Modern music and the art of recording have much to thank the musician, Les Paul for.
Lester William Polsfuss was born in 1915 and lived to the ripe old age of 94. He was known around the world as a self-taught American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, songwriter, luthier, and inventor.
It is the inventor in Les Paul that brings me to today’s post.
After inventing the solid-body electric guitar (his prototype, called the Log, served as inspiration for the Gibson Les Paul) he went on to invent many innovations still in use today, including overdubbing (also known as sound on sound), delay effects such as tape delay, phasing, and multitrack recording.
It is to this last invention that I wanted to bring particular attention to.
At the beginning of audio recording, there was of course mono. Just about every tape machine I used (like the old Ampex 301) was a full-track mono recorder. Then, in the early 1960s came stereo two-track audio recorders. These (and a handful of 3-track machines like those used on the old mercury’s and RCAs) became the standard for recording—not for a different listening experience like going from mono to stereo, but to enable musicians to go from live studio recordings to the era of produced multitrack recording. Now, for the first time, recordings could be built in layers that could later be mixed into finished works.
And who was at the forefront of the multitrack recorder?
You guessed it, Les Paul.
In the mid-1950s, when the Ampex corporation devised the concept of 8-track recording, using its “Sel-Sync” (Selective Synchronous) recording system, it sold its very first machine to Les Paul for a princely sum of $10,000 – roughly three times the US average yearly income in 1957, and equivalent to $92,145 in 2020.
Wow. What a musician. What an innovator.
In addition to all his achievements, Les Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the only person in history to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
People like Les Paul come into our world only on occasion, and I love to celebrate their achievements.