Some days I am working on a brand new recording to hi resolution digital. Other days, a recent live to 2 track analog blues record. But today was an interesting experience.
I received a request to transfer records to digital. Snore.. right that’s not so amazing. But what I was sent was really cool.
I have transferred and cleaned many 78 rpm records. They always are a challenge. The playback turntables of that era were clunky, and since few people owned a lot of 78s, they were usually played a LOT. This causes all sorts of playback issues, skips. distortion, scratches and pops, and that constant swish of a commercial mass-produced 78. I have a restoration tool that can reduce many of these unwanted noises, but there is always compromises. So much so, that I had actually forgotten what a virgin 78 sounded like.
Seventy-Eights are a handful to transfer. There was virtually no playback standard when they were new. Each label used a pre-emphasis EQ, and real collectors had complex setups with different EQs and curves so they could get an accurate playback. Different width styli were used throughout the years, and if you didn’t use the right size stylus, you would damage the disk even more.
The process of transferring 78s is mostly trial and error, then adjusting the final tone for what appears to be normal. You can’t guess at this; you really have to have a great ear and good EQs.
So, when I opened up this package I was pleasantly surprised. Inside was a near-virgin 78 record that had been cut on a lathe as a one of a kind record.
Back in the day, small record cutters (disk recorders) existed. They were used like a tape recorder would be used: to capture a live performance so that it can be played back later. These particular disks must have been cut and then put away for 60 years.
The transfer went smoothly. There was plenty of surface noise and quite a few pops, but a whole lot less than would be heard on a circulated disk.
Sample 1: Original 78 RPM Recording (1952)
Sample 1: Restored by Masterdisk
The story behind the story goes like this: After my client’s mother-in-law passed away, the family went through a storage facility where she had her “stuff”. (George Carlin used to do a routine about how much we like “our stuff”.) I’m sure there was a lot of mothballs and old lace. But they found in this room, these 3 disks.
What it was was a “studio “ recording of his mother-in-law at the age of 9, playing a series of difficult pieces of music on piano. She was truly gifted at such a young age. She announced each song, and at the end stated the year and date and her age. I was floored. Just to think that they had survived—probably a hundred different opportunities to be thrown out or forgotten about.
The good part is, these records cleaned up very nicely. The tools I use to take light ticks and pops off LPs worked great. Then, when I sat back and listened down to the entire performance, I was again shocked at how high fidelity the recording was. It was at least as full and rich as the best analog tape recorders of the time.
I had one other experience like this: My own grandmother had been shopping in a general store in Tippecanoe, Ohio in 1953, and as she came out, she was greeted by a man—a bread salesman—who had a portable disk recorder. He did a “man on the street” interview with my grandmother and pitched to her the breads from the company who sent him.
Each of her five sons said their Sunday school verse for the recording, and, like magic, years later, there was my father at age 9, and my uncle as an infant, crying in the baby carriage.
This record was cut onto a plastic disk with a thin cardboard core. The plastic was worn and gave way in spots, but with painstaking care, I managed to put it together and clean it up. I played back the record at a slower speed (because the needle was hopping all over the place). This disk had been played a lot and was in really poor shape. I did this restoration about 18 years ago. The tools for restoration have improved 100 fold since then and are much faster too.
So, even if you aren’t a hoarder, you just might find a funny looking little record in your grandparents attic. Treat it carefully, have it played by a professional, and treat yourself to the time capsule experience. For fun, I just played this recording from 60 years ago for my two daughters. They never got me meet my grandmother (or my father for that matter). I think it’s pretty cool that these recordings have survived.
Sample 2: Original 78 RPM Recording (1952)
Sample 2: Restored by Masterdisk