The Multi Track Recorder
There's no doubt that the impetus for multi-tracking came from Les Paul. Lacking a means to play harmony parts and duets with himself, he modified a tape deck with an extra head and a switch to defeat the erase function and began recording sound-on-sound as early as 1949.
Using the earlier mono recorder and playing along with a track while recording over it entailed starting from scratch if a mistake was made on any subsequent take. There were no safety nets, and one couldn't "fix it in the mix," as became customary later. Although that involved greater risk and thus required intense concentration and technical expertise, it also made for more creative tension. Dad himself later admitted that he missed that.
The 8-track concept came along while I was visiting Dad from Chicago in 1953. Dad took me to the studio where he and Mary were filming the "Listerine Show." Dad explains, " I was taking a rest and looking up at the sky. My manager asked what I was dreaming about. I said that recording using sound-on-sound was crazy. There's a better way: Stack the heads on top of the other — 1 through 8 — and align them so we could do self-sync with all the heads in-line. When I told my manager, 'I think it will change the world,' he told me I should do something about it."
Les Paul and The Multi-Track Recorder
The Ampex 8-track recorder employed Sel-Sync (selective synchronization), which streamlined the process of multiple recordings by allowing Dad to record the different parts in synchronization. But this method of recording, while it offered protection against losing prior tracks, lacked one key element that distinguished the earlier multiple recordings like "How High the Moon," namely the tension of having to get it right the first time, which made for a more spontaneous performance.
Atlantic Records Chief Engineer Tom Dowd received the 2nd Ampex 8 Track for Atlantic Records.
Click here to enjoy Tommy's story of meeting Les and the first major label studio to use the 8 track recorder -