There are several types of guitars on the market today. However, the two basic types… the ones that most guitars have evolved from was the acoustic guitar, which was not much more than a glorified ukulele when it first appeared… and the electric, which was pioneered by the late, great Les Paul. Mr. Paul not only collaborated with Gibson to develop what became one of the most beloved versions of the electric guitar… he also worked towards new methods of laying down and recording tracks with the Ampex Magnetic Tape corporation (Ampex produced the magnetic tape upon which the Sonny and Cher TV shows were recorded).
The Meeting That Almost Wasn’t
This is a partnership that almost did not happen. In fact, it was an amazing set of circumstances that made it possible for Ampex to survive some pretty tough times and therefore meet Les Paul. Read on and imagine how many things could have gone wrong to prevent our enjoyment of the greatest… and certainly the coolest guitars and music on the planet. Thank you Fate for allowing this to happen.
Ampex, an acronym for the founder and the word excellence (Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence) was founded in 1944 as an American electronics company based in San Carlos, California. From its humble beginnings making small electric radar motors for General Electric, Ampex was only a small and struggling six man operation. It was Bing Crosby, the famous crooner and movie star that came to the rescue.
Technology was Winning the War
The Germans were winning the war through electronic capabilities that were far more advanced than the English and Americans were used to seeing. A Major in the Signal Corp named Jack Mullin was assigned to capture and study the experiments in electronics and radio that Germany was conducting and kicking our asses with. During his investigation, on a trip to Radio Frankfurt, he uncovered Magnetophons using AC Biasing that were far more advanced than anything anyone else had. He set about his plan to figure them out and reproduce them. Two Magnetophons recorders and around 50 BASF reels of tape, (Type L) were brought to America where he produced modified versions that he demonstrated to the Institute of Radio Engineers in San Francisco. They figured it out and improved upon the technology.
Bing Gets Tired-NBC get Fired
About this same time, Big Crosby was getting tired of doing two shows per night. Back in the days of radio, if you were nation-wide famous, you did one show for the east coast and one for the west coast four hours later. He heard about the recording technology and asked to be allowed to pre-record his shows onto transcription discs, but his network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), wanted nothing to do with it. So serious was crooner Bing that he jumped ship and broke his contract. However, ABC was a new network and they were willing to give Mr. Crosby whatever he wanted. Bing just happened to be in the executive offices when Major Mullin pitched his reworked German technology of a recording device to network execs. We can only imagine Bing’s reaction when the answers to his prayers were dropped right into his lap.
Coincidence or Fate… Bing and Ampex made a Great Team
As coincidence.. or perhaps fate would have it. Ampex, who produced equipment for new upstart American Broadcasting Company (ABC), were just finishing a prototype recorder called the Model 200 tape recorder that fit perfectly with Mullin’s technology. Bing was not one to sit upon his laurels and they not only purchased the first two Ampex produced, but placed an order for $50,000, which is the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s money. Bing’s company Crosby Enterprises became Ampex’ representatives on the west coast and the relationship lasted until 1957.
A German Psychopath – Radio – a Crooner – a Major – and Ampex
Before this, Ampex was just about ready to fold or sell to the larger technology companies of the day. Thanks to a Major in the Army Signal Corps, the Germans and their quest for world domination, the biggest star on the planet at that time (and a beautiful singer) and NBC’s mistake in not listening to Bing Crosby, Ampex got a huge contract with Bing and forged ahead to invent the one-inch magnetic tape used in Hollywood for decades. They went on to develop 8-track tapes, cassette tapes and players, and landed in a partnership with a young guitarist named Les Paul and a company known for its Gibson Acoustic Guitar. Les Paul was a friend of Bing Crosby and regularly guested on the superstar’s shows. Les had been experimenting with overdubbed recordings and was given an early portable Ampex Model 200A by Bing. He went on the invent Sound on Sound recording with this machine which enabled him to play over a previously recorded track and then mix them onto a new track.
Les Paul developed an innovative guitar in the Epiphone guitar factory in 1940 and approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation with his solid body electric guitar. However, Gibson showed no interest in this until Fender began selling its Telecaster model. Declining sales led to Gibson creating a lighter model, the Gibson Les Paul which Les originally disliked. However the Gibson Les Paul regained popularity when Eric Clapton began to use one and this led to Les Paul resuming his relationship with Gibson. Gibson Les Paul guitars are used by professional guitarists the world over nowadays, a truly popular guitar that has stood the test of time. If you have a Gibson guitar, check out the Focusrite Pro for the ultimate in sound.