CLOSE
Original image

6 Legendary Guitars/RIP Les Paul

Original image

[It is with sadness that we report Les Paul's death today, at the age of 94. I had the pleasure of meeting Les a couple times when I was playing guitar with Pat Martino. Pat and Les were good friends, and the three of us had drinks once when Les had his standing gig at a small, now defunct jazz club across the street from Lincoln Center. That night, I asked Les if he really loved the guitar named after him, and he said dryly, "It pays the rent."In honor of Les, I thought we'd rerun this post, which, curiously, went up earlier this week. Goodbye Les, we'll all miss your music making...]

Each guitar on this list helped define either a genre, a sound, or in some cases, a career. Think of it as an introduction to some of the most popular guitars in the world. For the companion post on 5 Legendary Keyboards, click here.

1. Gibson Les Paul

Design: In the early "˜50s, Gibson president Ted McCarty approached jazz phenomenon Les Paul and asked if the guitarist would lend his name to a new guitar, then in design stages. Paul agreed, and also lent some minor advice along the lines of color schemes. In 1952, one of the world's most famous guitars of all-time was unveiled. Except for a period of time in the mid "˜60s, it's been in production ever since.

[caption id="attachment_31639" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Les Paul with his LesPaul"][/caption]

Look/Feel/Sound: The signature sound of the Les Paul is warm and full, with lots of sustain. In fact, the instrument's sustain is so well known, it was used as a joke in This Is Spinal Tap. Nigel Tufnel is showing mockumentarian Marty DiBergi his guitar collection and holds up a Les Paul Standard, showing off the sustain without actually playing a note. While there are many different models and styles, with slightly different pickup configurations and cut-aways, all Les Paul's, like all Gibson's in general, feature top-mounted strings, rather than through the guitar body, as seen in competitor Fender's designs.

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: Les Paul, of course, but just about every important guitarist over the last half century has recorded with one. The most famous devotee is probably Jimmy Page, who, when he wasn't playing his trusty double neck, was generally armed with one. Coupled with his Marshall stack amplifiers and sometimes a cello bow, Page was able to pull even more sustain out of the instrument.

Hear it in action:

2. Gibson Flying V

Design: Orville Gibson, a mandolin maker from Kalamazoo, MI, founded Gibson way back in the late 1800s. But the Gibson Flying V didn't hit the market until three quarters of a century later, in 1958, and was a flying flop that Ted McCarty, Gibson's then-president, immediately discontinued.

[caption id="attachment_31154" align="alignleft" width="299" caption="Albert King"]Albert King[/caption]

Look/Feel/Sound: In 1955, Gibson introduced its classic double-coil "humbucking" pickup, which was incorporated onto this odd, V-shaped guitar, clearly ahead of its time. Between the mahogany body and the double-coil pickup, the Flying V quickly became known for its powerful sound.

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: Bluesman Albert King got a hold of the Flying V in '58 and never let go. But it wasn't until Dave Davies started using one in the "˜60s that Gibson decided to reissue the guitar in 1967. Other famous guitarists who helped popularize the instrument include Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Rudolph and Michael Schenker, Kirk Hammett, and Eddie Van Halen.

3. Fender Telecaster

Design: Another Leo Fender creation, the Telecaster hit the market in 1949 and has been going strong ever since. It is considered the very first solid-body guitar to make a significant impact on the music scene. It was also the first solid-body guitar mass-produced on an assembly line.

[caption id="attachment_31159" align="alignleft" width="211" caption="Keith Richards"]KEITHR[/caption]

Look/Feel/Sound: Like the Fender Strat, the Telecaster (aka Tele), is known for it's bright, rich tone. It has two single-coil pickups, as opposed to the Strat's traditional three. One of the most famous solos ever recorded with the Tele is Jimmy Page's "Stairway to Heaven" solo.

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: The Father of Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters, was an early signature user, as were many other blues players such as Roy Buchanan and Albert Collins, who was sometimes called "The Master of the Telecaster." The Clash's Joe Strummer was rarely seen without one, and it was a favorite of Andy Summers, as well as Keith Richards.

Hear it in action:

4. Fender Stratocaster

Design: Fender first put out the "Strat," the brilliant work of Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares, in 1954.

Look/Feel/Sound: The Strat features a double-cutaway, sleek, contoured body, often referred to by Fender as a "Comfort Contour Body." Those three single-coil pickups in the middle of the body further define not only the look of the Strat, but the famous sound, which is clean, crisp, and twangy.

[caption id="attachment_31145" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Buddy Holly"]BuddyHolly_EdSullivan_OhBoy[/caption]

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: While it's hard to find a well-known guitarist who hasn't recorded or owned a Strat, there are definitely certain musicians who relied heavily on the guitar during their careers. Early on in the guitar's history, Buddy Holly helped turn the instrument into a familiar icon, using it almost exclusively in the late "˜50s, and most notably on his Ed Sullivan performance in 1958.

In the "˜60s, it was Jimi Hendrix who really helped push the guitar to legendary status. Because Hendrix was left-handed, yet generally used a right-handed Stratocaster flipped upside-down and strung left-handed, he got a bit of a different tone out of the instrument because the pickups were reversed. This gave a brighter punch to the lower strings, and warmer tone to the higher strings. Since his death, Fender has released many Hendrix "tribute" Strats, both left-handed versions, and right-handed versions, in attempt to try and recreate the Hendrix Stratocaster sound.

Hear it in action:

5. Gibson SG

Design: In 1961, Gibson added some horns to the cutaways of the Les Paul and slimmed down the body. The result was a really cool looking solid body (or SG) that Les Paul didn't like at all. So he made Gibson take his name off the instrument, and like that the SG was born. It's been in production in one form or another ever since.

[caption id="attachment_31166" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Angus Young"]Angus Young[/caption]

Look/Feel/Sound: Gibson advertised the SG as having the "fastest neck in the world", because the neck profile was slender. This, combined with the thinner body, means less sustain than the Les Paul, but the SG still packs quite a punch. It's like Gibson's answer to the Fender Strat, only with a slightly warmer tone.

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: Another long list here, including George Harrison, Tony Iommi, Elliot Easton, The Edge, Dave Grohl, and Frank Zappa. But perhaps the most famous is Angus Young, of AC/DC fame, who was rarely seen with anything but the SG. Gibson even produced an Angus Young Signature SG model.

6. Gibson Explorer

Design: For one brief year, between 1958 and 1959, Gibson put out one of the most unusual looking guitars to leave a major imprint on the scene, ever. Thing is, at first it was an exploratory flop, way ahead of its time. When other guitar manufacturers brought out Explorer knock-offs in the "˜70s, Gibson re-issued the once-futuristic looking guitar, and it became an instant favorite of heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, and glam metal rockers like Mötley Crüe.

[caption id="attachment_31165" align="alignleft" width="248" caption="James Hetfield"]James Hetfield[/caption]

Look/Feel/Sound: Obviously the look is unique. The same can't really be said about this guitar's sound, which is rather average. Although, in the early "˜80s, when metal bands were using them nearly to a fault, Gibson introduced an Explorer with high-output, "Dirty Fingers" humbucker pickups. This made an already "˜loud' design, a really loud instrument. So loud, you would expect a Spinal Tap joke about how the guitar went to 14, four louder than 10.

Guitarists who helped make it a legend: Again, we're talking loud bands here, so James Hetfield, Eddie Van Halen, and Dave Murray, for sure. But some others have helped bring the Explorer to center stage, including: The Edge, and bands like ZZ Top and Cheap Trick.

[If you're wondering why songs weren't used as examples in this post, mental_floss is no longer able to offer excerpts from copyrighted music. We apologize.]

Check out past On Music posts here >>

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Stephen Missal
crime
arrow
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
Original image
A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES