Les Paul: the Real Guitar God, by Slash

Les Paul
Les Paul (Image credit: William Gottlieb \/ Getty Images)

When I was a kid I thought ‘Les Paul’ was just the name of a guitar. I started off with the Les Paul because it looked cool on guys that sounded cool, like Jimmy Page.

I didn’t know much about guitars technically, so it must have appealed to me aesthetically, or would have got a Strat, because I liked Jimi Hendrix, too. It was my grandmother who informed me it was actually the name of the person who invented the guitar. She turned me on to Les Paul’s records when I was 15, and I was floored by how melodic his playing was, especially in a jazz setting.

I was introduced to Les in 1991, at the Fat Tuesday’s club in New York where he had a residency. Someone says to him: “Les, this is Slash. He’s very popular”, blah, blah. And Les is like: [dismissive] “Yeah, right”. He seemed to be aware of Guns N’ Roses, but I’m sure it’s only because someone told him.

Anyway, I guess I made a nice enough impression, because he said: “Okay, come on up”. So I got up there and he completely destroyed me! I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to get off a stage faster in my life. I can’t remember what we played –some jazz piece–but it was so out of my realm that I was dumbfounded, just trying to pick a note here and there.

From that point on he seemed to take me under his wing, like my mentor, and every time I played with him I used it as a barometer of how I was developing on guitar. And our jam sessions improved. They had to.

The interesting thing about Les is that not only was he a remarkable musician – which is enough – but on top of that he was also this brilliant inventor-technician guy who spent his entire career inventing things he wanted to hear: multi-tracking, delay, reverb, overdubbing… all that fuckin’ stuff that we all use. Les was very quick-witted, loved the ladies, pleasant to be around.

I didn’t see him get too angry at anybody, but he was definitely the kind of person you didn’t want to fuck around with. It seemed like he had a little bit of a short fuse if you ticked him off. But he was really funny, very energetic. He loved to play guitar and hang out at the club, just get up and jam all night.

A lot of people want to be sad about Les, but it’s one of those few occasions when someone really important passes and you should celebrate his life, because he had such a fuckin’ great one. And he was 94 years old. He lived a lot longer, given his lifestyle, than a lot of people would expect. He was fuckin’ great, and I was so happy to have known him and played with him.

We’ll always use the name Les Paul. His name will always be around. And a Les Paul is definitely my guitar of choice. I don’t see that changing.

This was published in Classic Rock issue 137.