Les Paul Interview
(American jazz guitarist and inventor.)
Some people really need no introduction, but we'll give him one anyway.
If you're a musician, you know who he is. If you're a guitarist, you might
play one of his guitars. It's an honor to present an interview with a musical
legend - Mr. Les Paul.
Q - Mr. Paul, you're probably one of the few guitarists to have a guitar
named after you, correct?
A - Yup.
Q - Did you approach Gibson or did Gibson approach you?
A - I approached them...for ten years! (laughs) and finally got it. I first
had to prove the idea that a solid body electric (guitar) was where to go,
that there was a place in the world for that. It was a great challenge because
no one seemed to be tuned into that frequency.
Q - Who designed the look of the guitar? You or Gibson? Did you have final
A - It was mutual. The reason it was mutual was because we wanted to get
the sound we wished without having a ten ton weight of the instrument. We
wanted it small because there was no reason to have it acoustic for sound.
It was gonna be all done electrically. When I designed the guitar, I did
not design it with the arch top. It was the president, their chairman of
the board that was a collector of violins. He had a Stradivarius in his
vault. So that afternoon we were designing this whole thing about making
the Les Paul solid body. It was a flat top. So he said "You want to
go look at some of my collection?" When we did, he said "Isn't
that beautiful?" I said "But, it's so expensive. It would be difficult
to do." "Not for us" he said. "We do that with our arch
top hollow bodies. We have the equipment to do that, where others don't." He
said "if you love the guitar as much as I do the violin..." and
I agreed with him; to have a beautiful instrument. That's where we went
with something that not only sounded good and was good, but it was something
beautiful. That is the guitar that we're most proud of. What a pretty looking
instrument it is!
Q - Yes, it is. Now, I consulted this book Off The Record by Joe Smith,
former president of Warner Brothers Records for this interview.
A - Sure. Know him well.
Q - He did an interview with you for that book.
A - Yes, he did.
Q - It was stated that from 1952 to 1964, the Les Paul was the biggest
selling guitar in the world. How do you know that? Did the company provide
you with sales figures?
A - Oh, they do all the time, although I never look at them. If you were
to ask me how many guitars we've sold, I will meet tomorrow night with the
president and ask him and I would guarantee you, he would not know either.
Q - It would be in the millions, wouldn't it?
A - Oh, my goodness.
Q - Tens of millions, maybe?
A - Yeah. You know, I've talked to the president, Henry Juskowitz about
where in the world all these guitars are going. Sales keep getting larger
and larger. We have no idea. A fellow said to me last night, "my son's
a collector of guitars." I said "how many does he have?" He
said "he has nine." I said "well, he's not a collector, he's
just a guitar player." (laughs) Nine guitars is normal.
Q - How many guitars would you have to have in order to be considered a
A - I guess 200 - 300.
Q - You'd have to have some serious money behind you to afford all of those
guitars. You'd have to be Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.
A - Well, I'll tell you what, if you buy a Les Paul, put it under your
bed and maybe water it once in a while and let it grow, you pull that out
two years from now and you'll have done better that if you spent it on buying
a house. The price goes up. It's amazing!
Q - Do you have a problem with knock-offs or bootlegs or imitation Les
A - Oh, I'm sure that we do. I don't hear about it as much as the president
(of Gibson). The knock-offs are so close you could hardly tell, if at all.
Is it a compliment? Yeah it's a compliment, but does it hurt us? Of course
it hurts us. I guess what happens is the Gibson people say take it to court
and stop 'em from making 'em.
Q - One company pops up and you put 'em down and another company pops up
in its place.
A - That's right. They wear you out. But, I guess the answer to that is
look how big it is now. The last I heard, 70% of all guitars made out of
the Gibson factory are Les Pauls. And, nothing could make me happier and
surprise me more than to hear something like that.
Q - That is quite a compliment.
A - That is more than a compliment, it's a good living. (laughs) It's a
comfortable living. It's a good instrument and a great friend to have.
Q - In your early days, your brother thought you were weird. Your mother
thought you were a genius. What did your father think?
A - My father was trying to catch a nurse. (laughs)
Q - I don't understand.
A - They were separated. My old man was out there having a good time. But
seriously, I loved my Dad. I was very close to him, but he didn't pay much
attention to my music ability or anything I was doing until it sort of became
recognized. Then one day he realized just what I was doing.
Q - Was Jimi Hendrix the greatest guitarist you ever heard?
A - He's one of 'em. Boy, he played great. And, there's a lot of great
guitar players out there. It just doesn't end. Each one has part of it.
None of 'em have all of it and that's what's so interesting.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved