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 approval?
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 collector?
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 Paul guitars?
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.