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Les Paul
Les Paul – RIP

Les Paul (June 9, 1915 – August 13, 2009) was an American jazz guitarist and inventor. He was a pioneer in the development of the solid-body electric guitar which “made the sound of rock and roll possible.” His many recording innovations include overdubbing, delay effects such as “sound on sound” and tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording. His innovative talents extended into his unique playing style, including licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing which set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired many of the guitarists of the present day.

In 1948, Capitol Records released a recording that had begun as an experiment in Paul’s garage, entitled “Lover (When You’re Near Me)”, which featured Paul playing eight different parts on electric guitar, some of them recorded at half-speed, hence “double-fast” when played back at normal speed for the master. (“Brazil”, similarly recorded, was the B-side.) This was the first time that multi-tracking had been used in a recording. These recordings were made not with magnetic tape, but with acetate disks. Paul would record a track onto a disk, then record himself playing another part with the first. He built the multi-track recording with overlaid tracks, rather than parallel ones as he did later. There is no record of how many “takes” were needed before he was satisfied with one layer and moved onto the next.

Paul even built his own disc-cutter assembly, based on auto parts. He favored the flywheel from a Cadillac for its weight and flatness. Even in these early days, he used the acetate disk setup to record parts at different speeds and with delay, resulting in his signature sound with echoes and birdsong-like guitar riffs. When he later began using magnetic tape, the major change was that he could take his recording rig on tour with him, even making episodes for his 15-minute radio show in his hotel room.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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