The Pedal File: Les Paul (Maybe) Invented Looping

Hey pedal nerds!  What’s been happening?  Today I’ve got something slightly different for you – a short history lesson.  Don’t worry, it’s still about pedals.  Or is at least relevant to pedals.  This one is for all the loopers out there…

Up until recently I had never wondered about where the concept of looping came about for guitar.  I assumed it was a current invention considering how the market has exploded with all facets of loop pedals in the last ten years.  Then the other day I decided to watch some Les Paul videos on YouTube and was blown away by an old video of Les Paul and Chet Atkins on The Today Show.  (Please tell me you know who Les Paul is.  If not, hang your head in shame, recite three hail mary’s, and at least read his Wikipedia page.)

Les Paul - The Pedal File

Aside from their stellar playing, I was rather surprised by a little box attached near the bridge of Les Paul’s guitar, an invention he calls the Les Paulverizer (give the man credit for the clever play on his name).  He doesn’t describe it in terms of loops and whatnot, but watching him demonstrate made me realize that he is probably the first person to cultivate the idea of looping (although Robert Fripp and a few others did a similar thing around the same time), which should come as no surprise as he is the guy who basically invented multi-track recording and shit.

There he is looping a rhythm part, a bass part, percussion – everything that I thought modern people were only smart enough to figure out more recently with dedicated loop pedals.  It seems like the Paulverizer could also manipulate pitch by recording and playing back at slower speeds as it allows him to emulate a bass on the video.  Manipulating pitch by recording at one speed and playing back at another is also what gave him his way-ahead-of-its-time signature lead sound back in the the fifties that sounds like some kind of synth organ octave pedal reminsicent of the EQD Organizer.

The only issue is this video will not play outside of YouTube, so please watch it there after reading the article.  The Paulverizer demo starts at about 4:40.

I did some research and it seems like there is a little controversy surrounding Les Paul and his claimed inventions.  Some people say he claimed stuff that he didn’t invent and that the Paulverizer was hooked up to a reel-to-reel machine offstage and that everything was prerecorded.  The very earliest looping set-ups did utilize tape machines, but one can argue (and hope) the recording (or looping) was done live.  I’m not here to pass judgement because at the very least Les Paul was a fantastic guitar player whose work has shaped music and the technology surrounding it.  Many extra points awarded to him for even conceiving the idea of looping so long ago.  Watch the video and decide for yourself.

If you want to read up more on the history of looping check out these other articles.  It seems like nobody really knows who created the idea of looping.  *Cue scary sci-fi theremin music*

The Birth of Loop from Loopers-Delight
Looping from Guitar Player Magazine

That’s all for now, kiddies.  As always let me know your thoughts, desires, and criticisms by commenting, or you can also get ahold of me through my Contact page.

Thanks for reading.


The Pedal File