Today, we celebrate a man so ingrained in our six string vocabulary that he has quite literally taken on the form of a guitar! That man is of course, the man, the myth, Les Paul.  While Les is known for his countless innovations to the guitar world, his contributions to the recording world are just as legendary.

Les Paul was a true musical visionary producing so many techniques used today in a time when it seemed near crazy! Let’s take a look at some of Les Paul’s greatest innovations and designs.

Multi-track Recording

That’s right, one of the single biggest bangs of the music industry came from Lester himself.  In today’s studio world where artists never need to see each other or even be in the same country to produce a song it seems crazy that the only way to produce music was by all players playing at the same time.

Les Paul changed history with his invention of Sound on Sound.  Sound on Sound allowed Les to record and layer track upon track on his songs without the need to have a guitar player playing per track.  This provided an incredible amount of freedom for Les Paul to create huge layers of guitars per track.  One of its first appearances can be heard on the classic “How High is the Moon”.

Live Triggered Backing Tracks

Now an almost guarantee at any live show due to the evolving world of touring, backing tracks provide musicians a chance to “fill in” the live show mix with, well, backing tracks.

A triggered backing track in today’s world are typically run by the drummer, keys player or MD.  These tracks run off programs such as Ableton so when a musician hits a queue it will play the sampled track or parts of the song. They are typically (and almost always) synced with the artist’s in ear monitor system.  Les Paul didn’t have it so easy.

In fact, when Les Paul had the need to produce extra tracks while performing with his then wife, Mary Ford, Les had to go to his trusty lab to find a solution.  The results was an invention called the Little Black Box a.k.a. The Les Paulverizer.  The Les Paulverizer was effectively a guitar mounted control to activate his Ampex reel to reel which was located backstage. Just like in today’s situation when Les Paul would play parts of his arrangement that required the tracks he would simply turn them on from his guitar and to the audience’s wonder a guitar orchestra would appear in real time! – Imagine how many people were trying to figure out how that happened back then?

Delay and Modulation

To say Les Paul was a wizard in the studio is an understatement.  Known for his constant experimenting while working on his reel to reel output of the playback head back into the record head it would produce a delayed note.  This new discovery created a whole new world of sonic territory and laid the foundation for what would become delay.

As another byproduct of Les pushing the sonic boundaries of what we knew, Les Paul discovered modulation.  Modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser for example) occurs when two signals are slightly altered.

For example:

  • If you modulate the time of frequency and mix that with the original signal you create a flanger
  • Modulating the volume of a sound you create a tremolo effect.
  • Modulating the pitch of a frequency you create the vibrato effect.
  • If you modulate the phase of a sound and mix that with the original signal you create the phaser effect.

Les Paul would learn to master these new tones in his recordings and would dazzle the world with the new tonal possibilities of the electric guitar.

On top of being known as the creator of the solid body guitar, a highly successful recording artist, shredding guitar player and innovator extraordinaire Les Paul’s legacy and contribution to the guitar world is unprecedented.  Today would have marked Les Paul’s 104th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Les, and thank you for being the first ever true gear head, boutique builder, shredder, designer and visionary that you were.