back in the days ...
It was during an exceptional period of time in the early 1990's when the Berlin Wall had just come down and the partially deserted borrows of the former East Berlin were explored and spontaneously inhabited by a first wave of young creatives of all sorts and origins. I had just traveled through South East Asia for a couple years and happened to visit Berlin in these historical times. Little did I know I'd stay for over two decades, but it sure felt natural to enjoy the inspiring and productive circumstances in this coincidental subculture paradise. Living costs were extremely low and so we all followed our passions, realized our projects and lived our dreams.
There's now even a cool book about those wild years in the former East Berlin - it's called "Berlin Wonderland" .. and worth checking out.In the midst of all this I was busy playing music, doing a jewelry project and home-building my first ever guitar, an electric guitar.
In the process of developing the wiring for the guitar a cool idea came up.. And since I had a jewelry saw in my workshop I soon found myself cutting a circular copper plate into eight outer segments and an inner ring. Those segments formed the input and output surfaces to be touched by a rotating arm, providing the alternating pick-up sequence for the first prototype of what was soon called "Pickup Leslie” (note the initial spelling). It was a motor driven, automated pickup switch for continuous switching - with speed control. And although it somewhat suffered from noisy switching and audible electrostatic radiation from the motor, it did already sound pretty delicious.
The effect served an extra layer of attacks, to the point of becoming a kind of metronome when playing alone, delivering a tremolo type effect, different from any existing tremolo because of its percussive and rhythmical aspect - produced by the rather square type switching between the pickups.
Since the unit needed to tap into the individual pickup signals to do its thing, there was no way around building it into the guitar. And so to minimize the troubles, I encapsulated the electric motor and its switch plate into a metal encasing, acting as a shield and enjoyed these early prototypes as they were, functional and fun .. with the desire for further perfection in mind.
Around the mid 90's I also became good friends with Frank Deimel. He was all about guitar building and had a wonderful little workshop in Berlin Schöneberg. And it didn't take long until we started to collaborate on building electric guitars, brainstorming a ton around the concept of the experimental electric guitar and also of course around Pickup Leslie.
We kept on optimizing electronic versions and we found out that had we been born a few decades earlier, we would have needed to realize a mechanical “wind-up” version, running off a clockwork-like spring mechanism instead of a motor.
...having to wind up your guitar before playing a show!
Over a period of two to three years Frank and I built a nice range of guitars and basses mainly for musicians around us, all in line with our vision of the offset body noise guitar and we had a lot of fun and made lots of dust ;)
After this period I was slowly drawn back into more music making again and also into learning the skills of music production and sound engineering, and I decided to leave my sweet little invention with Frank and what soon became Deimel Guitarworks - to help boost his new brand until the day would come to launch LesLee as a stand-alone product for existing guitars.
In the process Frank optimized and realized a nice electronically driven version and through the following years many of his customers have opted to have it built into their fabulous Deimel guitars. Please go check them out on the Deimel Guitarworks website if you don't already know them ... they're truly amongst the best sounding and looking guitars on the planet.
The beautiful picture below shows one of the Deimel Firestar models from the amazing Artist Editions, where Frank's wife Kora adds her super cool contemporary artwork to all the excellence in craftsmanship and sonic features of a regular Deimel guitar. Click on the picture to see the full collection of true masterpieces within their Artist Editions.
Furthermore Frank and Kora are currently experimenting with a revolutionary combination of the electric guitar and the modular synth, utilizing LesLee as the interface between the two ... a must see and hear, it's called LesLee-Synchronizer!
The name Leslie got altered to LesLee® around the year 2003 when Lee Ranaldo bought a guitar through Deimel Guitarworks that Frank and I had built in the late 1990’s. It's a 12-string Jazzmaster type guitar with the effect onboard. Lee appreciates the fact that now the device is named “Pickup LesLee”. And several X-rays of that guitar became part of the art work for Sonic Youth's “Corporate Ghost” DVD, released in 2004.
We jump to 2022 and the launch of Pickup LesLee® in it's newly developed form. This all new design is much reduced in size to fit into the cavities of the common electric guitar models, and additionally now implements standard dual outputs for a huge sound when used in stereo mode.
Research and development for the new iteration started in 2018 and was needed to bring all aspects of the concept into reality and to adopt the units for the available models while at the same time preserving the reversibility of the guitar to original state. No hole drilling and no wood carving were allowed, no extra switches or controls, not even a charging port could be added. But step by step the many hurdles were taken with success. Every unit now mounts into the existing cavity and existing mounting holes of each model guitar - and the desired tracelessly removable units were accomplished.
The motherboard is designed according to all needs & parameters in collaboration with the genius Matthias Grob from Paradis Guitars, who listened to all my wishes and ideas and brought them into reality in the form of the current motherboard V2, the first ever LesLee® processing the passive analog pickup signals in dual channels for stereo capabilities with true bypass.
I can't thank him enough for his patience and brilliance and would always recommend him for guitar related electronics projects as he has accumulated a wealth of experience in this field and an open mind for finding excellent solutions. On his website you can check out his multitude of interesting effect units and instruments.
The slideshow below shows the first and second prototype. No.1 had graphite contacts in little tubes with push springs and for No.2 I tried double metal fingers to accomplish "make before break" in the fight against noisy switching.
Thanks for taking the time to read,