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Local Les Paul Collector Reflects on the Musician's Death

Acclaimed innovator, entertainer, and guitarist Les Paul died Thursday from complications of severe pneumonia in White Plains, New York. KSMU’s Adam Murphy sat down with a local expert on Les Paul guitars and the history behind the legendary guitarist.

Les Paul made remarkable contributions to the world of guitars and music. He is most remembered for his developments in multi-track recording and the solid body electric guitar. His work as a performer includes his most recent Grammy-winning album “Les Paul and Friends”, which he recorded at age 90.

Tom Wittrock is the owner of the used and vintage guitar store Third Eye Music in Springfield. He is a host on the Les Paul Forum, and internet discussion group, and he’s been a collector of Les Paul vintage guitars since the 1970s.

“I’d say his biggest effects on the industry have to do with his recording and recording techniques that he pioneered. He pioneered the idea of multi-track recording. He and his wife Mary Ford in the 1950’s were doing all kinds of things that later became the standard for all of recordings. His influences started in that recording way. As a performer, he was rated the best guitar player of his time many different years throughout the 1940’s,” said Wittrock.

Wittrock reflects on a small exhibition performance where he heard the influential musician perform live.

“It was probably fifty to eighty people in a very small room where he did an exhibition of guitar playing, and it was phenomenal, one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life. It was much more intimate, and it gave you the idea of what this man was capable of doing without some big stage setup or an elaborate concert, thought-out, performance, and yet it was still phenomenal what he did both as a player and a demonstrator of the guitar,” he said.

Wittrock believes people know more about the guitar that bears Paul’s name than they know about Les Paul the man. He hopes that the passing away of the great guitarist will introduce a new generation to what Les Paul’s name on that guitar means, where he comes from, and who he was.

“I think the Gibson Les Paul guitar will continue to be one of the most popular guitar designs in the foreseeable future just because it was such a good idea in the first place, and I know he’s proud to have his name associated with those guitars all over the world. If he was nothing more than a guitar player, he’d be one of the greatest guitar players to ever live,” said Wittrock.For KSMU News, I’m Adam Murphy.