Les Paul’s most famous recording studio was in his Hollywood garage where he invented the industry-changing techniques of overdubbing, sound-on-sound, reverb, echo, phase shifting and more. When he added the extra head to his Ampex tape recorder, he recorded anywhere he got the sound he wanted.
How Les Paul Affected Music
The Lathe, The Octopus & The Console
From Player Piano to 8-Track
Les Paul: In His Own Words
The home studio
The sound we were able to get in our homemade studio we were never able to re-create anywhere else. And we tried. Sherman Fairchild flew out to California with his top people to try and duplicate the garage to the last letter. They took a tape measure and measured everything down to the inch, drew out detailed plans, and then reproduced the whole thing in Long Island City, New York. Precisely the same dimensions were used with identical materials Transite, the whole bit, but it didn’t work. The sound wasn’t the same, or as good. But it wasn’t just the sound. Judgment also played in important part, and I am convinced this is a gift. You don’t get it out of a book or achieve it by practicing. It’s like going down to the store to buy rhythm or perfect pitch. You can’t do it. These things are God’s gifts. So it’s not only the studio, or the artist. The producer and the audio engineering are equally important. This was the beginning of the era that has become common today, where one person can write, produce, arrange and perform. I was doing everything myself right down to delivering the masters to the label.
Creating the New Sound – 1947
“Lover” was the first recording where I attempted to combine all of my inventions and effects, the hot pick ups, the varied disk speeds and my different playing techniques into a mult-layered recording where I played all the instruments. It was eight layers deep, with the first layer being the percussion. You’d lay your first track down on a disk, then listen back and play something along with it while you use the second machine to record the combine sound on a second disk. You repeated that step as many times as it took, discarding one disc after another, until you got those first two tracks blended just right. Then you take that two-layer disk, move it over to the playback machine, and repeat the process adding the third layer, the fourth layer, and so on. Each time you added to track, you were mixing it with everything you layered before onto a fresh disk. Each new layer cause the previous ones to lose fidelity, so the instrumental parts have to be built in reverse order of importance. To get the lead parts out front, they had to be done last, and the same technique have to be followed when we later started layering Mary’s vocals. And this is the interesting thing about the disk machines. As you built a recording, you saved the disks that represented each combination of layers, in case you wanted to compare something or do something over.
Excerpted from Les Paul: In HIs Own Words