Les Paul

The Man Who Chased Sound Wore Hearing Aids

By Sue Baker

The inventor who changed music and the guitar player who had a room full of music awards wore hearing aids. Legendary musician Les Paul spent his whole life looking for the perfect sound. Ironically, for a good portion of his life he had to pursue his passion for sound while wearing hearing aids.

Before Les Paul performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, Marty Garcia adjusts his hearing enhancers. Credit: Christopher Lentz.

Before Les Paul performs at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, Marty Garcia adjusts his hearing enhancers. Credit: Christopher Lentz.

Les’s hearing loss started in 1969 when a friend playfully hit him over his right ear, causing his eardrum to break. Surgery to repair the damage had its own complications and Les was left with compromised hearing. A few years later another friend did the same thing to Les’s other ear with the same devastating results.

Les disliked how his initial hearing aids made voices sound “tinny” and higher pitched than normal and began to look for a solution. He explored options with numerous audio and hearing aid companies. In the mid-1990s Les connected with Marty Garcia who over time became his go-to audio friend, helping to improve his hearing aids.

The founder of audio and earphone company Future Sonics, Marty created the customized Ear Monitors brand to help entertainers reduce vocal and hearing fatigue. Les tried Ear Monitors during performances and said the devices’ special transducers took his hearing back 35-plus years.

Each Monday night Les performed two sets at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club. For two hours before the first performance, he did a sound check, analyzing every component. Les had the settings on all the sound equipment photographed so that each week he could tinker with them and study the effect of his changes.

After the shows, Les wanted to be available to sign autographs and meet his audience. To his frustration, he found that it took him too long to change from his onstage Ear Monitors to his “regular” hearing aids. Many fans left before Les could connect with them. Marty’s response was to create a hearing enhancer that Les could wear while performing as well as for everyday use.

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Les often joked about his hearing aids. If a battery went out while he was performing, Les would tell his audience not to get their hearing aids at a hardware store. He and Marty also understood that people hear not just with their ears, but with their brains. Together they created a way for the man who chased sound to be able to continue to enjoy and perform it.

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Sue Baker is the program director for the Les Paul Foundation, and thanks Marty Garcia, Christopher Lentz, and Arlene Palmer for help with this article. For more, see lespaulfoundation.org. Hearing Health Foundation is grateful to the Les Paul Foundation for its commitment to funding tinnitus research through HHF’s Emerging Research Grants program.

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Disrupted Nerve Cell Function and Tinnitus

By Xiping Zhan, Ph.D.

Tinnitus is a condition in which one hears a ringing and/or buzzing sound in the ear without an external sound source, and as a chronic condition it can be associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. Tinnitus has been linked to hearing loss, with the majority of tinnitus cases occurring in the presence of hearing loss. For military service members and individuals who are constantly in an environment where loud noise is generated, it is a major health issue.

This figure shows the quinine effect on the physiology of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, a structure in the midbrain.

This figure shows the quinine effect on the physiology of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, a structure in the midbrain.

During this phantom ringing/buzzing sensation, neurons in the auditory cortex continue to fire in the absence of a sound source, or even after deafferentation following the loss of auditory hair cells. The underlying mechanisms of tinnitus are not yet known.

In our paper published in the journal Neurotoxicity Research in July 2018, my team and I examined chemical-induced tinnitus as a side effect of medication. Tinnitus patients who have chemical-induced tinnitus comprise a significant portion of all tinnitus sufferers, and approaching this type of tinnitus can help us to understand tinnitus in general.

We focused on quinine, an antimalarial drug that also causes hearing loss and tinnitus. We theorized this is due to the disruption of dopamine neurons rather than cochlear hair cells through the blockade of neuronal ion channels in the auditory system. We found that dopamine neurons are more sensitive than the hair cells or ganglion neurons in the auditory system. To a lesser extent, quinine also causes muscle reactions such as tremors and spasms (dystonia) and the loss of control over body movements (ataxia).

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As dopaminergic neurons (nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine) are implicated in playing a role in all of these diseases, we tested the toxicity of quinine on induced dopaminergic neurons derived from human pluripotent stem cells and isolated dopaminergic neurons from the mouse brain.


We found that quinine can affect the basic physiological function of dopamine neurons in humans and mice. Specifically, we found it can target and disturb the hyperpolarization-dependent ion channels in dopamine neurons. This toxicity of quinine may underlie the movement disorders and depression seen in quinine overdoses (cinchonism), and understanding this mechanism will help to learn how dopamine plays a role in tinnitus modulation.

A 2015 ERG scientist, Xiping Zhan, Ph.D., received the Les Paul Foundation Award for Tinnitus Research. He is an assistant professor of physiology and biophysics at Howard University in Washington, D.C. One figure from the paper appeared on the cover of the July 2018 issue of Neurotoxicity Research.

We need your help supporting innovative hearing and balance science through our Emerging Research Grants program. Please make a contribution today.

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On a Quest

By Sue Baker

From his earliest days, the concept of sound consumed musician and inventor Les Paul. How did sound work? Why did the record player produce sounds different from the player piano? Why does the sound of the train change as it moved down the tracks? Why did the body of his acoustic guitar vibrate when he plucked the strings? How could he make just the strings vibrate?

Although best known for his solid body electric guitar and industry-changing recording inventions, for Les the quest always came back to sound, even in his later years. “I’ve spent my life looking for the perfect sound, trying to build the perfect guitar to play the perfect note,” he wrote in his 2005 autobiography, “Les Paul in His Own Words.”

One of Les Paul's hearing-related inventions.

One of Les Paul's hearing-related inventions.

In the 1960s, Les’s eardrums were ruptured due to playful roughhousing. The resulting infection and, later, mastoidectomy surgery, left him with a hearing loss. He wasn’t happy about the hearing aids’ sound quality for music.

I met Les when I was the executive director at a museum in his hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin. We were creating an exhibit about his career. Over the course of what would be the last decade of his life, our friendship grew. Two years after Les passed away at age 94 in 2009, his business manager Michael Braunstein asked me to work at the Les Paul Foundation.

During one of my visits to Les’s home in 2001, I asked him about an unusual piece of equipment in a corner. “Oh, it’s just an experiment I was doing,” he said. “I was trying to replicate how the human ears work.” He was a tinkerer by nature and necessity, always wanting to invent something to fill a void or to improve what was available.

Musician Jon Paris says Les’s audiologist (whom he met at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club, where Les performed every Monday night) told him that Les “drove him nuts—in a good way—constantly demanding better quality from his hearing aids.”

Another friend, Chris Lentz, says that Les worked with Marty Garcia of Future Sonics to improve his hearing aids. In a note to Chris, Marty wrote, “Throughout our years together, Les validated just about every voice coil transducer Future Sonics developed.”

In a 2008 interview in Audiology Today, Les talked about how he wanted to improve hearing aids for music. He cited the importance of extending the audio range to capture more of the harmonic structure than what is needed for speech. Les also wanted hearing aids that could be worn in the shower and would work optimally when using the telephone.

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Les Paul’s 103rd birthday would have been this June 9. He would have been gratified to see how far hearing aid technology has come.

Sue Baker is the program director for the Les Paul Foundation. For more, see lespaulfoundation.org.

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The Les Paul Foundation Funds School Initiatives, Music Camps, Classroom Projects, and Hearing Health Programs


The Les Paul Foundation Funds School Initiatives, Music Camps, Classroom Projects, and Hearing Health Programs Recent 2017 Grant Recipients Announced

New York, New York – April 19, 2017 - The Les Paul Foundation, whose mission is to share the legacy of Les Paul, has continued its commitment to provide funding to projects that share Les Paul’s spirit. In 2017, recipient organizations are furthering Les Paul’s dreams and sharing his vision and innovation with their programs.

Organizations that have received funding from the most recent Les Paul Foundation grants include:

Birch Creek Music Performance Center of Egg Harbor, WI offers summer guitar jazz master classes that include discussions of Les Paul’s inventions, experiments and recording technique. Students can access additional Les Paul materials in the Listening/Media Library.

College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, as a leader in providing recording industry education, will be building two recording stations that will allow students to experiment and create new work using the historic techniques that changed the music industry.

The Hearing Health Foundation, headquartered in New York, NY, is the largest nonprofit supporter of hearing research. The Les Paul Foundation Award for Tinnitus Research is awarded annually to the most promising researcher studying the cause of ringing in the ears.

Les Paul Middle School in Waukesha, WI with funding from the Les Paul Foundation will create a hands-on space where students can explore and experiment. Reflecting on the inventions and innovations that came from Les Paul’s garage, school officials decided to create a similar space for students to explore and experiment. The "Maker Space” will provide students a place to share resources and knowledge, network, and collaborate on projects.

Litchfield Jazz Camp and Festival, productions of the nonprofit Litchfield Performing Arts, of Litchfield, CT host Nicki Parrott of the Les Paul Trio to conduct master classes at the Camp in New Milford and at Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen August 5th. Nicki shows the relevance of Les Paul’s music and legacy to hundreds of young musicians through these institutions.

New Voices Middle School of Brooklyn, NY received funding for its innovative audio production program that trains students to manage all tech elements for student productions. Students will learn about Les Paul via resources from the Les Paul Foundation website.

Sharon Lynne Wilson Center of Brookfield, WI will include a presentation about Les Paul’s impact on current recording and guitar performing techniques at its annual Guitar Festival. The event has attracted competitors from 16 countries. A guided tour of Discovery World’s Les Paul House of Sound will be included for competitors.

Shell Lake Arts Center of Shell Lake, WI received funding for its Rock Band and Guitar & Bass program to help fund master teachers who work with students of all ages and abilities. Students spend a week at summer camp playing music and celebrating Les Paul’s inventions and philosophy following video showings.

Strings Attached of Ferguson, MO received funding to reinforce its project that addresses social barriers that prevent youth ages 5-17 in working class families from music education. Youth learn to play guitar, ukulele and mandolin using loaner instruments and perform at community gatherings.

VH1 Save the Music of New York, NY received funding to support its mission to ensure that EVERY kid in America has access to music education. Select schools will be invited to participate in a program that introduces Les Paul’s legacy via a challenge for students to create their own sound after they learn how Les created his own sound."

Women’s Audio Mission of San Francisco, CA trains and advances over 1,200 women and girls every year in music technology and recording engineering. Les Paul’s story inspires students for their hands-on electronics projects.

“Les Paul spent his life encouraging others to be innovative and created opportunities that made the world a better place,” said Michael Braunstein, Executive Director of the Les Paul Foundation. “The organizations that have received grants perpetuate many of his philosophies and ideas. He would be very proud that our grantees are continuing his legacy and perpetuating the mission of his very beloved foundation through their work.”

The mission of the Les Paul Foundation is to honor and share the life, spirit and legacy of Les Paul by supporting music education, engineering and innovation as well as medical research. The Les Paul Foundation is an approved IRC 501(c)3 organization that awards grants to music, music engineering and sound programs that serve youths. This year The Les Paul Foundation continues its celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Les Paul. The foundation also provides grants for medical research. The Les Paul Foundation also supports public exhibits which display Les Paul’s life achievements, events that engage fans and students and music releases and related launches which bring about excitement for the sound of Les Paul.  For more information go to www.lespaulfoundation.org.

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Introducing HHF's 2016 Emerging Research Grant Recipients

By Morgan Leppla

We are excited to announce the 2016 Emerging Research Grant recipients. This year, HHF funded five research areas:

  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD): research investigating a range of disorders within the ear and brain that affect the processing of auditory information. HHF thanks the General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International for enabling us to fund four grants in the area of CAPD. 
  • Hyperacusis: research that explores the mechanisms, causes, and diagnosis of loudness intolerance. One grant was generously funded by Hyperacusis Research.
  • Méniere’s Disease: research that investigates the inner ear and balance disorder. One grant was funded by the Estate of Howard F. Schum.
  • Stria: research that furthers our understanding of the stria vascularis, strial atrophy, and/or development of the stria. One grant was funded by an anonymous family foundation interested in this research.
  • Tinnitus: research to understand the perception of sound in the ear in the absence of an acoustic stimulus. Two grants were awarded, thanks to the generosity the Les Paul Foundation and the the Barbara Epstein Foundation.

To learn more about our 2016 ERG grantees and their research goals, please visit hhf.org/2016_researchers

HHF is also currently planning for our 2017 ERG grant cycle. If you're interested in naming a research grant in any discipline within the hearing and balance space, please contact development@hhf.org.

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The Les Paul Foundation Funds Music Camps, Classroom Projects, Museums, Hearing Health Programs and Veterans' Recovery

New York, New York – July 11, 2016 - The Les Paul Foundation, whose mission is to honor the legacy of Les Paul, has continued its commitment to provide funding to projects that share Les Paul’s spirit. In 2016, the recipient organizations represent issues that were important to Les Paul and share Les Paul’s vision and innovation with their programs.

“Les Paul encouraged all of us to be innovative and create opportunities so the world would become a better place,” said Michael Braunstein, Executive Director of the Les Paul Foundation. “The organizations that have received grants perpetuate many of his philosophies and ideas. This allows us at the foundation to continue his legacy and show support for his values.”

Organizations that have benefitted from recent Les Paul Foundation grants include:

Birch Creek Music Performance Center of Egg Harbor, WI offers a summer guitar master class that includes Les Paul’s inventions, experiments and recording technique.

The Bonaroo Works Fund of Nashville, TN coordinated with the Les Paul Foundation to present the first ever Les Paul Spirit Award. The Bonaroo Works Fund supports education, music and arts programs for children or communities, protection of the environment and environment sustainability, and the arts/humanities in middle Tennessee.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County of Hobe Sound, FL weaves Les Paul’s contribution to rock and roll into their Les Rock program. Youth, ages 8 – 18, learn about Les’ contribution to music production including multi-tracking.

Camp Spin Off Foundation of Las Vegas, NV, provides 13-17 year olds an opportunity to learn about music production, remixing, music business and how to DJ. Campers learn how crucial Les Paul’s recording innovations were to how music is produced today.

Discovery World in Milwaukee, WI is reinforcing its Les Paul House of Sound exhibit with two new Les Paul-based school programs.

First Stage Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI is sharing Les Paul’s stories of perseverance and innovation with elementary students. Through the dramatic process, students explore Les Paul’s inventions, his influence on the music industry, his creativity and his ability to overcome life’s challenges.

Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers located in San Francisco, CA continues to include Les Paul in its presentations to music and sound arts schools and in its on-line presence. The organization focuses on encouraging youth to handle the power of sound in a safe manner.

The Hearing Health Foundation, headquartered in New York, NY, is the largest nonprofit supporter of hearing research. The Les Paul Foundation Award for Tinnitus Research is awarded annually to the most promising researcher studying the cause of ringing in the ears. This year’s recipient is Julia Campbell, Ph.D, Au.D, CCC-A, F-AAA, Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders at The University of Texas at Austin.

“I am deeply honored to have received a grant award from the Les Paul Foundation to study brain function in the perception of tinnitus.  Tinnitus is a disorder that affects millions of people around the world, and yet we still have no way to measure this disorder or a cure for it.  Les Paul was an innovator, a dreamer, and a doer who loved to bring new sound into people’s lives.  I believe that his legacy is an inspiration to not only better understand tinnitus, but to use this knowledge to improve the quality of life in those it affects,” said Campbell.

Legacy Music Alliance in Salt Lake City, UT uses Les Paul’s story from the Les Paul Foundation website in guitar programs, which are taught in Utah’s schools. Musical instruments are purchased and provided to Utah schools for use by students.

Litchfield Music Alliance of Litchfield, CT hosts Nicki Parrott of the Les Paul Trio at its master classes. Nicki tells Les’ story and includes his music in her classes.

Mahwah Museum Society of Mahwah, NJ will be integrating digital technology into its permanent Les Paul exhibit to increase visitors’ access to documents, photos and videos of Les Paul.

Six String Heroes of Jefferson Barracks in O’Fallon, MO use music to help injured veterans heal physical and mental wounds. The group shares Les’ story of perseverance and how Les experienced the healing power of music.

VHI Save the Music of New York, NY receives funding for its program to reintroduce music into public schools across the United States through its supply of musical instruments to schools in need. Each school will receive copies of a student-friendly biography of Les Paul for use by students.

Waukesha Community Art Project of Waukesha, WI will relay Les Paul’s love of music and his unending curiosity and relentless search for answers to inspire students to ask their own questions and make their own discoveries.

Wisconsin School Music Association of Madison, WI will guide student musicians through the maze of music business so that they can succeed and protect their work. Les Paul’s story will illustrate for students how success comes from never giving up.

Women’s Audio Mission of San Francisco, CA focuses on advancing women in music production and technology. Les Paul’s story inspires students in their hands-on electronics projects. The organization aims to cultivate the female version of Les Paul.

For more information on the Les Paul Foundation go to www.lespaulfoundation.org. Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/lespaulfoundation or www.twitter.com/lespaulfoundation

Grant applications are accepted twice a year. http://www.lespaulfoundation.org/programs/.

Caroline Galloway

(440) 591-3807   caroline@m2mpr.com

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2015 Emerging Research Grants Approved!

By Laura Friedman

Hearing Health Foundation is excited to announce that the 2015 Emerging Research Grants (ERG) have been approved by our Board of Directors, after a rigorous scientific review process. The areas that we are funding for the 2015 cycle are:

  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD): Four grants were awarded for innovative research that will increase our understanding of the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of central auditory processing disorder, an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that affect the way the brain processes auditory information. All four of our CAPD grantees are General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International award recipients.

  • Hyperacusis: Two grants were awarded that is focused on innovative research (e.g., animal models, brain imaging, biomarkers, electrophysiology) that will increase our understanding of the mechanisms, causes, diagnosis, and treatments of hyperacusis and severe forms of loudness intolerance. Research that explores distinctions between hyperacusis and tinnitus is of special interest. Both of our Hyperacusis grants were funded by Hyperacuis Research.

  • Ménière’s Disease: Two grants were awarded for innovative research that will increase our understanding of the inner ear and balance disorder Ménière’s disease. One of the grants is funded by The Estate of Howard F. Schum and the other is funded by William Randolph Hearst Foundation through their William Randolph Hearst Endowed Otologic Fellowship.

  • Tinnitus: Two grants were awarded for innovative research that will increase our understanding of the mechanisms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of tinnitus. One of the grants is funded by the Les Paul Foundation and the other grantee is the recipient of The Todd M. Bader Research Grant of The Barbara Epstein Foundation, Inc.

To learn more about our 2015 ERG grantees and their research proposals and goals, please visit: http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/2015_researchers

Hearing Health Foundation is also currently planning for our 2016 ERG grant cycle. If you're interested in naming a research grant in any discipline within the hearing and balance space, please contact development@hhf.org.

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Les Paul, Wizard of Waukesha

By Sue Baker

Les Paul often said he learned everything he needed to know while growing up in Waukesha. I met Les Paul when I worked at the Waukesha County Museum, and wanted to put together an exhibit about him. We became good friends for what would be the last 10 years of his life (he died in 2009), and these are just some of the stories he told me.

Lester Polsfuss was born June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a city 20 miles west of Milwaukee, to a family with strong German roots. From the time he was a preschooler, Les was encouraged by his mother, Evelyn, to entertain. Les recounted how when he was 5 years old the Rotarians would lift him to a tabletop during their meetings so he could sing for them. By the time he was 8, Les disassembled a harmonica he was given to see how it worked. After reassembling it, he filled the family home with the sounds of endless harmonica practicing.

Radio was brand new when Les was growing up and he couldn’t get enough of listening to the guitar-playing country singers. When the singers came to town, Evelyn took Les to see them perform. Les wanted to be just like the guitar player Pie Plant Pete, and when the performer came to Waukesha not only was Les in the audience, he was dressed just like Pie Plant Pete, who performed in “Showboat” in a sailor suit. In fact, years later Les changed his performance name from Red Hot Red to Rhubarb Red. (“Pie plant” is another name for rhubarb.)

But playing his guitar and harmonica, and singing and telling jokes, was not enough for Rhubarb Red. As a teen, Les loved his guitar but he was sure it could sound better. After inventing a harmonica holder so his hands were free, Les pondered how to improve his guitar so he could hear just the vibration of the strings. So Les stuffed socks, rags, and a tablecloth inside the guitar. The sound was different but not quite what he wanted. Next, he filled the guitar with plaster of Paris—and that was the end of his guitar. 

Les wanted the densest material he could find to build a guitar so that only the strings would vibrate. He tried a two-foot piece of discarded iron train rail. He stretched a single guitar string down the length of the rail and plucked it. What sustain! It was crisp and just the string vibrated and it vibrated a long time. It was exactly what he wanted. He ran to share his great discovery with his mother. The usually supportive Evelyn looked at her son and said, “The day you see a cowboy riding a horse with a piece of rail…” Les knew she was right, but he also knew he had the beginning of something big.

Teenage Les was playing all over Waukesha and the surrounding area. He wanted to hear what his audiences were hearing so he built a disk-recording machine using a flywheel from his dad’s car dealership, a rubber belt from his dentist, and aluminum disks for recording. By now, Les was performing on the radio and his mother would capture his performances on his recording machine. 

Just outside of Waukesha was Beekman’s Barbeque, a popular destination. Les became a regular, playing for tips. Les was constantly honing his guitar playing. He built his own amplifier using parts of his mother’s telephone and radio. When someone in the back said they couldn’t hear his guitar, Les created his first electric guitar with parts from the family’s phonograph and another radio.

In the mid-1930s Les was playing country (hillbilly) music on Chicago radio stations as Rhubarb Red. He spent his nights learning jazz at clubs in Chicago and soon was performing with the musicians. It was in Chicago that he took the name Les Paul when he played jazz.

As a teen, Les played at Waukesha’s band shell, now known as the Les Paul Performance Center. It is being renovated in time for the centennial anniversary of his birthday this June 9.

Learn more about the legendary Les Paul and the launch of the Les Paul Ambassador program, a partnership with Hearing Health Foundation to spread the message of hearing protection. The Les Paul Ambassdaors are guitarist Lou Pallo, saxophonist Chris Potter, jazz pianist John Colianni, and DJ and composer Chill Kechil who was in our magazine as well as in our blogFor the full list of events to celebrate Les Paul’s 100th birthday, see les-paul.com.

Sue Baker is the program director at the Les Paul Foundation

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Turning Tables for Hearing Health

By Chill Kechil

Chill Kechil is our latest Les Paul Ambassador, helping to educate musicians and others about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Here, the New Jersey-based DJ and composer describes how he has managed his hearing loss while building a career in the music industry.

I found out in high school through hearing tests that I had some high frequency hearing loss. This caused me to be very aware of protection at a relatively early age. I fortunately did not go to a lot of concerts and wore earplugs way before they became commonly used. 

As I began DJing and producing music, I became aware of many technology tools that help both protect and aid me in producing music. The most common technology app is the dB (Decibel) Meter that I have on my iPhone. I also had custom earplugs made that I use when the sound in a venue is loud. When DJing, I use headphones that are best at “isolating” the sound in the headphones and reducing the outside sounds. This not only protects my hearing but also allows me to mix the next song in my headphones before playing them over the sound system to the audience. When DJs wear headphones, this is what they are usually doing—mixing the next song into the current one that is playing. 


When composing and producing music, there are several applications that I’ve found helpful. The first is a volume limiter that I use on the output channel of the mix. This prevents the signal/sound from going too loud and becoming distorted, which could damage your hearing as well as the sound equipment. 

The second is the use of a visual EQ (equalizer) monitor which allows you to “see” the frequencies of the sound being played. This indicates whether there is too much or too little sound in low to high frequencies, allowing me to mix the music better for a better listening experience. In particular, since my focus is on the high frequency areas, I use the visual EQ to monitor too much signal in that range. (There are many types of EQ tools available but I think many producers use visual monitors in one way or another.)

I also learned that, although human hearing technically ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz), most people don’t fully hear the entire range, and in the higher and lower frequencies they may only be able to sense that there is a sound being made. A common practice in producing is to use filters to cancel and smooth out sounds below the lower and higher ends of the frequency spectrum. This prevents signals in the lower frequencies from causing unnecessary vibrations or rumbles as well as preventing artificial, “fizzy” sounds at the high frequencies. The ear is most sensitive to sound from about 2,000 to 5,000 Hz, so this is where I try to focus on minimizing peaks in the sound levels. 

Chill Kechil is donating a portion of his music and apparel proceeds to Hearing Health Foundation. Support HHF and enjoy his music at chillkechil.com. Read more about Chill Kechil in the upcoming Spring issue of Hearing Health magazine, out in April.

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The Danger From Noise When It Is Actually Music

By Yishane Lee

Les Paul Ambassador  John Colianni

Les Paul Ambassador

John Colianni

Noise-induced hearing loss affects anyone exposed to very loud or chronic noise. It doesn’t matter if the “noise” is actually music. It has been estimated that up to half of classical orchestral musicians have hearing loss because of their work in music, practicing or performing up to eight hours a day. Sound levels onstage, no matter the music genre, can reach up to 110 decibels (dB), although it is not usually continuous. That is equivalent to a jackhammer—even if there’s a melody behind it.

Researchers at the Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine in Poland measured the exposure for classical musicians as 81 to 90 dBA (A-weighted decibels, a unit of measure for how humans perceive sound) for 20 to 45 hours a week. In their study published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, they estimated that this exposure over the course of a career increases the risk of a hearing loss of 35 dB by 26 percent. At the greatest risk for hearing loss are those in the brass section—horn, trumpet, tuba—as well as those playing percussion, the study found.

Prolonged exposure at 85 dB (the sound of heavy traffic) will permanently damage the delicate hair cells of the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is another potential problem. Roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss.

Not surprisingly, rock and jazz musicians are not immune. Indeed, there are a number of well-known rock and pop musicians who have publicly discussed their hearing loss and/or tinnitus, among them Sting, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Phil Collins, and Will.i.am.

But hearing loss due to noise (or music) is completely preventable. A related study by the Polish scientists determined that brass players benefitted the most from the use of custom-molded, silicone earplugs with acoustic filters that reduced sound levels. Woodwind, percussion, and string players also benefited.

In 2013, the Les Paul Foundation and HHF teamed up to launch the Les Paul Ambassadors program. Guitar great Les Paul was determined to find a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus, and through his foundation’s support of HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project, an international research consortium of top hearing scientists, we have the opportunity to find a cure. Learn about the program and the first Ambassador, Lou Pallo, as well as our other Ambassadors saxophonist Chris Potter and jazz pianist John Colianni.

Learn more about NIHL and its risk factors, treatment, and prevention in our new Summer issue of Hearing Health magazine.

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