by Michael Leonard
Les Paul will forever be associated with the Gibson solid body guitar that bears his name, but the late maestro’s achievements with recording technology were just as – if not more – influential on the scope of modern music.
In the early days of rock’n’roll, most records were simply the best live take a band could achieve. No overdubs, no tinkering. And some bands still like it that way. But even from the 1930s, Les Paul started experimenting with recording over his own playing so that he could play multiple parts in the same song.
From Acetate to Tape
In the 1930s, Les Paul began working on multitracking using acetate disks. Using really old-school wax disks, Les even built his own home-made disc-cutter assembly, based on automobile parts. Example? He favored the flywheel from a Cadillac for its weight and flatness. Even dentistry played a part.
“The other part we needed,” recalled Les, “came from my drummer who was a dentist. One time, he was cleaning my teeth and I saw all these dental belts, so I asked where he got them and I ordered some because they were endless belts and they were perfect for isolating the flywheel, the turntable and the recording device from any vibrations in the motor or even from trucks driving by outside.”