The Solid Body Electric Guitar
The Why & How Of Les Paul's Inventions
As an inquisitive kid dad always wanted to know how stuff around him worked. He was always taking things apart and my grandmothers living room was no exception. What caught his attention, much to my grandmother's dismay, was the fact that she had a player piano in the living room, a Victrola , a radio and a telephone that dad could experiment with and see what made them tick. They were the important devices that ended up taking him down a path that would be the focal point of the rest of his professional career.
It started with grandma's player piano roll. Dad realized that by covering certain holes and punching new holes in the player roll, he could change the outcome of the song. When dad became involved with music, he found that he never was able to hear what he sounded like to other people while playing himself. This led him to want to create a music recording device. So at twelve years old dad went about building his own cutting lathe. This was the beginning of a life filled with inventions that not only solved his personal needs but changed the music industry forever.
When he first started performing after a show, he was handed a note by an audience member saying “Your act is great, but no one can hear your guitar.” From that day forward he knew he needed to get his guitar amplified if he wanted to make the big time.
"I was just curious," Paul explains. "My brother would just throw the light switch and was never curious to find out what made the light light. Well, as soon as my mother left the house, I had a screwdriver and the plates off and I'm gonna find out, if I get knocked on my ass, I'm gonna know that there's 110 volts there, whether it's alternating or direct current. I'm gonna know what's happening."
Player Piano Roll - He would punch holes in the roll to add notes, or tape them over to remove notes.
A copy of the disc-cutting lathe dad built.
In April 2015, Epiphone luthiers visited the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee to document Les Paul's original Log guitar.
Amplifying a guitar was a novel idea back in the twenties. There were many technical challenges to overcome with few modern resources available. But as usual, dad's need to accomplish his goal of his guitar being heard led him to use the resources at his disposal. This, of course, leads back to grandma's living room. From there he was able to secure an amplified signal from the radio and a pick-up from the telephone. There was one item that grandma didn't have, and that was an object that he could attach a string and electronics too. He found what he thought was the answer right across the street at the railroad siding. It was a piece of railroad track. It was undoubtedly rigid enough and wouldn't vibrate. When he told his mother of his discovery, she remarked: "The day you see a cowboy on a horse playing a guitar with a railroad track"… grounded that idea in a hurry and out the window it went. Dad realized that he needed something that's not heavy, but something that's very dense, very sturdy; something that's going to sustain the sound and be something that you love when you hold it, and he immediately thought of something like a woman! All roads led dad to the "Log"...
Jim Fisch's phone interview with Les about "The Log" and the Epiphone factory November 18, 1992
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Les Paul Solid Body Electric Guitar
Les Paul The Inventor Of The Solid Body Electric Guitar
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