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.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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My Case of Why Flangers Rule – Specifically, the DOD FX75-B Flanger

The Pedal File - DOD logoOk.  I’ll admit it, I’m not ashamed.  I love flangers (and all modulation effects for that matter).  I get lost in the whooshing, metallic, stuck in a pipe sound that falls somewhere between chorus/phaser/really short delay.  I get hypnotized, mesmerized, and a little aroused by it (maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively).  I just read a Reverb.com interview with Josh from JHS pedals where they mention how flange is always last on everyone’s mind these days.  Reverb.com even references a Facebook survey they conducted where it was voted the most ‘out-of-date’ effect.  I strongly disagree and would like to clarify:  I think people think flangers are lame because they got overused in a lot of lame music.

The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B FlangerThink about all the crappy music out there with fuzz/distortion/etc.  But you don’t hear anyone claiming the Big Muff to be for losers who are living in the past.  This is because enough players have proven that fuzz can be awesome.  Flange has been deemed guilty by association.  However, Josh does prophetically claim the flanger will make a comeback in the next few years as it is showing up more on recent albums, and therefore people will start looking for (re)’new'(ed) sounds.  I’m here to see that happen because, like the title of this article says, flangers rule.

The way the effect was originally developed is interesting.  It was first discovered by the genius guitar/effects/recording pioneer, Les Paul – though he didn’t use tape, but rather employed phase shifting through acetate disks on variable-speed record players.   Later in the 60’s, flange was an issue encountered when recording long takes onto tape.  As the tape would wind around the reel, it would get weighed down.  This would make the reel turn slower by a few milliseconds, which doesn’t seem like much, but the perceived difference in speed would create the harmonic avalanche that we now know as ‘flange’.

Some smart person (allegedly John Lennon/George Martin – The Beatles’ producer) realized it actually sounded pretty cool, so a technique to recreate this phenomenon was developed.  An archaic method of flanging was achieved by recording two identical takes to two separate tape machines.  The machines would be played back simultaneously.  At some point (the point at which one would want some tasty flange) the engineer would put a finger on the edge or ‘flange’ of one of the reels, causing playback of that tape to be slightly delayed.  This pairing of the normal speed tape with the delayed tape is what produced this unique sound.  Pretty neat, huh?

I’ve mentioned before I’m not a big fan of Eddie Van Halen, but there is something about his guitar tone that really fascinates me.  He used a lot of chorus/flange and was all about crispy textures with a multidimensional tone that makes you feel like you’re a small animal being carried away by a large eagle.  But alas, who can stand to listen to Van Halen (or especially Van Hagar) for that long?  (I hate the 80’s.  That’s when the word ‘rad’ became popular – please stop saying rad, hipsters.  Plus, every musician during the decade seemed to develop some kind of musical retardation, except for maybe The Police.)
The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B

Even though I like the sound of that hideous guitar, it’s hard to get past the cheesiness that was inherent in music during the 80’s – like dipping your ears in a big fondue pot of cheeseburgers.   One thing the 80’s had right though was the sound of the flange (chorus is a runner up and another article topic).

I should point out that not all flangers are equal.  Too many don’t have the kind of control you need (I prefer to have control over the delay time), or they don’t offer any good useable tones (most digital flangers).  There are a few companies like MXR that cater to the EVH fans or like Subdecay, whose flangers are more complex than a modular synth (not really, but they’re pretty intense) and cost well over $100.  But I’m here to remind you in this article that you don’t always have to look at brand new or boutique gear.  Some 80’s and 90’s pedals were well-made and can usually be found for less than $100.  A lot of them aren’t true bypass and whatnot, but if you’re open to the idea of modification or if you don’t care, vintage pedals are a great bet!
The Pedal File - DOD FX75-B
I’ve found a true flanging diamond in the rough in the DOD FX75-b stereo flanger.  It sounds so thick, metallic, and robotic.  Like dipping your guitar in electric molasses, this pedal takes your tone to a sticky gooey territory.  It’s easy to dial in a pretty shimmery chorus, but it also does to-the-max jet pack blast-off flange, as well as some vibe-y, rotary type stuff.  I can’t say enough how great this pedal sounds.  I love it so much, I now have two – just in case.  I plan on getting at least one of them modded to be true bypass (they do generate some noise at some settings) and have even thought about rehousing them both into one enclosure.

Tweakables:
Delay – sets the delay time, which controls the degree of phase shifting. Set it shorter for a chorus-y sound or longer for voluptuous flanging.  Like I said, this knob is really useful for different sounds (on chorus pedals too).
Speed – sets the speed at which the delay time changes – low settings are good for a thick chorus or subtle flange or crank it up for vibe-like throbbing, pulsations, etc.  (The width and regen have to be set around noon or higher for the vibe stuff).
Width – sets the range through which the delay time will vary.  I think of it kind of like a depth knob.  Turned all the way down, there is no sweeping time delay.  Turn it up and the time delay gets introduced to the phase shifting at the sweeping speed that is selected by the speed knob.  Lower settings = time delay sweep through a narrower range.  Higher settings = wider range.
Regen(eration) – adjusts the height of the comb filter peaks by controlling feedback through the delay circuitry.  This feeds the effect back onto itself for more phasing/time delay.  This knob is also what takes you from subtle to totally tripped out alien robot space monster sounds.

Even at low and subtle settings, I love what this pedal does to the guitar.  It excites your playing and makes it feel more alive while thickening the tone up a bit.  At more extreme settings, you can really impart a sense of movement and make people feel sea-sick.  The DOD FX75-B makes it hard to tell sometimes if it is actually chorusing or phasing, but that’s what I love.  It puts a mystical, intangible quality into your riffs.  I implore you to stop over-looking flanger pedals and dare you to put one on your board.  I guarantee if you’re a modulation fan, you’ll enjoy it.  If not, send it to me.

DOD is now owned by Harmon/Digitech who has released a few reissue pedals under the DOD name, but if you want in on the great DOD pedals of yore, your best bet is to check out EBay or Reverb.com.

Check out my band’s new single, ‘I Miss You’, for an example of how I used the DOD FX75-B to achieve 80’s tone for modern rockingness.

As always, let me know what you think!  Please leave me a comment below and tell me how right I am.  Or what your favorite flanger pedal is.

That’s all, thanks for reading!

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File