Les Paul, the ‘father of the electric guitar’ and the man behind one of rock and roll’s most popular guitar, the Gibson Les Paul, has died. From the Rolling Stone:
Les Paul, one of the most revered guitarists in history and the father of the electric guitar, passed away last night, August 12th at the age of 94. Paul’s manager confirmed to Rolling Stone that cause of death was respiratory failure, and a statement from Gibson indicates Paul was suffering from severe pneumonia and died at a hospital in White Plains, New York.
Almost every professional guitar player in rock and roll seem to own a Les Paul. Neil Young has a really special one, called Old Black:
Cradled in a stand in front of the amps is the fuse for the dynamite, Young’s trademark ax – Old Black, a ’53 Gold Top Les Paul some knothead daubed with black paint eons ago. Old Black’s features include a Bigsby wang bar, which pulls strings and bends notes, and a Firebird pickup so sensitive you can talk through it. It’s a demonic instrument. “Old Black doesn’t sound like any other guitar,” said [Larry] Cragg [Young’s guitar technician], shaking his head.
For Cragg, Old Black is a nightmare. Young won’t permit the ancient frets to be changed, likes his strings old and used, and the Bigsby causes the guitar to go out of tune constantly. “At sound check, everything will work great. Neil picks up the guitar, and for some reason that’s when things go wrong” [p. 8 in Shakey, Jimmy McDonough’s Neil Young biography].
More about Old Black in McDonough’s Shakey:
Young came to [sit in on a gig with the Rockets, the earlier band of the members of Neil’s legendary back up band Crazy Horse] armed with the weapons that have become crucial elements of his rock and roll sound: Old Black, a 1953 Gibson Les Paul, plugged into a 1959 Fender Deluxe. The guitar came from Jim Messina, who found the instrument’s monstrous sound uncontrollable. “Neil’s the kind of guy that if there’s an old scraggly dog walkin’ down the street, he’d see somethin’ in that dog and take it home. That’s kind of like the Les Paul – I liked the way it looked, but it was just terrible. It sounded like hell. Neil loved it,” said Messina.
Young bought the Deluxe for approximately fifty bucks in 1967. As Young told writer Jas Obrecht, he “took it home, plugged in this Gretsch guitar and immediately the entire room started to vibrate….I went, ‘Holy shit!’ I turned it halfway down before it stopped feeding back.” The Les Paul/Deluxe combo, which remains the cornerstone of his sound, would make its thunderous debut in Young’s music on his very first record with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [p. 298].