His guitar style -- lightning-quick note picking, double-time rhythms and true-blue soul -- was heavily influenced by Reinhardt, but he credits Crosby with teaching him about timing, phrasing, and preparation.
Paul died in suburban White Plains of complications from pneumonia.
"He actually taught himself to play guitar in order to demonstrate his electronic theories," said Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. "All of us owe an unimaginable debt to his work and his talent."
A June 2012 auction of guitars and memorabilia owned by the late Les Paul, known as the godfather of the electric guitar, has raised nearly $5 million for a foundation in his name benefiting music education and innovation.
He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.
In 1948, he was nearly killed in an automobile accident in Oklahoma. He was left with a shattered right arm and elbow, which made him unable to play guitar. He spent over a year recovering, but was able to have his arm cast such that he could still pick guitar, although not as easily
He moved to Hollywood in 1943, where he was allowed to play with Nat King Cole at the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" show in Los Angeles on July 2, 1944. That same year, he was chosen to appear on a radio show run by Bing Crosby. Crosby was very impressed by Les' performance and decided to sponsor his new recordings, even performing with Les on a number of songs. One of the songs, "It's Been a Long, Long Time" became a number one radio hit in 1945.
He spent most of every Sunday in the factory while Big Band's big names serenaded New York hotels: Eddy Duchin at the Waldorf, Guy Lombardo at the Roosevelt, Benny Goodman at the New Yorker.
On his Sundays at the factory, he took a four-inch-by-four-inch piece of wood and attached the sides of a cut-up guitar onto it. There it was: a solid, non-vibrating guitar. The inventor-guitarist had redesigned some old tools—wood and string—into a new instrument. He dubbed it "The Log."
The Les Paul guitar, in and of itself, is a fine-fragranced, long-stemmed rose in the garden of modern musical instruments. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen once stood on a stage with Les Paul and said to him: "Without the things you have done, I wouldn't be able to do half the things I do."
Always searching for the perfect sound, Lester experimented with everything. His first Sears acoustic guitar ended up “stuffed with socks and rags and filled with plaster of Paris.”
Les was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915 when the small city was ending its heyday as a resort destination. He was the second son of Evelyn and George Polsfuss.
Chester & Lester is a beautiful and fun album by two masters. It was recorded in the mid-'70s when Chet Atkins was in his fifties and Les Paul was in his sixties. The latter had been in retirement for a decade before the recording of this album. Nashville studio musicians, including Randy Goodrum on piano and Larrie Londin on drums, back up the master guitarists, but this is by no means a country album.