Father of Modern Music
The Lathe and the 8-track Tape Recorder
Multi-track is Born
Les Paul: In His Own Words
The invention of the Multi-track tape machine
It was 1953, while filming the TV show, when I got the idea for the first multi-track recorder, the eight track. Working with film audio inspired me to want to build an eight track recording machine where the heads were all evenly aligned, what we call sel-sync. My invention was to stack the heads one on top of the other so they were all aligned in the same place, and you could use the same multiple head for recording and playback, and everything would be in sync. It didn’t really become functional until 1957, when we finally re-designed it ourselves to get it right. I worked on it for four years and it cost me about $36,000 total before I ever recorded the first song on it.
Multi-track Tape machine sound on sound
After years of being anchored to the two disc recorders, the tape machine was a great advancement, but the sound on sound was very tricky. The extra playback had enabled us to hear what we had recorded on the previous pass. And as we heard it, we sang and played along with it, and the whole thing combined was recorded as a new track on the same tape. Now the plot thickens because with the tape machine, if you made a mistake on the third pass, you couldn’t go back to the second pass like you could on a disk. With the disk method, if you made a mistake on the disk you were cutting, you only had to redo that one part because everything else was saved on the previous disk. But working with just one tape machine there was nothing to go back to. Whether you blew it on the third pass or the 29th pass when you made that mistake you were done. This happened to us a few times and it was very frustrating. So we learned you just don’t make a mistake, and the discipline required turned us into professionals.
Excerpted from Les Paul: In HIs Own Words