Inventor of the Leslie speak dies

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Inventor of the Leslie speak dies

Postby elliot » Sat Sep 11, 2004 5:58 pm

Donald Leslie, 93; His Namesake Speaker Influenced Music
By Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer

Donald James Leslie, inventor and manufacturer of the Leslie speaker,
which helped popularize the Hammond organ and contributed to the
development of electronic music, has died. He was 93.

Leslie died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Altadena.

A fan of church and theater pipe organs, Leslie became enamored with
the compact electric Hammond organ shortly after it was introduced in
1935. He first heard the instrument - engineer Laurens Hammond's
low-cost alternative to the pipe organ - in the Barker Brothers
Furniture Store in downtown Los Angeles, where he serviced Capehart

The small electric organ, Leslie thought, sounded much like a theater
or church pipe organ in the vast furniture showroom. But once he got
it home he was disappointed with its sound in confined spaces. He
started experimenting with devices to make the instrument sound like
labyrinthine pipe organs.

Leslie had taught himself mechanics and electronics in a series of
jobs, including work for the Naval Research Laboratories in
Washington, D.C., during World War II. When he came up with his
hand-built Leslie speaker, he offered it to Hammond, hoping for a job,
but was rejected.

So Leslie founded Electro Music in Pasadena to manufacture his
speaker, which became a popular sound-refining amplifier for Hammond
organs and those made by Wurlitzer, Conn, Thomas, Baldwin, Kimball,
Yamaha and others. The Leslie also proved useful for portable
keyboards, synthesizers and other electronic instruments, contributing
improved sounds to jazz, rock, blues, gospel and pop music.

The Leslie helped adapt electric organs for homes and musicians' small
studios, expanding the market well beyond churches and large

Through the 1940s, the name for Leslie's invention - two rotating
horns enhancing both treble and bass registers - varied considerably,
from Hollywood speaker to Crawford speaker (for organist Jesse
Crawford) to Leslie Vibraphone, among others. But most customers
referred to it as the Leslie, and by 1949 Leslie speaker had become
the universally accepted name.

Leslie acquired 48 patents for the speaker and other musical

In 1965, he sold Electro Music to CBS, which made it a part of CBS
Musical Instruments. By the 1980s, Hammond had finally bought the
speaker Leslie offered the organ-maker four decades earlier, and the
Leslie is now built by Hammond-Suzuki USA.

Hammond recognized Leslie's symbiotic enhancement of its product in
1978 with an award for "his outstanding contribution and dedication in
making the Hammond-Leslie sound responsible for creating the organ

In 2003, Leslie, along with the late Laurens Hammond, and Leo Fender,
founder of Fender Guitars, were among the original inductees into the
American Music Conference Hall of Fame.

Born in Danville, Ill., Leslie grew up in Glendale and lived his adult
life in Pasadena and Altadena.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Carolyn; a daughter, Jeanine;
two sons, Scott and James; a sister, Mary Elizabeth Grime; and six

The family has invited friends to a celebration of Leslie's life at
4:30 p.m. Saturday at the family home in Altadena. They have asked
that memorial contributions be made to the American Diabetes Assn.,
P.O. Box 1132, Fairfax, VA 22038-1132.

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Postby hu0bV sn0!7!l3p » Sat Sep 11, 2004 6:37 pm

:( thats too bad

hmmm... leslie... pink floyd experamented with the leslie...

wait for it...

wait for it...


echoes rocks!
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Postby LesPaul1059 » Sat Sep 11, 2004 8:10 pm

:( We lost a good one...

Shame but a great guy.

Postby Buglunch » Thu Sep 16, 2004 5:27 pm

Not to mention George Martin, George Harrison, Clapton and others putting guitar through Leslies (like I did in '74'-75 with my band in Edmonton via throughput I had in my 1948 Hammond BC and walnut Leslie 122/Roland SH1000. Hammond had full 2-octave pedalboard..).
RIP, Mr. Leslie and thankyou.

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