I was working at Ensoniq – a synthesizer manufacturer – in the early nineties, and one of my responsibilities was artist relations. A friend mentioned that we should get some of our gear to Les Paul. So I called his son Russ and made arrangements to drive to his house in New Jersey and drop off some of our keyboards. He greeted me at the door like I had known him for years.
His house is big, but not a mansion. It is the Smithsonian Institution of musical instruments. I think he saved every instrument he ever made or played as well. As he and Russ showed me around their home, he would point to an old box and say stuff like, “that was the first multi-track recorder ever developed” or he would pick up a stack of papers and pull out plans for a synthesizer he designed in the forties. Or when we walked into his studio that had eggshell reflections carved in wood, yes carved, he would make a comment like “Frank and I recorded in this room.” Needless to say, I was in awe and excited before I got there and simply blown away and motivated more than ever by the time I left. Although there were many instruments, my sense is that the memories in his home studio were priceless.
I made a few more trips to his house with various pieces of gear and each time I witnessed a true inventor at work. It’s pretty obvious that I would have a helluva lot more questions to ask him than he would have about our products. Like anyone would be in my position, I wanted to barrage him with questions, but he always beat me to the punch. He had an insatiable curiosity and always wanted to learn more.
On one trip he put the “Log” in my hand. I think he said, “This is the first guitar I ever invented.” It had a door hinge (bridge) on it with a weird looking coil and one or two strings that felt like telephone wires. (See photo.) I’m still not sure if it was the first one he built, but needless to say I was shaking like a leaf anyway. On another trip I left one of our DP-4 fx processors for him to check out. During our next chat, we discussed the technology and then he suggested we should check into the detuning of the reverb in patch #143. I went back and put it on the Peterson and he was right, there was a slight detune on the sustain of the verb.
When I was at Sonic Foundry, I traveled to NYC a bit and would have a quick bite or a chat with him before his Monday night show. Again, he was so inquisitive about our software and wanted to know all the details of how it was conceived and developed. Man, he could still play. I’ve been to his show several times and it is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen. He did a tuning thing with his guitar in one of his opening numbers that I have never seen anyone else do to this day. I was not the only one encroaching on his time at the shows, but he made everyone feel like they were somebody. It was an education watching how he treated people.
The last time I saw him was at the AES show in NYC a couple of years ago. He was having lunch and I joined him for a moment of chat and he started firing questions immediately and asked how Broadjam was doing. We had talked about Broadjam on several occasions prior to that as well and we spent a lot of time discussing the compression schemas of Mp3s.
Over the years, I probably spent less than thirty hours in his presence. But each time he was extremely gracious and created the feeling like we’d known each other forever and anyone who came in contact with him felt the same way. Many know him as the inventor of the electric guitar and other cool things. To anyone who knew him, he was an inspiration and a friend. Rest In Peace Les.