Listen to innovation

Not only did Les Paul have an vital role in developing the electric guitar, he was the man more than any other who manipulated sound using tape. He put a playhead in front of the record head in what was a single track tape machine.

Then he could splice the feed from the playback head back into the record head, along with another line from a microphone, allowing him to overdub the music. Essentially there would be two parts of music in the place of one. By repeating this again and again, he could build up quite a rich piece of music. The example above has 12 parts on one track while they play/sing another. The reason for the headphones is to hear the sound from the first playhead as they add onto it.

But what is incredible is he actually pioneered overdubbing techniques before tape came along (which was pushed by another innovator, Bing Crosby). He did the same sorts of things using acetate disks as the recording medium. He overlaid tracks to produce 8 different parts to a song, all done by using a every tricky medium to record.

Well, tricky because he built the machine to do it using old car parts. And by recording things at different speeds, he could produce sounds that were really unplayable outside the studio.

With the advent of multitrack tape machines (which were created partly because of his innovations), Les Paul’s approaches had even more influence but his work on recordable disks and early tape recorders created innovative approaches we still use today, even in a digital world.

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