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Les Barcus; Inventor of Music Amplifiers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Les Barcus, inventor and co-founder of Barcus-Berry Inc., major manufacturer of musical instruments and sound equipment, has died at age 89.

Barcus, who devised ways to amplify violins and pianos, died March 4 in his sleep at his home in Huntington Harbor.

With his partner, violinist John Berry, Barcus created matchbook-size electrical pickups or sensors that helped amplify the sounds of stringed instruments (guitars, harps), percussion (cymbals, drums) and wind instruments (flutes). Other companies had made guitar amplifiers, but Barcus and Berry virtually created the systems to enhance the sound of delicate instruments like flutes.

Their devices have been used by artists from Elton John, Charlie Daniels and Wayne Newton to the London Philharmonic and the Moscow Symphony.

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In 1991, the company introduced a device for pianos that could replace traditional microphones and provide studio-like sound quality to the ubiquitous bar pianos.

“After 24 years of research, I have found a simple solution to a very complex problem,” Barcus told The Times then, explaining his tiny sensor that could be attached to a piano’s soundboard. The sensor, he said, picks up sound produced by a piano and filters out signals that can produce feedback and sends it directly to a public address system or sound mixing console.

Barcus, an audio engineer, and Berry founded the company in 1964. They first marketed a system to record instrumental music without microphones, which they patented as the Barcus-Berry Direct Recording Process.

In the 1980s, they helped Bob Crooks develop a high definition signal processing device that increases the sound quality of live and recorded music. That production technology, now used by more than 100 recording companies, was spun off into a separate venture-backed company, BBE Sound Inc., in 1985. That company took over the original Barcus-Berry Inc. when the two co-founders retired in 1994.

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Born in Dayton, Ohio, Barcus was a self-taught inventor. Until teaming up with Berry, he ran a television and hi-fi equipment store in Long Beach.

He wrote several technical articles over the years and held patents on such items as a flat loudspeaker with a glass plate instead of the traditional paper cone.

Barcus is survived by his wife, Geraldine.

Memorial donations may be made to the Companion Hospice, 730 Town & Country Road, Orange, CA 92868.

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