Last Updated: December 27, 2022
The groove-type found on a Blue Note record offers a useful indication of the probable date of manufacture, and can help confirm or discount the status of a particular copy being an “original pressing”.
All original Blue Note records manufactured by Plastylite before mid-1961 have a deep groove on both sides, The groove is a “trench” around the outer circumference of the label, caused by the metal dies which hold the metal stampers in place during the pressing of the vinyl.
In Autumn 1961, new dies were introduced at the Plastylite plant, whose residual mark was a single “step” or ridge. The old DG and new non-DG dies were functionally interchangeable and coexisted for some four years, until the last of the old deep groove dies finally became worn out and discarded, in late 1965. During the four years between 1961 and 1965, Blue Note pressings appeared with every combination of die types: both DG, both non-DG, and DG only one side or the other.
The two types of groove are illustrated below:
Deep Groove (DG) on Side One and no Deep Groove on Side Two.
Various collector theories have been offered – the use of old dies for re-pressings, new dies for new original pressings, -but recollections of a Plastylite press operator in the early 60s (Larry C) was that type of die was of no significance: he merely used whichever came to hand. There was no reason to use either type.
The first pressing run of each Blue note title is associated with a particular groove combination, noted by Fred Cohen in his Guide to Blue Note Original Pressings. That schedule was compiled by Cohen in conjunction with elite collectors with extensive first hand knowledge of Blue Note original pressings, through a lifetime of collecting.
The groove combination assigned to the first pressing run depends on pressing being carried out on one press, with one pair of stampers affixed, typically, pressed over a number of working days. This would be consistent with around 4,000 records pressed for the original Blue Note release (my own estimate for early ’60s titles). In the event that there was a cause to interrupt the first pressing, the identifying marks are hostage to change e.g. different stamper, different press, and change of stamper fixing dies could all confuse the “correct” initial release. There are a few cases open to doubt.
Date of recording, date of manufacture and date of release
A study of all session and release dates for all titles shows on average, there was a ten month gap between the original recording session date (recorded on the tape box) and the month of release (according to Schwann Catalogues) . For some titles it was as little as 4-6 weeks, most often it was about 3 months, not uncommonly 6 – 9 months, and some titles waited several years. It is likely that the pressing of vinyl (expensive item) was only a month or two prior to release, and the groove pattern reflects what was current at the time of release, and not at the date of recording or inferred from the catalogue number sequence. When the labels were printed to accompany the first release is another unknown. Label designs changed.
The best indicator of the date of manufacture (after 1962) is which of the nine patterns of inner sleeve the record was packed with. Before those dates, there is a degree of uncertainty.
Beware the DG hype
Because DG dies continued in use at Plastylite until 1965, there are anomalies where the original pressing is no deep groove, and a subsequent repressing appears with deep groove, merely by chance. Deep Groove is definitive only for releases before 1961, ad even then there were many repressings within the deep groove era.
Consult Fred Cohen’s book on identifying first pressings for specific details on all mono releases by Blue Note Records (note, Fred has changed his judgement on a few since publication).
The presence or absence of deep groove is not a guarantee of superior audio performance, which is impacted by many other factors. Early pressings with DG suffered more wear and tear over the years. Second and subsequent pressings by Plastylite possibly not DG still employed stampers derived from the same intermediate Van Gelder metalwork, and still sound distinctively “Blue Note”, and are often in better condition. However, sentiment still holds sway over many collectors: they want a piece of history, they want the original.
How vinyl records were made
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Step One – from music to stamper
Music is cut onto a master laquer by lathe. All that important information (catalogue number, master engineer signature) stamped or written is here on the runout area of the soft laquer. Mother/stamper positive/negative metal parts are created. The stamper central area is punched out. Printed paper labels are trimmed and center-punched ready for use.
Step Two – from stamper to finished record
Hot vinyl biscuit is sandwiched by labels, and mounted between a side A and side B stamper. Ensuring the labels were bone dry was critical at this point, as any moisture converts to steam during pressing. 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.
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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.
These differences are almost certainly attributed to the spread of manufacture to different plants, who may also have been tasked to print labels locally, hence variations in typesetting, pressing dies, even the use of “out of date” designs. Whilst Blue Note used just one plant, Plastylite (plus one known exception), it became common for some labels to press at two or three plant location, some times contracting pressing to independents for cost advantage.
Anyone with a more serious interest in the subject of pressing die indentations on record labels, I recommend to seek professional help. Or indeed amateur help, such as myself.
My understanding from Fred Cohen’s book is that it tabulates the pressings associated with OG features which are listed as original pressings (because something had to be). He writes about this in the Forward.
Fred’s endeavour is a noble one, to provide a “definitive stand” on what are the features that identify the first mono and stereo pressing of each Blue Note title, and that is good to go. I am not trying to argue with Fred or repeat his book, my interest is slightly different.
In a poll I did of my readers, only about 5% had an original conforming first pressing of 1577 Coltrane’s Blue Train. The rest had a legion of (more affordable) re-issues. A helluva lot of collectors are looking for answers to a different question: OK, it is not the first pressing, but what exactly is what I have got/ are considering buying – the heirarchy of subsequent pressings, including reissues up to the present day,that a jazz collector with family and mortgage priorities can aspire to.
There is a lot of ancillary detail that helps to sort out an answer to the different question I get in my mailbox almost daily: understanding the other 95%.
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.. ” 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”
My 64 second stereo copy of Somethin’ Else has one side DG and other NDG. Consensus seems to be this was standard with the
As best I understand Fred Cohen, he tabulated the groove status of the mono first editions. The stereo of some titles was not issued until some time later
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I have a copy of Eric Dolphy – Far Cry on New Jazz – looks original on thick vinyl but
no deep grooves. Searches on popsike seem to make this much rarer than the deep
groove known originals. Is it a try original press or just a 2nd press that seems very rare?
I was wondering if you can answer a deep groove question for me: If Plastylite was doing original pressings without deep groove after 1961, why are there various original versions of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder (which was released on the cusp of 63/64) floating around with both deep and shallow grooves? Mine does not have the deep groove but it has the P, Rudy stamp, NY/USA labels and is very heavy. I’ve seen others with the deep groove and Fred Cohen’s book lists the original as DG. I know it was an extremely popular title upon its release so it may have been pressed on different machines – what is your take on this?
Sidewinder was a huge hit for Blue Note and if any title was a candidate for “exceptional measures” this was it.
I have never seen anything documented but It is quite likely Plastylite had a number of pressing machines and supposedly newer and older machines, which were tasked for different purposes, though I don’t think anyone really knows what went on inside the Plastylite plant day to day.
It looks like the DG dies went out of regular use around the time of the label change to NY, around 1961, if all my copies are anything to go by. They pop up from time to time thereafter, but most frequently on a combo of only on one side though there are exceptions. These are supposedly “later pressings”
Most all of the titles in the catalogue around 4157 are not deep groove, stretching back two or three years at least. If the plant had all or much of its capacity churning out copies of Sidewinder to keep up with the demand, then it is quite plausible that a box of old DG pressing dies could exceptionally have been brought into service along with mothballed presses. Manufacturing practice is messy, the focus is on getting the job done.
What constitutes a “First Pressing” with high volume production run or runs like Sidewinder seems academic, less so on rare titles. My copy is DG on side 1, plain on the other and has a 1964 “25 years of” inner sleeve, weight 148gm, but its stereo. Perhaps Cohen has his reasons but Sidewinder just might break some of the normal rules.
Oh the joys of Blue Note.
Thanks so much for your reply! I weighed my copy and it is a solid 185gram. (It’s stereo as well.) Unfortunately, it didn’t have the original inner sleeve but I know it should be the “25 years.” Yes, it is indeed a mystery.
“Deep groove” dimensions varied from company to company, and there were two types of diameter measurements: outer and inner. Evidently, deep grooves from the Plastylite plant would have differed from what Abbey Record Mfg. (another New Jersey-based independent plant that handled a few other jazz labels such as Prestige) had. Two examples are from among the “big boys”:
– Columbia: outer 2.78125″, inner 2.6875″ (later replaced by non-deep groove 2.703125″)
– RCA Victor: outer 2.8125″, inner 2.71875″ (later replaced by 1″ diameter ring)
Another plant, on the West Coast, Research Craft (which handled Verve prior to MGM’s acquisition of that label in 1960-61), from the mid-1950’s to the early ’60’s, had stamped on the deadwax two patents held by the man who ran the company, Allan R. (Al) Ellsworth, thus:
U.S.PAT.# RE 23,946 G B PAT.# 713,418
RE 23,946, incidentally, was a reissue of an earlier patent, 2,631,859 which was within the rim print of many a Capitol LP (and some 45’s) from the late 1950’s well into the early-to-mid-’70’s.
As well, by the early ’60’s, Research Craft replaced their deep groove (same as what Columbia had) with a non-deep groove of 2.875″ diameter which was also on pressings of many West Coast plants including Monarch Record Mfg. and Custom Record Mfg. This was the Research Craft plant that in 1965 was acquired by Liberty – and pressed many Blue Notes after the late ’60’s.
W.B. – your depth of knowledge is always appreciated. Thanks.
Do you know which pressing plant produced records with a serrated edge found on some Riverside & Liberty issue Blue Notes in the latter half of the 60’s?
I don’t know but if anyone does, its W.B. Honoured. If its any help I have a picture of said serrated edge here.
It was found on a Liberty re-issue of BNST 4079 Lou Donaldson’s Gravy Train, Division of Liberty label, RVG STEREO in runout, It’s one of only two serated edge pressings I have. The Other is Hank Mobley’s High Voltage, another Liberty years pressing.
It has to be said neither is a particularly good pressing.
It’s possible (though not a guarantee) that the serrated outside edge would’ve been attributable to the All Disc Records plant of Roselle, NJ, which Liberty acquired in 1966. By then they had a 2.75″ circular indent which was also used by some other pressing plants (i.e. Sonic Recording Products of Hicksville and later Holbrook, NY; Dynamic LP Stereo of East Newark, NJ; Allentown Record Co. of Allentown, PA; Keel Mfg. [later Hauppauge Record Mfg.] of Hauppauge, NY; and many others I can’t gauge at this time). Unless Liberty used Abbey Record Mfg. for this Blue Note pressing. Any other markings in the deadwax besides what you’d noted?
My vinyl and I are separated at this moment, so I am not in a position to check. All Disc is credited with the bulk of Blue Note pressing for Liberty at least in the early years post acquisition. If it was the handiwork of All Disc so I would have expected serated edge to be very common, but in seventy-odd Division of Liberty pressings I have only two with serated edge. I’ll have to check but I am pretty sure there is no AB engraving, so it sure is a puzzle. I wonder if a serated edge appears on any other labels than Liberty/Blue Note?
I have a black label DG twin reel stereo copy of Bill Evans – How My Heart Sings on Riverside which has edges like a buzzsaw.
I have a budget copy of a Charlie Parker / Miles Davis LP that I think is on the Baronet label. It isn’t particular good sounding but it also has a serrated edge and was the first time I’d ever seen a record like that. Makes listening to records surely feel like ‘living on the edge’ haha with that look. Seems more fitting maybe for a Black Sabbath or an Alice Cooper album maybe than a jazz record….
Just checked my Liberty mono copy of The Stylings Of Silver that has the serrated edge and there are no other marks in the deadwax besides the catalog number, RVG and the mysterious 9M, just like the original pressing minus the Plastylite “ear”. My Riverside stereo copy of Bill Evans How My Heart sings with the serrated edge has a small ring, slightly larger than 3/4″, around the spindle hole on the B side.
My stereo copy of How My Heart Sings with serrated edge has puzzling marks. It has a pseudo-deep grooves, meaning it looks like a DG on both sides, but they are not actually grooves, but rather two-step-down rings. Until you actually felt it, you would swear it was a DG. In the matrix is a handwritten catalog number – RS 9743 – but then a difficult to read crossed-out mark that is DK 151 or DK 757 or DK 157. No other pressing plant marks I can see.
I’ve a question. If a deep groove is a deep groove, how do you call the other one? “Shallow” groove? I am really interested in an answer for this, as many pressing from the ’70s on to the ’80s (in the U.S. at least) have this circle on the label (like the one on your first image on the right) which is located at the same place as the deep groove. Is there a name for that circle= Later on all the plants switched to the smaller circle, which you can find on all pressings nowadays. Interestingly, Germany for instance (and most of continental Europe) has always used the smaller circle, even early on in the ’50s and ’60s.
Non-‘deep groove’ LP product where there is a circular indent, that is referred to as a ‘pressing ring’.