Blue Note: that Deep Groove

Most Blue Note pressings made during the 1950s exhibit a deep groove on both sides of the label central area. After around 1960, new pressing dies which left no deep groove were introduced into the manufacturing process, and original first pressings thereafter have no deep groove on either side. The two types of groove are illustrated below (record sawn in half, not Photoshopped, honest!)

Deep Groove (DG) on Side One and no Deep Groove on Side Two.

 The opposite of the expected – no deep groove on a Fifties release, or a deep groove on one or both sides of a Sixties release, indicates a second or later re-pressing of an earlier release.  Only a handful of titles during the changeover late 1960 early 1961 (mostly between BN 4059-68) are known exceptions with deep groove on one side and no deep groove on the other. In the five years that followed, coinciding more or less with the introduction of the NY  (New York USA)  label, the first pressing of around 180 titles by Blue Note all have no deep groove.

Despite all this, sellers shriek “DG!” and buyers foam at the mouth and frantically throw money at the merest mention of deep groove, as if it were a badge of authenticity. According to authorities, from 1961 onwards Plastylite used the newest machinery and the new non-DG dies for all new releases, and older equipment for repress jobs. Many earlier titles, pressed originally in relatively small numbers,  were re-pressed between 1961-6 on New York labels with deep groove on one side or both.  However, as always with Blue Note, there are anomalies.  Consult Fred Cohen’s book on identifying first pressings for specific details on all releases by Blue Note Records.

The presence or absence of deep groove is helpful and in many cases definitive in establishing the authenticity of a pressing as a “first pressing”, or otherwise. It is not a guarantee of superior audiophile performance, which is impacted by many other factors. Second and subsequent pressings by Plastylite employed stampers derived from the same intermediate metalwork and original master lacquer cut by Rudy Van Gelder, and still sound distinctively “Blue Note” – bloody marvelous. The deep groove is, in reality, an inconsequential by-product of the manufacturing process – see the LJC Slackers Guide to making records below. Gain “Instant Expert Status” and immediate respect from less knowledeable collectors.

LJC ” Expert in Thirty Seconds” Slacker’s Guide to making records

In only 30 seconds, everything you need to know to become an authority, shaving 30 seconds off the previous instant expert record of the One Minute Manager

Step Onefrom music to stamper

Music cut by lathe onto a master lacquer, all that important information (catalogue number, master engineer signature, Plastylite ear) stamped or written here on the run-out area of the soft lacquer, mother/stamper positive/negative metal pressing images created, final stamper central area punched out, paper labels trimmed and center-punched ready for  use.

Step Twofrom stamper to finished record

Hot vinyl biscuit sandwiched by labels is mounted between side A and B stampers, the press applies 100 tons pressure to the biscuit at a temperature near 200 C for 30 seconds, pressing the grooves from the stamper image into the vinyl. As the press lifts away from the newly pressed record (bottom right) you see the indentation left behind in the central label area by the metal dies holding the stampers in the press.  Deep Groove, or not Deep Groove, this is where it all happened.

Congratulations.You are now a fully certified 30-second Vinyl Expert, saving nearly four minutes on watching the whole Discovery Channel You Tube.

Origins of Deep Groove

The deep groove has its origins in the pressing 78 r.p.m. records. The deep groove circle is just slightly smaller than the label of a 78, located within the label edge. As the recording and distribution medium switched from the breakable shellac 78 first to the 10″” and then 12″ unbreakable microgroove 33/1/3 LP, with its larger label,  the deep groove was incorporated into the design of the new labels. Deep groove remained a feature during this period until pressing plants commissioning new presses to keep up with the expanding demand for vinyl records, phasing out the old presses, and with them, the older deep groove dies.

(Thanks to Cristian for the info on 78 rpm)

Other record labels and the Deep Groove

Deep groove impression is found on many other record labels such as Riverside and Contemporary pressed around this time. There is not as much documented about how these fit into the chronology of other pressing plant processes as there is for Blue Note and the Plastylite vinyl pressing plant. Eight different types of pressing die grooves from late Fifties to early sixties, ranging from Plastylite-like on Contemporary, to deep pudding bowl on Verve

An example of more PPM – pressing plant mayhem – is this interesting “anomaly” on the Prestige label (photo courtesy of Albert of Ohio) of Coltrane’s 1958 recording Black Pearls, first released by Prestige in August 1964. Stereo copies of the original pressing exist with different label designs, one with deep groove, another with no deep groove.

Anyone with a more serious interest in the subject of pressing die indentations on record labels, I recommend to seek professional help.

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18 thoughts on “Blue Note: that Deep Groove

  1. Hello,

    I own a mono pressing of Jackie McLean’s “let freedom ring” and one side has the deep groove and the other doesn’t. Does this mean it isn’t a first pressing?

    Thanks,
    Lockwoodnyc

    • BN 4106 (1962) hails from the time on the cusp between DG and non-DG pressings. Some nearby titles are no-DG, some full-DG, some mixed with a DG on one or other side. I haven’t got Cohen with me but I think he says 4106 1st is DG both sides (if anyone can plse check)

      The Blue Note Fundamentalist Sect follow the laws as set out by Cohen. Personally I am a Blue Note Heretic. Lets say both old and new dies were mixed in a bucket in the pressing plant. Both served the same purpose equally well. Mounting stamper on press, grunt picks up two dies. Does he think “oh, this is a first pressing run”, and choose only certain matching pairs of dies? I say it’s chance from one day to the next.

      Does a change of stamper (around 2,500/3,000 pressings) and change of dies mean only those records from the first stamper run qualify as “1st pressing”. By a couple of days?

      As anyone who has ever worked in a factory will tell you, things are chaotic. However, Fundamentalists will cite Cohen, and say yours must be a 2nd press (whatever that means).

      Mind you, if I recall history correctly, I think they used to burn heretics.

  2. One interesting about the album Giant Steps by Coltrane on Atlantic is that there’s one version with DG and one without and both are original 1st pressings. So then you can choose, DG or not. There’s comments that maybe the non-DG has a better sound, and that it is may times rarer than the DG version, but still I would probably choose the DG version, just love that beautiful DG.

    Visit my high-end jazz vinyl collecting blog here: http://www.1139indearoldstockholm.com

    Cheers!
    Fredrik

  3. And of course, the mere mention of the term Deep Groove sells, regardless of whether it is meant to be there, or indeed if it actually is there. Check out ebay item: 330808860525 “HANK MOBLEY the turnaround BLUE NOTE van gelder DG new york USA label ear” but no actual DG anywhere to be seen. Doesn’t seem to have put the punters off, nor should it in this case, Cohen has it down as no DG.

    http://www.ebay.es/itm/330808860525?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649#ht_2751wt_1310

    • Helpful observation, Tony. I have updated the post to reflect the “no DG expected” angle. I also think sellers unfamiliar with this stuff see the “step down” between the outer and the central area of non-DG label – which occurs in the same position as the deep groove, and think “DG!”. Deys no smart like us.

      • Yes, I have been confused myself by that int he past. But your pictures illustrate the difference very well. You are getting 2nd place in google searches for “blue note deep groove image” so that is good.

  4. A picture of a metal die including the deep groove (a ‘high dyke’ actually, since it’s the negative of course) is available in Cohen’s book. If you want I can forward a high resolution scan of it 😉

  5. By the way, the deep groove is a left-over from the old days of pressing 78 r.p.m. records. The dimensions of the deep groove circle are just slightly smaller than the label of a 78, which in turn is smaller than an LP label. The deep groove used to be at the edge of the 78 label. I guess when the conversion from 78 to LP took place, the deep groove got integrated into the design of the new labels, until pressing plants abandoned their pre-1950s presses.

    Here is an example of a Blue Note 78 r.p.m. disc, with the characteristic outer groove on the label.

  6. Any insight on Prestige DG pressings (i.e. when they issued DG on first pressings and reissues)? I recently picked up a Coltrane Black Pearls with blue label and silver trident that had deep grooves. I already had a similar copy with no DG’s. Both pressings only have one catalog number in the run-out – PRST7613.

    • Hi and welcome Albert. Prestige is seriously under-documented. In the UK a lot of Prestige recordings of this period were released and pressed here under license by Esquire. I have very few native US Prestige pressings, certainly not enough to figure out DG chronology. All my dozen Blue label/Silver trident are non-DG. I thought it might be all that fresh air in Kent getting to you, but you are right, they exist in DG. A quick Popsike fetches up this http://www.popsike.com/Booker-Ervin-Heavy-Prestige-Blue-Trident-Orig-Stereo-NM/290534992780.html
      A bit blurred but looks DG to me.
      We know Prestige – Weinstock ever the business man – shopped around for pressing plants, so there is little consistency like Blue Note/Plastylite. Similarly, at plant-level, you see even with Blue Note, old and new dies mixed, who knows what happened during production in a factory setting. I doubt anyone thought much about these things at the time. Still, it must be unusual for the same record to exist in both DG and nonDG at the same time.

      If you can do a picture of the trident/DG label (800×800 pixel or more, flat on) I’d like to add it to the Prestige label guide – email at the end of the About LJC page. If its outside your capacity no worries. I am working on enhancing Prestige references.
      Cheers

      • A little off the deep groove subject, but while we’re talking about the mysteries of Prestige’s record manufacturing process, I thought I’d pass along something interesting I ran across on popsike.com:

        http://www.popsike.com/Miles-Davis-Prestige-test-pressing/300483943924.html

        It’s a Abbey test pressing for a 16 2/3 rpm edition of Miles Davis And the Modern Jazz Giants (PRLP 16-3). I believe it’s authentic because I’m fairly certain that that’s a certain Dr. Van Gelder’s handwriting on the label. Unfortunately, we can’t ask the seller if there is a tell-tale AB mark in the deadwax.

        You can find a few more Abbey test pressings for various Prestige titles as well,. Although test pressings are frequently bogus, this one seems to be too bizarre to be fake.

        Just in case anyone is interested, here’s a list of the non-so-successful Prestige 16 2/3 rpm series:
        http://www.jazzdisco.org/prestige-records/catalog-new-jazz-1100-prestige-16-2-3-rpm-series/album-index/

        • I’ll just rev up my 16 2/3rds rpm turntable…oh, I haven’t got one. A curio indeed FS. The Abbey connection looks solid. I just checked my oldest Prestige on 446W50th NYC and bingo, it has the AB in the runout, in the same manner as many Esquire’s pressed with stampers originating from Abbey.

          • What, no 16 rpm player!? They’re all the rage with the kids these days! 16 rpm is the new mp3!

            As you might suspect, the sound quality on these discs is pretty abysmal. Leave it to Bob Weinstock to try and fit two LPs onto a single record. I wonder if 16 rpm had sold if he would have continued on to 8 rpm and 4 rpm…

          • 16 rpm all the rage? Of course I have got one! You gotta be ahead of the curve if you are going to hang around here. What I meant was I haven’t got one at this moment. Mine is away being fitted with an improved 1500 bhp outboard motor, to cope with the half-kilo tracking weight of the new Nagasaki cast iron tonearm I had fitted. Each record only lasts for approximately one play, but the sound is …umm… totally unlike anything you have ever heard.

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