Making Records

After a hard day at the Bedrock Quarry, Fred and Barney relax spinning a few discs.

Flintstone hifi 3

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Vinyl records have been around a long time, but many aspects of their manufacture remain shrouded in mystery, which it is helpful to the modern day collector to understand. LJC poster FelixStrange has recommended this educational video made by RCA in 1956. Get up to speed on lacquers, masters, molds, and stampers, impress your friends at Christmas parties (and make sure you never get invited again)

Quick Summary for Slackers:

peocess complete

Watch the whole thing here. Now everyone can be an expert.

For the seriously nerdy, there is also some useful background to be gained from the manufacture of shellac 78s, shown in this 1942 educational video similarly from RCA, also recommended by LJC Visiting Professor of Vinylology, FelixStrange.

Get the basics right, and you can then move on to the eternal verities.

The YouTubes we are still waiting for:

How to tell at which pressing plant a record was manufactured? A Slacker’s Guide

Alfred Lion looks back on the sessions behind each Blue Note title.

Inside Confidential: who really pressed Esquire.

And lastly, the three-hour blockbuster everybody wants to see this holiday: Transformers – The Rise and Fall of the Evil Silver Disc, starring Michael Douglas as Rudy Van Gelder, Morgan Freeman as Miles Davis, and Patrick Stewart as the enigmatic WB. Also introducing romantic interest, Keira Knightly, as the beautiful but mysterious young lady with a Plastylite ear tattooed in a very unexpected place, who finds she is strangely attracted to men who collect records.

Coming to a theatre near you

transformers_Evil-Silver-Disk-LGETEXT

Avoid it you cannot.

22 thoughts on “Making Records

  1. The type of console on the Scully seen around 6:57 on the 1956 film can be seen up-close at:
    IMG_3066
    and the photostream containing same is:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/92367361@N08/
    As of the late 1950’s, RCA’s New York studios had six cutting rooms – two stereo and four mono. (The tape recorder seen at that mastering room in that 1956 clip was an RCA RT-11 – I presume their studios used this in all their cutting rooms for a time.) The Indianapolis plant (at 501 N. LaSalle Street) first opened in 1939 and that particular location remained in operation until about 1979 when they moved to a newer facility at 6550 East 30th Street which only lasted as a vinyl manufacturing factory up to 1987.

    Going to the 1940’s, their 78’s were cut on an earlier model Scully (among 20 of which, with the gearbox, were made for RCA Victor in 1934-37) which was in use until about the ’50’s, apparently ending when RCA ceased manufacturing 78’s. (On a side note, can anybody ID the conductor of the Victor Salon Orchestra – I can say with certainty it was not Nathaniel Shilkret.)

    RCA’s “deep grooves” on their LP’s were about 2.71875″ – 2.734375″ diameter on the inner part, and 2.8125″ on the outer part. They dated to the mid-1940’s in the 78 RPM era (probably after that “Command Performance” film was made), and how long they lasted depended on which pressing plant. Indy (as the plant was nicknamed) was probably the first to ditch this deep groove for a 1″ diameter pressing ring, in 1968 (final LP releases on the 1965-68 black label variant with the label name in white print had this smaller ring), followed by the Rockaway, NJ plant around summer 1969, Hollywood, CA in summer 1970 (around the time when “Dynaflex” was first introduced); and Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada around 1972. Yes, folks, Smiths Falls pressings still had deep grooves as late as 1972.

  2. Andy. by the way….the insatiable LJC population begs you to dedicate your next LJC segment to probing further and in some depth the mysterious case of Keira Knightly’s Plastylite ear tattoo and to pinpointing exactly where such tattoo appears: the location….the size…the authenticity… the quality of craftsmanship, etc. (zoomed-up images a big plus!). . Also, it would be a good idea to investigate if she has any other tattoos (such as RVG, -1A, 1S/1S. etc) and where those might be. The vicious gossip has it that she also has a spindle hole pierced somewhere, but the accounts differ as to whether this is a tattoo, body piercing or simply a birth mark.

    Awaiting the detailed report with baited breath!

  3. Wonderful post, Andy…kudos and hosannas and curtsys galore to the Metal Master Guru (with apologies to Marc Bolan).

    A few quickie comments, some mildly cynical, some more or less serious (in regards to Mr. Milton Cross’ 1942 footage of the RCA’s Camden, NJ facility).

    Obviously, much has changed since 1942. both technologically and artistically. Not to mention: culturally, politically and socially. For one thing, no self-respecting company today would have 20 people involved in the production line, let alone in about as many quality control and inspection steps in the process. Today, this entire crew would be downsized in an instant, the company would be sold to the highest bidder, who would then, as his first order of business, hire a Japanese pet robot tp replace the missing humans.

    These days, the entire vinyl manufacturing is done by three to four people (if even), the supply of the vinyl is almost completely imported. automated and/or outsourced to Bangladesh and Dominican Republic, while the quality control is relegated to some lonely and desolate outpost somewhere in Bangalore. The audiophile companies probably outsource the entire process to Japan (every single one of my most recent SACDs was manufactured in Austria; United States obviously does not have any interest in pursuing consumer technology at this point).

    Secondly, judging by the RCA’s 1942 footage, America did not have mass-obesity problem back in 1942. I can’t for the life of me, visualize Eleanor Roosevelt touring the USA in the middle of the WW2 advocating the war on saturated fats and greasy burgers.

    Thirdly, the employee culture today is not the same as it was in 1942 (and the employers acted ethically, too — a whopper of a shocker!) . While in 1942 the RCA staffers were neat, orderly, clean, well-trained and well-coiffed (except those working in the mechanical and chemical production of the vinyl), the staffers today are more likely to wear droopy (if any) pants and nose rings. Not that I have any problems with nose rings, except that they might interfere with the visual inspection of the vinyl at close range.

    Finally, Mr. Cross would NOT have “one of the biggest musical experiences” in Camden today. When this footage was made, United States was in the middle of the war (US was busy making guns and vinyl, the Reich # 3 was busy making guns and soap), but RCA’s Camden functioned peacefully, orderly and with a hum. Today. Camden is the most dangerous and most crime-ridden place in America (possibly on earth, aside from Somalia and the slums of Port-au-Prince). The only music Mr. Cross would hear in Camden today would be the sound of gunfire, carjackings and drug deals gone terribly wrong. The place is a post-industrial war zone from hell.

    Oh. One last thing. That beautiful “Blue Danube” RCA’s Salon Orchestra was recording….it is nowhere near as beautiful and blue today as it was 70 years ago, what with all that industrial, medical and human waste, carcinogens, pesticides, animal carcasses, and occasional body or two of Russian oligarchs floating by intermittently.

  4. Looking forward to viewing these videos! I was actually just thinking of a record pressing plant the other day, specifically the Plastylite plant. It really is amazing how good even VG visually graded records sound. Does anyone know what other things they pressed besides Blue Note?

    • Early Prestige 10″ with Plastylite ear:

      60’s United Artists with Plastylite ear:

      Sadly Plastylite alone couldn’t make up for United Artists 2nd Division recording and engineering. The odd Blue Note Plastylite without Van Gelder/RVG doesn’t sparkle in the same way either. It required the combination of Van Gelder recording and mastering and Plastylite pressing.

      To pick an analogy out of thin air, you gotta have the right soil, and grapes, pick right time and ferment right way, then cellar it right, before you produce the premier grand cru?

    • Hi Dave:

      Plastylite pressings were not always equally impressive. They seem to have worked the best on Jazz (and a handful of available Blues) recordings, much less so on folk and pop titles. In essence, the plant’s product appears to have augmented and amplified the dynamic range and dramatic properties of the recording, sometimes at the expense of the finesse. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

      Plastylite catered to a number of clients and labels. Other than their two most famous and prominent clients (Blue Note and United Artists), the label did pressings for early Prestige, Riverside and Capitol catalog – all three virtually exclusively 10″ pressings prior to 1955, not one 12″ title that I can think of), but you can also find their imprimatur on (some) early ESP, Storville and Folkways/Broadside/Smithsonian family of labels titles. I could swear that I saw Plastylite stamps on a few Debut and GNP titles and even very early (1953-54) Columbia titles, but my database could not confirm this. I may have dreamed this up.

      I reckon that, by 1960, more than 90% of the Plastylite product consisted of Blue Note titles, about 7% evenly split between United Artists and Folkways, and the rest going to the smaller labels. By 1963, Plastylite was, for all practical purposes a Blue Note’s house plant and a de-facto wholly owned subsidiary, which may help explain why, with the dissolution of Blue Note into Liberty, Plastylite went kaput as well, more or less concurrently.

      • My copy of Dial 901 “Bird Blows the Blues” (not the mail order red vinyl holy grail, but the black vinyl second pressing with the sketch on the cover) was pressed by Plastylite. Bob – do you know if any of the other early Dials were pressed there?

        • Great point, Joe — I knew I forgot someone. Yes, there are multiple Dial 10″s with Plastylite stamps. Off the top of my head, I can only remember one (Roy Eldridge and His Orchestra, Dial #304), but I know for fact that there are others. In fact, I would not be surprised if all Dials were Plastylite-made.

      • Bob plastylite was still pressing as late as 1969 – I posted a Billboard link somewhere here – I think it was theorised that they stopped using their P in the run out grooves.

      • Thanks Andy and Bob! I completely understand that it was the whole package which made the sum greater than the parts (although the parts are all pretty damn good!). Thank goodness we have what we have to sit back and enjoy for years to come.

    • Thanks for posting this. I also enjoy the Hammond. Indeed, I’m currently on a quest to try to find out what is known of the late Freddie Roach between his last recordings and his untimely demise. Anybody know anything other than that ‘He moved to France and was never heard of again’? Any suggestions for where I can post this without hi-jacking the thread?

        • Your views, and those of your correspondents, would be of great interest. I’ve already taken a look at Mo’ Greens Please and The Soul Book- with Brown Sugar to follow after a suitable gap between recordings involving FR and Joe Henderson appearing on my blog. Featuring Hank Mobley and Blue Mitchell on one of Good Move’s two sessions- it is a set which seems likely to generate some interest and debate here. Of course we may learn a great deal more about FR as a by-product and add to the little that seems to be known about him. A future post here would be most welcome.

  5. A little more modern facility. Chad and colleagues have done things to modernize, such as even temperature control of the presses, that couldn’t be dreamed about back then.

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