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Les Paul Dies


Justin
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Really gutted about this. I went to his show in NYC in 2005, he signed my guitar and a poster and happily posed for a pic. While having a beer. At the age of 90. Having just played two shows. Amazing. He really couldn't have been nicer and I really feel privileged to have met him.

I guess he'll be remembered most for the guitar, but his real legacy is his pioneering of multitrack recording.

RIP Les. :(

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i never realised this news til today, seems a bit of a shame it was easy to miss as opposed to when other "legends" die.

saw him in NYC too, got a t-shirt, took some matches, didn't hang around though, kinda felt like they were used to people going to get autograph/stuff signed as they told people not to ask in between interval, probably as they knew he wouldn't say no, as did happen when i was there!

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  • 2 months later...

especially for Bigsby - a great tribute to Les Paul - how he went electric

Les Paul used to joke that a lot of people didnt know he played the guitar. "They think I am one," hed say with delight.

As father of the solid body electric guitar, thousands of musicians around the globe came to love and admire Les Paul and his famous series of Gibson guitars. Now Les is dead, and its hard to believe. Though he lived until 94, Les seemed so much younger. He was a great and funny man, and played right up until the end at his regular Monday night gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City.

When I moved to New York City in 1991, Les was one of the first people I met. My landlord in Los Angeles, a kindly old radio performer named Zeke Manners, knew Les well and offered an introduction, figuring wed get along. He was right. We became friends. Over the years, I did interviews with Les for various publications and was invited to interview him before a group of music industry executives in 2003.

Less contributions to the art of sound recording were many. In addition to the electric guitar, he was credited with creating sound-on-sound, over-dubbing, the electronic reverb effect and multitrack tape recording. He made the first eight track recorder in the late 1940s by stacking eight Ampex tape machines and synchronizing them. Old friend W.C. Fields dubbed the contraption "the Octopus."

There have been few men in the music industry to equal the vast talent of Les Paul. I feel very lucky to have had him as a friend.

Here are some written excerpts from interviews I did with Les Paul:

FB: Do you think of yourself primarily as a musician or an inventor?

Paul: A musician. The only reason I invented is I needed something as a performer that I couldn't buy. If something was missing, I invented it.

FB: Is it true that you invented the electric guitar because the conventional acoustic guitar wasn't loud enough?

Paul: In 1928 I'm playing in this little joint...a car hop in the country... and the people were complaining that I wasn't loud enough. I was singing through a telephone hooked to a car radio but you couldn't hear the guitar. So I just took a phonograph needle, jammed in the top of the guitar and it made it louder. And then I took the other half of the telephone, held that underneath and.....oh my goodness.

FB: You jammed the needle where in the guitar?

Paul: Right at the bridge, but the feedback came up with it too, so I had to keep moving my father's radio farther away. But it worked. The tips went up.

FB: How did you conceive the idea for multitrack recording?

Paul: That idea came about in the 1920's...long before tape recorders...with my mother's piano roll. You have to align a piano roll so it will play the right notes. I saw that the piano keys go down when there is a hole in the paper. I thought if I punch a hole somewhere else in that paper a key's gonna go down...and it did. There's a space on the roll with nothing on it. Now when the real roll came on...say it was Fats Waller playing something on the piano...there were a lot of places for me to play along with him. So I'd punch in extra holes and out would come extra notes. So I could make him play fifths, I could make him play thirds and I was having a field day with this thing. And so the first multiple ever made was with a piano roll.

FB: Sounds like the first multitrack recorder was also digital?

Paul: Yeah, and it was better than on a phonograph record which I got to next. And the reason being, is that as I slowed the piano roll down, the pitch didn't change, there was no change in the velocity at all. Now I didn't know digital or analog from a hole in the head, but I knew that when I put my finger on the record and slowed it down, the woman turned into a man, the record started to slow down and the pitch went down, but on the piano when you slowed it down the whole remained the same.

FB: The story is your mother was indirectly responsible for some of your breakthroughs in recording technology.

Paul: My mom came down to Chicago and she said I listened to you last night on the radio and you were good. I said 'Mom, I've been playing here at the theater with the Andrews Sisters, you must have been listening to somebody else.' And she said, 'Well if everybody sounds like you and your own mother can't tell you from another electric guitar player, then you'd better do something about it.' I thought about it and finally I went to the Andrews Sisters' manager and said I'm leaving. I'm going home and lock myself in the garage and I'm gonna create a sound that my mother is gonna be able to distinguish from anybody else out there in this whole world.

FB: And is that where 'sound-on-sound' came from?

Paul: That's where sound-on-sound developed from. I'd already been fooling with it, but I had to do a lot more than just sound-on-sound. I had to make different sounds on sounds to create the synthesis.

FB: How did you do sound-on-sound on a tape recorder?

Paul: It happened when I got my very first tape machine. Mary (Mary Ford, his longtime wife and performing partner) was hanging up the laundry in the back yard and I'm looking at the tape machine and she asks 'what are you thinking up now?' I said 'Oh, I have an idea here and it's crazy. We don't need the studio anymore. It can all be done with this tape machine.' By now Mary's got her clothes pins and gone. She's not even listening to me any more...and I'm saying to myself 'Hey, there's no reason in the world why I can't do my multitracking right here, sound on sound.' If I can lay one generation down and another generation down.

FB: I'm not sure I understand that, can you explain it?

Paul: There's a resonance point to everything. Tape has a resonance. Let's say that the tape is at 50 hertz and it has a two dB head hump. If you go down another generation you now have a four dB head hump. If you go down another generation you now have a eight dB head hump, then sixteen dB and there goes the square root and all of a sudden you say 'I'm gonna have one hell of a problem.' But I went 37 generations and it sounded like one generation. The trick is to do the least important parts first and do the most important parts last. If I'm playing my guitar and it's not important I might record that part first. But if it's my bass part or Mary's lead vocal or its my lead guitar, I put those on last.

FB: So you set a list of priorities and record them one part at a time?

Paul: That's right but you have to learn to think backwards. You cannot piece something together. Because now its sound-on-sound and it means that when you start recording you play to the end and if you make a mistake you must do it all over again from the beginning. Let's say you are twenty dubs in and make a mistake. You go back twenty dubs and start all over again. So you don't make a mistake.

FB: Les, tell me about the 1943 AEG Model K-4 Magnetophon tape recorder from Germany. How was it transformed into the first truly modern 1/4-inch tape machine?

Paul: I'll tell you the story of how the tape recorder came to America. I was working with Bing Crosby on the Kraft Music Hall in California and Bing says to me: "You know, I wish there was a way I could do like you do. You have all your (transcription and wire recording equipment) at home and you can record your stuff in your garage. I have to go down to the studio and do everything. I can't play on the golf course. I'd rather do it right at the club house if I could."

It just so happened that Judy Garland and I were doing a broadcast on Sundays in New York City. We had to fly from California to New York and it took 19 hours. We were playing at 53rd and Broadway and a little old man came up to me -- this was about 1945 or 46 -- and he said his name was Dick Ranger and he had a tape recording machine. He said he picked it up when we invaded Luxembourg in the big push to end the war. This was big news to me.

Colonial Ranger said he walked into a radio station and saw this tape machine and grabbed it. It was too big to carry or ship back so he dismantled it and brought it back to the States piece by piece. Colonel Ranger took this tape machine -- it was called a Magnetophon -- to Orange, New Jersey and put it back together. Then he made a copy of it he called the Rangertone.

Meanwhile, I go to Bing Crosby and tell him there's a man that nailed me at 53rd and Broadway with a tape machine. I said that's your guy. You can put that machine right on the golf course and you can record your show from there. Just get your trio to play behind you and there you go.

So Bing says find the guy and bring him out here. I called Colonel Ranger, brought him out to California, and he demonstrated the recorder at KNX, which is CBS out in Hollywood. Bing said I'll take 50 of them. But Ranger said he could only make one a year. This guy just wasn't a good businessman. Bing says I want someone who can make 50 of them and I need them now.

Well, there was another guy named Jack Mullin who also had one of the German recorders in his garage but he hadn't put it together yet. Finally, Mullin put his together and took it over to Ampex. The people at Ampex took a look and said let's go with it. But first, they said, they had to have some money...so they went to Bing for the cash. He said how much do you want? They said $50,000. Bing wrote out a check for fifty grand with no interest. He said I don't want any part of the Ampex company. I don't want anything to do with you guys other than have you deliver me those machines.

And so it was that I worked on the very first broadcast with tape (Bing Crosby Philco Radio Time, 1947). If one of the reels on that machine broke it could have killed five people in the room...it was going so fast. The tape that the Germans were using was made of paper. It was like fly paper. The Germans would just scratch some iron dust on it.

Later 3M provided the first version of "Scotch" recording tape to replace that German paper stock. So that's how the tape machine got to America. It just floated up on our shores and Ampex made a fortune from it. Let me say one more thing about tape, since I was there from the beginning. Anybody out there who thinks they've got something stored away on tape had better think twice because we don't know how long tape is going to last. It's almost like a (heart) bypass, unless someone stays around long enough to tell us we won't know how long it's going to work.

(Note: The EQ for Jack Mullin's re-designed circuitry of the 1943 Magnetophon became the basis for the NAB curve. The first pair of Ampex Model 200 tape recorders -- serial numbers 1 and 2 -- were delivered to Jack Mullin at the Bing Crosby show in Hollywood in April, 1948 to replace Mullin's original Magnetophons, which were being used to record the Crosby radio show.)

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  • 5 years later...

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