MASTER PRESSING DISCS
By Bob Hutchison
Intro by Bill Reid.
Some weeks back Bob mentioned being told about some master discs that an old acquaintance had stored in his barn. He next learned that there were some of Ken's masters included and these were searched out. Fifteen tracks were found. They were in a bit of a state but just dirty and Bob managed to clean them up and get them converted to WAV files and onto a CD. The quality is quite astounding. Tracking noise is so low that they don't require putting through a WAV Cleaning programme and the fidelity is excellent. The pressing discs are only one level from the 'Master Tape' and it is next thing to listening to Ken actually playing. The pressings are for 45 rpm records.
Bob actually worked in this business and has considerable knowledge on the processes and here he explains the system and the records mentioned.
Ran across an old friend while on my quest for a record lathe! He send me a whole bunch of converted masters that is the 2nd plating step after the "mothers" in the plating process when preparing for pressing. These mother conversions can be played like regular phonograph records ( If you have a big enough turntable!!) I was impressed with the low surface noise and the fidelty! This friend (Kenney) worked at the plant in Richmond , Indiana they were custom pressers for just about everyone Decca, Polydor, King and even Columbia. He claimed to have some of Ken Griffin.
What a find. These are only the second generation between the original master tape and us. These are the best fidelity you could get your hands on! Kenny was the plating supervisor for the entire plant - He says they just started throwing stuff about 15 years ago when pressing was dying out and he put most of this stuff in his barn near Richmond.
The old Richmond plant dates back to the beginning of the Berlinner disk in the early 1920's Louis Armstrong recorded there and the story goes in one of his 1923 recordings you could clearly hear the switchyard engines running next to the plant and studio. It used to be Starr Records the same as the piano company.
In later years it became the darling of the independent lable because of their low noise records! They used a Scully just like the one I used to own (direct drive) then later upgraded to a Neuman 131 with digital control.
I drove up to Kenny's and he had found 15 sides of converted masters that are playable! They were very very dirty and covered with some kind of oily film. I have cleaned and cleaned and got one to play exceedingly well. It is from a 45 RPM conversion matrix number CL-45123 I have cleaned it well and played it back on my new optical scan record turntable the results in my opinion are fantastic. I defy anyone to detect surface noise or non-fill of any kind. This may well be the best existing recording of Ken Griffin!!!! It beats anything I have ever heard by him. Fidelity wise.
I soaked them in a mixture of sodium cynaid in water (this is how we used to clean masters at Ewing records) and this worked. Then I brushed with a camel hairbrush to remove the leftover particles.
The optical tracker seems to be made for this operation. I still can't believe the results. I got the others prepared and convert to WAV files. I have a gadget that gives me a video readout on levels there is virtually no driver noise level. If there is it is under 80db (this is my lowest readout) and there is virtually no measurable wow and flutter. I looked at the matrix groves and ridges with a microscope and there is very little pitting on the plating job! Whoever did this really knew what they were doing. Kenny says he thinks Stanley Butterfield was the operator of the plating department then - He thinks these were cut and plated in 1959 - this was when I worked at King records in Cincinnati, Ohio .I was just barely out of High School! At any rate I knew ole Stan from Queen City records. And if he was responsible for the mastering I can tell you they were done by the best! However this is only an educated guess! He was a heck of a record tech, unfortunately he is in the great record factory in the sky watching over us all - probably Ken Too saying " Stan that 4K and up cutoff limit is too high!!!
First the song is recorded on tape (No one has the nerve to go direct to disk anymore). Then it is "Cut" onto a soft acetate covered disk (used to be wax). This will be photo no 1 and appears black, once cut it is sprayed with Silver Nitrate and electro plated with Nickel. We used to do it with a spinning system if we wanted a real hard surface we would give it an hour or so in the chrome bath to give it a harder surface. Then we would seperate the soft disk from the acetate (I used a small knife to peel it much like an orange) The end result would be picture No 2 If we formed this to fit on the mold cavity of the record press we called it a converted (Master) stamper. If we coated it with more nitrate and made a plate copy of the plate copy we called it a mother. Photo 3 and 4 (one picture shows the copper plate backing of the "Mother"). The first plate, the Stamper, is the reverse of the grooved master record (soft acetate). This cannot be played because it has mountains that are used to form the grooves (hot PVC with a lot of pressure then crash cooled in a hydraulic press to form the actual record).
If we desire to make more than a 1000 or so pressings from one master we had to make a mother which could produce more stampers for longer press runs.
The mothers were exact copies of the original record and were playable on a record player, assuming of course you had a spindle hole drilled in the middle. It was a complicated process and difficult to get good sounding records, but when everything was "tweaked" just right the system was unbeatable.
The one I am holding is one of the Griffin Masters - I hope this makes the whole thing clearer. Those recreation of albums from old artists i.e. Big Bands many times were taken from old 78 RPM mothers that were extremely quiet when played. The noisy 78's were because of the media material (Shellac), which was what made 78's noisy. Actually the 78's have a better frequency response than the L.P. and greater fidelity. After the intro of the L.P. Columbia and RCA started using PVC of a very pure mix which brought the surface noise level down as much as 40db. If you have ever listened to a PVC 78 you know that it was quiet. Because the L.P had lower surface noise because of the material used. The engineer raised the level to the cutting head, which put more energy onto the master record, which in turn widened the noise ratio level. The public perceived these "new" records as better fidelity. They really weren't because they had one half the writing speed of a 78. Unfortunately most people will not believe this. I saw my first stereo 78 early in 1957 as an experiment from Capitol records some 3 years before George Neumann claimed to have perfected the 45/45 cutting system Hill and Dale/ Wiggle. Hope this clears it all up for you. I also hope you don't think I am crazy, but I spent a lot of my misspent youth in a record plant. King in Cincinnati and RCA in Indianapolis.
Fig 1 Fig 2
Fig 3 Fig 4 One of Ken's Master Pressings
(Bill): Here is the list of 15 tracks that Bob kindly converted. They all sound excellent and the dynamics are very lively. As well as the separation of the two keyboards and any overdubbing standing out, particularly on It Had To Be You, you can almost picture Ken's footwork on the Bass Peddles. I only have a 78rpm copy of 'Oh' and while it sounds good after WAV cleaning, on this master pressing the sound bounces out of the speakers. The majority of tracks are of Ken's Latin Americana rhythm and if you have a 45 'single' copy of these then they may well have come from this Master Pressing.
The very 'mellow' sound of Ken's arranagement on Mexically Rose really comes through and the train sound on Sentimental Journey even more dramatic and St Louis Blues really swings.
01. April In Portugal
02. Green Eyes
03. Beer Barrel Polka
04. El Choclo
05. Sentimental Journey
06 12th Street Rag
07. Harbour Lights
08. Ebb Tide
12. Mexically Rose
13. St. Louis Blues
14. It Had To Be You
The WAV tracks didn't require any cleaning i.e. declicking. I find this quite amazing and it proves just how good a vinyl pressing can be and as Bob mentions above, the material used for the commercial recordings created the loss of quality. However, I did put them through my WAV programme. Some of the tracks showed a slightly low volume level and I increased these with the programme, which automatically increases the stated volume level figure by percentage, to the point of avoiding any 'Clipping' and I added the Columbia record Equalisation levels, which again are 'fixed. I found the volume rather harsh and had to keep to a 35% volume level on my Hi-Fi player, therefore dismissed this change.
I next made just the Columbia Equalisation frequencies and found this very acceptable. It appeared to give the sound a little more body with a nice Bass sound and I could use normal volume levels. Of course this is a very personal thing and one setting may not suite another listener, therefore I have made audio CD copies with the original WAV files and another with the Columbia equalising settings.
These are a fantastic find and I am indebted to Bob for the time and effort he has put into getting these discs, cleaning them and converting them to digital format.