(Les Paul, 1950)
Les Paul: Here’s Mary Ford ready to sing…
Mary Ford: Les, I think you ought to tell them about that little guitar you just played with the weird sound.
Les Paul: Oh. Well, that guitar is about eighteen inches long and it’s tuned about an octave higher than a big, standard guitar. And that’s how we get that different sound.
Les Paul: You get the beat going and then we plug one guitar in the Les Paulverizer…Well listen….
Les Paul (to Mary Ford): All you have to do now is stand over there by the Les Paulverizer and mumble into the microphone and your one voice will sound like a whole room full of voices.
Les Paul was a guitar virtuoso, inventor of the solid-body electric, innovator of tape-recording techniques — and weaver of fantasies. On the first episode of his radio show, the Les Paul Show, he led listeners to believe his trio was performing “Nola” live; in fact, what they heard was a recording on which the guitar had been taped at half speed. This — not a miniature instrument — was the reason for the weird, high sound of the guitar. Paul also spoke on his radio show of the “Les Paulverizer” — a “magic box” that multiplied the sound of one guitar or one voice into many. In fact, it was multi-track recording – the process of playing and recording each line, one at a time — that produced Les Paul and Mary Ford’s distinctive, layered sound. By employing misdirection, rather than simply secrecy, about his tape-recording techniques, Les Paul added imaginary instruments to his real ones, and produced collective fantasies around the technologically and humanly possible.
Sound: Les Paul Show, 5 May 1950
Image: Les Paul, The New Sound (Capitol Records, 1950), reproduced from Brian Kane, “Acousmatic Fabrications: Les Paul and the ‘Les Paulverizer,'” Journal of Visual Culture 10 (2011): 220.