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Guitar Man July 23, 1997

A single new instrument can often change the history of music, and perhaps no other instrument changed music more in this century than the electric guitar. And no one shaped the evolution of that instrument more than Les Paul. In the ‘30s, Paul experimented with different guitar designs and pickups, and in 1941 he created one of the first solid-body electric guitars, which he affectionately refers to now as "the Log." Les still performs live and this week he celebrated his 82nd birthday.

UPDATE: Since this was published, Les Paul passed away on August 13, 2009.


Once upon a time, Les Paul played with his trio every week at a jazz club in New York City called Fat Tuesdays. In fact, the last time I saw the master play it was in the basement at that club. Alas, the famous hangout on Third Avenue is no more. But not to despair, Les now winds it up every week in the Big Apple at another jazz club, Iridium. At the newer club’s webstation you’ll find a tribute of sorts to Les Paul. It entails a Les Paul photo gallery with shots of Les meeting the town’s movers and shakers, including the likes of Dan Rather and ex-Mayor Dinkins. Of course, musicians from just about every genre of music also make the pilgrimage to see the master, including Slash from Guns ’n’ Roses and bluesman Gatemouth Brown. If you’re looking to wish Les a belated happy birthday, you can fill out a form here and send him an e-mail. And the site has started taking questions online for Les to answer, although nothing has been posted yet. Those planning a visit to New York can see the Les Paul Trio perform at Iridium every Monday night, and jazz fans should also check out the rest of the club’s calendar online.

Gibson Musical Instruments

Today, the Les Paul name continues to adorn numerous guitars. Coveted by players all over the world, some of the finest electronic instruments bearing his name are still played by classic rockers and alternative music denizens alike. At the Gibson Musical Instruments site, you’ll find dozens of Les Paul models to drool over. Go straight to the Gibson USA pages and you’ll come across the Les Paul line at the top of the list. You can read about guitars ranging from the Les Paul Classic Premium Plus based on the 1960 Les Paul Standard with its "slim taper" neck, maple top, and matched pickups to the Les Paul Standard Plus with its figured maple top and dual humbuckers. A little history--and hype--accompanies each photo, and the basic specifications are laid out for guitarists. For more models you can then skip over to the Epiphone pages and check out axes like the shining Les Paul Goldtop with its warm mahogany body and gleaming chrome hardware. Prices are not included at the site, but you can find dealer lists, and plenty of other product literature from amps to banjos. Surfing through this photo gallery of guitars and instruments made me wish I’d kept up with my lessons when I was 11 years old.

The Essential Guitar Guide

After guitar gazing, you might be tempted to pick up one of these beauties and learn how to play yourself. Fortunately, you can get some help online at the Essential Guitar Guide. Written by Dale Churchett this extremely well organized digital reference is currently free on the Net, although Churchett plans an expanded version that will only be available to registered users by the end of the summer. The idea of this guide is not so much to instruct readers on specific techniques for playing rock or jazz, but rather, as the author puts it, to give readers a "practical hands-on approach to music theory that directly relates to guitar playing in a working band situation." Sections here cover a study method for learning all the notes on the fret board to chord construction to turning major scales into arpeggios. The pages here are easy to follow and accompanied by attractive artwork. Supplemental material also at the site includes tips on buying your first electric guitar and some suggested listening material for beginners.

Carvel’s Guitar Page now defunct; try Harmony Central's Tablature

For guitar players looking to brush up on their skills and learn a few new moves, there’s Carvel’s Guitar Page. This free site created by Carvel Avis contains plenty of licks and tricks. Using RealAudio files and animated graphics, Carvel covers everything from jazz to classical to rock guitar. Follow along here to learn the dreaded Jimi Hendrix chord and the helpful half diminished scale, along with fret board diagrams and audio samples of how it should sound. And for those rapid runs up and down the scale that are so popular in rock, Carvel shows you a pick technique he calls the "three-to-a-string" approach that will save you strokes and make playing a rapid succession of notes easier. In all, there are about a dozen online lessons here. All are worth trying, and budding musicians will appreciate the extra practice time.

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