Les Paul was a genius of the mad scientist variety; and while he was not the first man to tinker around with guitar and amp to make the heavenly fusion of steel and electricity that we so lavish today, his success in the field of innovation crowned him as the father of the Gibson Les Paul, effectively making him the granddaddy of rock and roll.
His ingenuity didn't end there however. Apparently this musical madman wasn't satisfied with his demi-god child, the solid body electric guitar, so he went on develop a playing style which heavily incorporated licks and trills, essentially setting the foundation for the music we all love today. Les Paul was heavy on experimentation, both within the studio and outside. Multi-track layering, echoes, slap guitar and even shredding were used by this man all the way through his career. Even after a near-fatal accident in 1948, wherein his right arm and elbow were completely shattered, he requested the surgeons repair his arm at an angle perfect for him to continue playing guitar, despite the fact that his arm would remain permanently in this position. If that's not hardcore, we're going to have trouble finding you anything that is.
It was in the 1940s, when Les was only in his mid-20s, that the electric guitar as we know it was born. At first his experiments fell short of his expectations, he wanted only the strings to vibrate and nothing else, creating a clean and crisp sound with no distortion from the acoustic box. Eventually Les Paul hooked up a 4”x4” block of pine wood with strings and a makeshift pick-up made from a microphone, the solid wood body meant there were no acoustic nuances to corrupt the sound of the strings. He named his fabled God-Child "The Log".
In 1941 America was dragged into World War II while Les was still recovering from the aftermath of his triumph: he had been electrocuted in an accident following a jam session in his basement, supposedly he had incurred God’s Wrath with his gift of guitar to mankind. However, despite his injuries, he was swiftly conscripted into the U.S. Army to aid the fight against the Nazi’s. Armed with the power of rock, he was obviously too great an asset to waste on the front lines, so instead he was drafted into the Armed Forces Network, where the screeching echoes of his guitar would pulsate across the battlefield into euphoric shockwaves, invigorating the spirits of soldiers and ultimately leading the allies to victory, (End Dramatization.)
After his time in the armed forces, Les Paul approached Gibson with his electric guitar design. At the time Gibson could not see the severity of his work, calling it "a broomstick with pickups", and questioning its practicality to the performer. As a result, Les Paul was beaten to the market by Leo Fender in 1948, who introduced the first mass-produced solid body electric guitar; (And if you didn’t already guess, that was the ‘Fender Broadcaster.’)
It didn’t end there for Les however. In the same year as his defeat at entering the market of mass-production, he unveiled his super-creation, “Overdubbing.” Using a modified tape recorder he could overlay tracks onto each other in the same way multi-track recording is used today. The original tape could support up to eight tracks, which some may think was more than enough for the needs of the Guitar SuperGod, until the shocking revelation that his first multi-track record "Lover (When you’re near me,)" used all eight tracks. And all of them were his electric guitar, to top it off!
Just in case the immensity of his achievement hasn’t sunk in yet, almost every single piece of music recorded in studio today uses multi-track recording. Apparently being the future father of rock and roll wasn’t enough for this man, so he had to go on and pioneer the rest of modern music. Les Paul is often credited as a jazz, blues and country guitarist, but it would be doing him a complete disservice not to credit the wide musical integrity of his playing. Over the years he has demonstrated his proficiency in playing both legato and tremolo, his technique being described as "Watching a locomotive go", and understandably, he has served as one of the greatest influences to modern rock guitar.
Furthering that, Les Paul's studio experiments were some of the first to attract widespread attention to the medium. Overdubbing, delay, phasing and multi-track recordings were relatively unheard of until then, but once Les Paul came out with songs such as "In the Mood", where he used his guitar as percussion alongside his lead playing, their popularity rocketed, later inspiring guitarists such as Jimmy Page to take up the same endeavour.
It's no exaggeration to mark Les Paul as one of the grandfathers of modern rock and roll. His contribution to the trademark instrument is immense, and his dedication to it's stylistic evolution continues to blaze a trail even after his death in 2009. As his conductor once noted during the 1940's "You could always count on him to come up with something no one else had thought of ."