mockin' Bird Hill" and the influential "How High the Moon," which featured some of Paul's recording innovations, such as multi-layered tracks.

A passionate tinkerer, Paul created one of the first solid-body electric guitars in 1941, but it took nearly 10 years before he, working with Gibson Guitar Corp., perfected it. In 1952, the Les Paul Goldtop became an instant sensation that still impacts music, especially rock 'n' roll.

In the years that followed, Gibson released Paul's Black Beauty, the Les Paul Custom, Les Paul Junior, and 1958's Les Paul Standard, with its revolutionary humbucker pickups and sunburst design that has remained unchanged for 50 years

Tributes from the music world poured in as news of Paul's death spread.

"He was one of the most stellar human beings I've ever known," said former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, who described Paul as a friend and mentor.   Continued...

<p>Les Paul, pioneering U.S. guitar player and leading innovator in guitar and electronics design, is shown in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters August 13, 2009. REUTERS/Gene Martin/Gibson Guitars/Handout</p>