Suggestions for Vinyl Newbies

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by sungshinla, Apr 2, 2008.

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  1. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    I see every now and then, but continually, a new thread started by a vinyl newbie asking similar beginner vinyl collecting questions. I am hoping that this thread will help, sort of as a Vinyl Newbie 101.

    Like me, you may have grown up with vinyl, or you may be part of the new generation who has only recently seen a record player for the first time. Even if you grew up with vinyl, you probably are not familiar with the kinds of detailed information that you will need to find the best sounding pressings, unless you are already an audiophile who collects used vinyl. By the way, if you are NOT an audiophile (meaning you are not driven to find the best sounding pressings) but are merely interested in collecting “rare” records, this thread probably is not for you. The purpose of this thread is to help those folks who have recently turned to vinyl to find the best sounding medium to listen to good music (or the music that they like).

    What I will do here is to post, from time to time (since I cannot possibly write everything in a single post, as I have to work for a living, pick up my son, feed the dogs and, of course, vacuum-clean my newly acquired vinyl treasures), some general information or rules of thumb, and I hope that other vinyl experts here at this Forum will be so kind as to post their two bits as well.

    Please note that this is a beginner course (Vinyl Newbie 101) and what will be shared here are GENERAL rules and information which, of course, are subject to exceptions. I have found, however, that it is much more efficient to begin the beginners with general rules than to inundate them with exceptions.

    The first rule one should always remember is that all vinyl is NOT created equal. You must remember this first rule in venturing into the voyage of vinyl collecting, just as a Star Trek crew must remember their prime directive. Now, this means that while two records made from the same master tape, lacquer, mother and stamper will most likely sound almost identical, the one which was the first to be pressed from that stamper may sound a tiny bit different from the one which was the 4,000th to be pressed. After all, stampers are subject to wear and that is the reason why a stamper is discarded after a certain number of records are pressed using that stamper.

    What are lacquers, mothers and stampers, you may ask. In making records, a mastering engineer (such as our venerable Steve Hoffman) would make (or “cut”) one or more lacquers, which would then be used to make one or more mothers (usually several, unless the record is a limited release of a small run, such as some of the audiophile issues). The mother would then be used to create one or more (again, usually several) stampers, which would be used to actually press the vinyl records. A stamper was used to press around 200 to 5,000 records.

    Which mastering engineer made the lacquer, which manufacturing plant pressed the record, which lacquer, mother and/or stamper was used to make the very record that you are holding in your hands can sometimes be deciphered from the information on the record cover (or also called outer sleeve or jacket), the inner sleeve that the record is housed in and/or the dead wax of the record. The dead wax is the part of the record between the end of the last song (or track or band) and the label on the record. Obviously, the record cover and the inner sleeve will not contain information on which lacquer, mother and/or stamper your record was made from. That information can be gleaned only from the dead wax (called dead wax matrix or matrices), if at all. Please note that not all records contain the lacquer, mother and/or stamper information on the dead wax and, most of the time, the stamper information will not be on the dead wax even if the lacquer and mother information is on the dead wax. Also, if the information on the dead wax contradicts what is written on the album cover or inner sleeve, the dead wax information is correct. Finally, if the dead wax matrices do not confirm the information on the cover or inner sleeve, there is a chance that the particular record that you are holding may not have been mastered by the engineer credited on the cover or inner sleeve. In short, dead wax matrices are the most important.

    Why are these sorts of information important, you may ask. First, the mastering engineer is important because not all mastering engineers are of the same high caliber as, say, Steve Hoffman. Certain mastering engineers routinely made great sounding records and the records which resulted from their mastering will good most of the time. Personally, I think that you can bank on almost all records mastered by Steve Hoffman or Robert Ludwig (or “Bob” Ludwig, as some call him) or Rudy Van Gelder (Jazz records from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s) to be great, if not unbeatable. From my listening experience over the years, folks like Doug Sax, Bernie Grundman, Lee Herschberg, Wally Traugott, George Peckham (British mastering engineer), Lee Hulko, Ken Perry (“kp” on the dead wax), Stan Ricker (“SR” or “SR/2” on the dead wax), Allen Zentz, Shelly Yakus (“SHELLY” on the dead wax), Kevin Gray, Steve Hall, George Horn (“GH” on the dead wax), Gene Thompson (“Gene” on the dead wax), Brian Gardner, Mike Reese and others (I know I am leaving out at least 10 other folks) have consistently done wonderful work also.

    Some of these folks routinely (but not always) left signatures on the dead wax which have now almost become regularly used words in the vinyl collecting world. For example, Rudy van Gelder left a machine-stamped “van gelder” or “RVG” on the dead wax. Robert Ludwig marked in hand printed letters “RL” after or near hand-written “SS” or the machine-stamped “STERLING” (while he was employed at Sterling Sounds during the late 60’s to mid 70’s) or after or near the machine-stamped “MASTERDISK” (while he was employed at MasterDisk from around the mid 70’s through the 80’s). During the 60’s (at least until late 1970), the “RL” was very small and skinny. After that the “RL” became bigger and rounder. Steve Hoffman, unfortunately, only wrote his name or initials on the dead wax more recently and occasionally (e.g., DCC reissue of Getz/Byrd, Jazz Samba LP) and with Kevin Gray’s markings (if they worked on the project together). Doug Sax also hardly left his markings on the dead wax (except “Doug” on the dead wax of the recent reissue of Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon) but his company’s marking usually appear on the dead wax as machine-stamped “TML” (but you cannot tell whether it was Doug Sax, Mike Reese or someone else at The Mastering Lab or “TML” who actually mastered the particular record you are holding). Bernie Grundman used to hand print a very very small “BG” on the dead wax of the very first run(s) of some of the records originally mastered by him during the 70’s. Recently, with the Classic Records reissues, he wrote a much more legible “BG” on the dead wax. Wally Traugott (Capitol staff mastering engineer) hand wrote either “Wally” or “Wly” with machine-stamped “MASTERED BY CAPITOL” elsewhere on the dead wax. Steve Hall at MCA would hand write “SH”. Lee Hulko’s signature would be “LH” near the machine-stamped “STERLING” (70’s and 80’s) or hand-written “SS” (60’s). Allen Zentz left different clues, such as “AZ” or some symbols. George Peckham is famous for the “Porky” “Prime Cut” and variations thereof on the dead wax.

    Which plant manufactured the record can also be very important is guessing whether the sound of the record will be good. Oops, gotta go pick up my kid. To be continued…. :wave:
    Bryce likes this.
  2. VinylNutz

    VinylNutz Active Member

    Great idea Sung! I hope to contribute and learn a few things as this thread progresses.
  3. PTgraphics

    PTgraphics Senior Member

    Great Idea. Should be a Sticky.

  4. ronankeane

    ronankeane Forum Resident

    Dublin, Ireland
    My copy of Hunky Dory is signed 'Rasputin' in the dead wax - anyone know who this is?
  5. Chris Schoen

    Chris Schoen Rock 'n Roll !!!

    Maryland, U.S.A.
    Good vinyl info! I'm sure there are more than a few folks that are
    vinyl newbies or "sitting on the fence", and this type of thread will give them
    some confidence in buying and enjoying records. I have been playing and
    collecting vinyl for 45 years, but only since joining this forum have I really
    understood many of the aspects of this wonderful hobby.
    Recently there was a thread listing the albums Robert Ludwig mastered
    (many of my favorite) - a big help to those folks just starting a collection.
    Perhaps we can give more info. or links that can direct new buyers to the
    best pressings of records they would likely be interested in.
    Tommorow I will post a short list of records from my modest collection
    that I think are worthwhile (either I don't have it on c.d., or the vinyl sounds
    better to me) to check out.
  6. Dave D

    Dave D Done!

    Milton, Canada
    As always, great info from you, Sung.
  7. wolf66

    wolf66 New Member

    Should be a great thread and most welcome as I'm back into vinyl big time since a few weeks. I have 400+ LPs acquired so far, but I gotta slow down some .....says the wife and the wallet :D

    My question would be, if the stamper info IS in the deadwax, how does it look/read ? Maybe an example from a prominent record where this info is included could help ?

  8. VinylNutz

    VinylNutz Active Member

    It can be different for different compaies but this will help with 60s and 70s UK EMI pressings. I copied this from the excellent Pink Floyd Discographies page at:

    I believe Vernon Fitch who runs this site is a forum member.


    Matrix Information: Matrix information is the letters and numbers etched into the vinyl near the label in the runoff groove at the end of each side of a record. Matrix information may include:

    Catalog number.
    Side number.
    Lacquer master number.
    Stamper letter. (usually found at the 3 o'clock position)
    Mother number. (usually found at the 9 o'clock position)
    Record pressing plant.
    The engineer who cut the lacquer (for example HTM stands for Harry T. Moss).
    Example: The matrix information, YAX 3419-1 G 1, found on side one of the Columbia Records pressing of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn indicates:

    YAX 3419-1 is the lacquer master number (this includes the catalog number YAX 3419)

    G is the stamper letter

    1 is the mother number
    Stampers are made from the Mothers. Mothers are made from the fathers. Fathers are made from the lacquers. And the lacquers are cut from the master tapes. It is interesting to note that side one of the mono pressings of Piper at the Gates of Dawn are all made from a second lacquer. What happened to lacquer number 1?

    Stamper Codes: The stamper codes used by EMI Records is based on "Gramophone Ltd." and are as follows:


    Example: A record with a "G" stamper letter indicates that the record was made from the first stamper. Later pressings may have stamper numbers in combination, such as "AL" which means 38.
  9. Jay F

    Jay F New Member

    Pittsburgh, PA
    Do you actually mean they printed their initials by hand, on each record? That wasn't part of the stamping process? Wouldn't that take forever on, say, a Springsteen album?
  10. Randy W

    Randy W Original Member

    Good idea, Sung. I will contribute what I know.

    Remember that the first pressing (-1, etc.) may be best sounding, but not always. Rule number 1 is there are no rules. ;)
  11. VinylNutz

    VinylNutz Active Member

    No, initials were hand etched in the lacquer therefore park of each stamper.
  12. Jay F

    Jay F New Member

    Pittsburgh, PA
  13. RBtl

    RBtl Forum Resident

    Toronto, Ontario
    Does each company have its own system for indicating stampers (assuming they indicate it at all)? I had it in my head that they just started with A and worked through the alphabet!
  14. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    Continued from Post #1:
    I apologize for the delay but my son is in the middle of an amazing Little League baseball season and I can’t miss one game or practice. It is more enjoyable and exciting than writing about old mastering engineers (yeah, even you Steve, LOL!) and dead wax information. And, yes, this vinyl junkie HAS A LIFE beyond musty smelling vinyl.

    By the way, I re-read through my initial post and found a couple of typos. I apologize in advance for those (as I am sure it will occur again) and if my posts seem more than a little confusing at times. If you are confused, just post a question and someone will clarify it (even if it is not I, many experts here will).

    Before I continue, I would recommend for those who are more advanced in this course to check out an old thread of mine linked below (with amazing contributions posted by fellow vinyl junkies here at the Forum) which has more detail about dead wax reading. It also mentions another wonderful UK mastering engineer Denis Blackham (“Bilbo” on the dead wax).

    Now back to manufacturing plants: Some record manufacturing plants were reputed to press records with higher standards and quality than others (basically, they tended to be on quieter vinyl, allowing more detail to come out when playing the record), even among those used by the same record company. For example, most Classical music record buffs have a higher regard for the Indianapolis plant of RCA than RCA’s Rockaway (NY) or RCA’s Hollywood (CA) plants back in the golden days of RCA’s “Living Stereo”. For those not familiar with “Living Stereo” Classical LPs of the late 50’s to mid 60’s, they are generally regarded as US Classical LP treasures, similar to the US Mercury “Living Presence” series of the same era. They are comparable to the UK’s Decca “Wide Band ffss” Classcial LPs (or “WB ffss”, with ffss meaning Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound) of the same era, which were also exported to the US and Japan under the label name London (the originals of these had an outer cover with light blue color, and are called “London Blue Backs” or “London Bluebacks”), and also comparable to the UK’s EMI Classical LPs with the “SAX” catalog number from the same era (which originally had a label with silver and powder blue colors, and are called “SAX SB” or “SAX S/B” for short).

    Because of the higher regard for the Indianapolis plant of RCA over RCA’s other two plants, you will see Classical record collectors routinely verifying that the dead wax has a machine-stamped “I” away from the catalog (or tape) number, which denotes that the record was pressed by RCA’s Indianapolis plant. RCA’s Rockaway plant had a machine-stamped “R” on the dead wax and Hollywood plant had a “H”. That is just one example. For other record companies and record plants, there may have been other clues besides the information on the dead wax. For example, it may have been whether the label has a circular “deep groove” impression or indentation on the label of the record made by the machine that pressed the record. Or it may be the font used to print information on the label of the record. Or it may be the initials following the catalog (or tape) number on the label of the record. For this kind of detail, you may wish to do some searches on the Forum with “W.B.” as the poster, who is one of most knowledgeable (if not THE most knowledgeable) folks here about record plants. Record plant information can really be important if you must absolutely have THE BEST sounding copy of your most beloved LP. Personally, I just love Led Zeppelin II on vinyl, and although most folks who are in the know would agree that a copy with “RL” etched on the dead wax of both sides is the best sounding copy, my obsession over this LP carried me to conclude (after comparing many many so-called “double RL” copies of this record) that the earliest run (with dead wax matrices ending with “1A” – but we will get into dead wax matrices later below) with the catalog (or tape) number at the bottom of the label on the record ending with “CTH” sounds the best. I think “CTH” meant that the record was pressed at Columbia Record Company’s Terra Haute plant but W.B. would know this.

    Now, I will try to give some general information on reading dead wax matrices. Before I begin, I would recommend reading Post # 8 above, as that post gives a great idea of how to decipher U.K. EMI records.

    I will be back to continue.... Sorry.
  15. Robert Lan

    Robert Lan Forum Resident

    Great thread !

    Charisma and Island used the EMI mother/stamper coding system on some UK pressings. Here are a few that come to mind:


    Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

    Emerson, Lake & Palmer:

    Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Tarkus, Trilogy

    King Crimson:

    Starless and Bible Black, Red

    I'll have to check, but I'm sure there are many more.

    Let's hear it from the deadwax gurus ! (Expression borrowed from an old SH member.)

    All the best,

  16. mrbillswildride

    mrbillswildride Internet Asylum Escapee 2010, 2012, 2014

    The Virtures of a Fine British Pressing...

    Great idea for a thread Sung, I have already leaned a ton from your first few posts. I'd just like at for the sake of "newbie general knowledge" (NGK) that if you newbies are haunting your local shops and come across a British pressing of one of your favortie albums, or artists, and it is in mint to excellent condition, and not too expensive (say $5-20 bucks) BUY iT!!!

    My collecting experience has been that original British pressings "almost always" sound better than their American, or even Japanese counterparts.
    (Though, as noted above, looking for RLs and such is a cheaper was to find good sounds.) German pressings are usually very tasty analogue heaven as well. Look for glossy sleeves, thinner spines, and the small print on back: Garod and Lighthouse (I know its not Lighthouse, but can't remember...) etc... The original 1960s British pressings also had "flipback covers, where the front cover folds back onto the back of the back cover.

    Once you've seen a few of these covers, they are easy to spot. Once you've played a few, you'll most likely want to find more. Once you're hooked, it gets more expensive...:eek: :agree: ;) :D :righton:

    For example, my first two Nick Drake Lps were Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter for ten bucks each, turned out to be on US Antilles, a budget reissue label from the late 1970s. Later I found the US Pinik Moon, a good pressing, not easy to find, and a US Pressing of Nick Drake, the US combo Lp of tracks from his first two British albums mentioned, again a nice record, but not the same as the British pressings. Eventually, I collected, traded for all three of his Lps on original British pressings (the first is actually the second pressing~right after the ultra rare first.) These are "rare as hen's teeth" and can go for $500 or more now (while the decent sounding Cds to be had for a tenner each, for now...)

    Moral of this story, meant to illustrate my post's point: Newbies, buy British pressings of records you find you like, or are even just curious to explore, I doubt you'll be sorry, and, for me at least ~ and I think many here, they are a major part of my "prized" collection, up there with the fabled "half speed masters"...

    good luck, good hunting, good listening....

    PS: Additions, corrections, opinions, and/or missing details wanted and always greatly appreciated...

  17. VinylNutz

    VinylNutz Active Member

    Close, Garrod and Lofthouse which printed most EMI covers.:wave:

    Also look for EJ Day or Ernest J Day Printers, Robert Stace, and MacNeill Printers who all made great UK covers. Many were nicely lamenated and don't suffer the wear North American covers often have. They used thinner more flexible cardboard too which seems hold up better against seem splits that plague many older US and Canadian covers that used a thicker but more brittle cardboard.

    UK and German pressings were excellent and are often worth a premium particiularly for UK bands. For example, if you are serious about your Pink Floyd collection, get UK pressings. Aside from the sound, the covers are what the band intended. Starting with Atom Heart Mother PF kept writing, including the album title, off most of their covers but the US and Canadian Columbia versions often add album titles and all sorts of Columbia credits on the back ruining the vision PF had.
  18. mrbillswildride

    mrbillswildride Internet Asylum Escapee 2010, 2012, 2014

    Ah that was it, Lofthouse, thanks Thin Wafer Man... yummy... :agree:

    I'd second that thought on Pink Floyd, per another thread round here, Meddle, for example, is night and day different on UK Harvest versus US Harvest (which was pressed by Capiltol ~ check the fine print when buying a Harvest pressing to see if it is US or UK.) You have not really "heard" Meddle until you've heard the UK Harvest, it's a hole nutter listening experience...

  19. sungshinla

    sungshinla Vinyl and Forum Addict Thread Starter

    Continued from Post #14:

    Similar to UK EMI records, UK Decca records (and for Classical music, UK London, their export label to the US and Japan), you will usually see the catalog number (or tape number) such as ZAL-#### (# would a number) on the dead wax near the bottom of the label. That catalog number (or tape number) would be followed by a dash plus a number and letter designating the lacquer number, such as 1E, 1D, 4E, 8W, etc. For UK Decca, I understand that the letter does not denote any sequence but rather the mastering engineer or the plant (I forget which). The number, however, is sequential, although a “1” is not always the first run, as the very first run may be a 2E, for example. Either because the mastering engineer, producer or someone else is not satisfied with the first lacquer or because it was a botched job, a “2” or even a later number may actually be the very first lacquer used to press records sold to the public.

    Again, similar to UK EMI records, UK Decca (and London) had their mother designation and stamper designation at around the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. For UK Decca (and London), however, the word “B U C K I N G H A M” was used rather than “G R A M O P H L T D” to denote the digits 1 through 0.

    Someone posted earlier that that person had thought that all companies simply went from A through the alphabet. Basically, while one can figure out a given company’s system after going through a number of the company’s records, each company had its own system. RCA Living Stereos had the catalog/tape number followed by “-1S”, “-2S”, “-3S” and so on (always ending with a “S”) on the dead wax to designate the lacquer number with the mother number (I think) designated as “A1” “A2” “B1” etc. away from the lacquer designation. Most of the time, there was no stamper number on the dead wax. US Columbia had the catalog/tape number followed by “-“ plus a number and one or more letters. There is a good thread on this which tells you that certain letters were not used, etc. But basically, a “-1A” would be the very first lacquer cut, unless that was never used for whatever reason. Sometimes (but not too often), US Columbia records would also have a handwritten “A1” etc. mother designation and handwritten “1S” etc. stamper designation on the dead wax elsewhere on the dead wax.

    Here, I need to disclose an important exception (although I am trying to limit the exceptions since this is for beginners): For US Columbia and Atlantic and some other labels, the lacquer number/letter combination can be deceiving, especially if more than one letter is present followed by a number. For example, the catalog/tape number followed by “-1AA” may mean a much later lacquer than a “-1A” (or, say, a “-1J”) OR it could simply denote the fact that a “1A” lacquer (or its metal parts) were used at a later time and someone cutting the mother/stamper simply etched in the extra “A” after the initial “-1A”. One can usually tell the difference by carefully looking at the number/letter combination. If the second “A” appears lighter or appears to have been written by a different person, then the chances are that that second “A” was not on the original lacquer, meaning that that record was made from the same lacquer as the “-1A”. Because these numbers and letters were etched at different stages (i.e., lacquer cutting stage, then mother stage, then the stamper stage), these numbers and letters oftentimes do not have the same handwriting (or size of the letters and numbers), depth of impression, etc. Because of that, we can deconstruct the information on the dead wax.

    Also, sometimes, a company would ship the lacquer or metal parts (which would bear that company’s catalog/tape number and lacquer designation on the dead wax) to another record company’s plant for pressing or another country for that country’s market. Let’s take Led Zeppelin II LP as an example. It also just happens to be one of my all-time favorite Rock records. Atlantic, which was the record label for Led Zeppelin at the time, originally had Robert Ludwig cut the original lacquers for the record’s initial release (which, by the way, was greatly anticipated and I would assume that several lacquers and multiples of mothers were initially made by Mr. Ludwig to meet the anticipated demand). From the many Led Zeppelin II records I have seen over the years, it appears that the very first lacquers cut by Mr. Ludwig had the catalog/tape number followed by “- A –“ (with lots of spaces in between the dash, the “A” and the dash, probably for others to fill in other numbers and letters later) OR “-1A” (without any spaces in between). The lacquer with “-1A” without extra spaces was sent to Columbia’s plant to press on a contract basis. But what is important here is that the record was pressed from one of the first lacquers initially cut by Mr. Ludwig. Because of the high demand for this record not just here in the U.S., a country like Germany actually received a US lacquer or metal parts cut by Mr. Ludwig. There is a German second pressing (probably during the 70’s) which, on the dead wax of Side 1, has Mr. Ludwig’s 70’s markings (Mr. Ludwig again cut lacquers for Side 1 of this record later in the 70’s, as those records only has Mr. Ludwig’s “RL” only on Side 1 and the “RL” is much bigger and fatter, which is the way he carved his initials on the dead wax in the 70’s), meaning that particular record was not made from a dub of the master tapes sent to Germany. The first German pressing has the typical German machine-stamped dead wax matrices on both sides. And, as you can imagine, Mr. Ludwig mastered records (or SIDES) sound significantly better than those not mastered by him.

    To be continued…. I will continue with some more dead wax matrix information and give additional LP examples on the next post.
  20. Ski Bum

    Ski Bum Happy Audiophile

    Vail, CO

    Great idea. Even us more experienced vinyl lovers will learn something. Thanks for making the effort on this thread.
  21. AFCAD

    AFCAD Forum Resident

  22. Chris Schoen

    Chris Schoen Rock 'n Roll !!!

    Maryland, U.S.A.
    Here are examples of some great sounding albums that I randomly
    picked from my collection. If you like any of these artists, these titles
    are a good bet for sound. I included the catalog numbers. For those
    interested in the deadwax (matrix) info. you can p.m. me.
    J.J. CALE "REALLY" (SRL 52012)
    Z.Z. TOP "TEJAS" (PS 680)
    JOHN FOGERTY "JOHN FOGERTY" (7E 1046B) or (68550)
  23. RBtl

    RBtl Forum Resident

    Toronto, Ontario
    Thanks, Sung, that was me. The good news is that I understand better now; the bad news is that it's way more complicated than I thought. Looks like I'm going to have to have another look at my vinyl to try and figure out what I've got. I have a very strong recollection of seeing some Gs that didn't impress me at the time. Now I wonder if they were EMIs.
  24. wolf66

    wolf66 New Member

    I have a US Capitol MEDDLE with "Wally" in the deadwax - so how would this one compare to a german pressing Harvest Meddle ? :help:

    As I'm in Austria, getting a german pressing should be easy .... UK pressing would be more costly I think..
  25. Hypnotoad

    Hypnotoad Active Member

    Chicago, IL, USA
    Okay, here is a real 101 question:

    I saw people talking about telling groove wear by looking at the vinyl (perhaps with a strong flash light). What do you look for?

    I think this is really vinyl 301. 101 would be: how to look for original labels, which reissue companies are worthwhile, etc.
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