My Early Memories 
about Records

  by Dominic Vautier
6/2012


 

When I was a kid

 

LP records are made of vinyl plastic.  When first developed microgroove records needed to use a much smaller stylus than the big groove 78 RPM records did, anywhere from 1.2 mil to .7 mil but it took awhile for the recording industry to come up with a standard.  Now the standard is .6 or .7 mil.  The cartridge used to have a little flip stylus, a needle that could rotate 180 degrees and had the big 3 mil sapphire needle on one side for standard groove 78 RPM records and a little sapphire microgroove needle on the other side for the new 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM records.

The record player we first owned
produced sound by a ceramic cartridge and generated enough signal to run directly into an amplifier.  The inherent trouble with those ceramic units was that the needle was too stiff to follow intricate grooves so you couldn’t get much high frequency, and since they were so stiff they managed to tear up the high frequency wiggles.  As I remember by the late 50s magnetic pickups were developed which had less mass in the stylus and could wiggle a lot faster.  But magnetic pickups were quite delicate and could get damaged easier than the sturdier ceramic ones which you could really beat up.  The magnetic cartridges also required different electronics because the signal generated was quite weak.  But they did sound much better.

 

In my young world (1950s) all was 78 RPM records.  We called them "records" because there was nothing else but plain old clunky breakable shellac “records” that chipped and cracked and busted and sounded really ugly after several plays, but that didn't matter.  If one got cracked, you took some scotch tape and taped it at the edge or you started playing after the chip.

We had an early model RCA in our living room and there was a pocket for new iron needles on the left side and one for old warn out iron needles on the right side.  The rule was that you were to use the needle just three times and then change it, but we were always running out of needles; so we kept reusing the old ones.

My brother got three copies of Rock Around the Clock on 78 RPM because he knew that the records would be shot after awhile.  I still have two of the copies.  One is in good shape but the other is warn out.

Along came microgroove and my own world changed big time.  I loved any kind of music especially the "hi-fi" stuff.  We called the new records 33s and 45s.  They were advertised as “unbreakable”, although I learned soon enough that even the 45s would break.  The 45s came first and I remember we tried to use our old record players on the new funny looking records with big holes in the middle.  The records lasted about five plays on a iron needle with its gigantic stylus pressure.  We quickly learned that the new records needed different equipment to play and everybody started buying record players that could handle both the old and new type records with the flip stylus.  It was a very fun, interesting and confusing period in our lives.

 

It was also a time of incredible change in my own personal life.  I remember there was only monophonic music.  I never knew the words mono or stereo or even knew what these words meant.  To me microgroove records worked the same way as the 78s did but sounded better.  The big 33s were overwhelming because they contained many songs, not just one.  What a deal!! 

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world - The Tempest

In 1960 I was exposed to true stereophonic sound.  The sound was astonishing.  Everybody was suddenly talking “stereo” and you had to make sure when you bought an album that it was labeled “stereo”.  Stereo records sold for more money, usually a dollar more.  The record shops kept different sections for the mono and stereo records. 

 

I felt that stereophonic sound revolutionized the recording industry because it presented a three dimensional panorama of sound very much like the way two ears can perceive sound.  Now it was possible to pick out individual singers. The stereo stylus contained two sets of magnets that wiggled one way as it followed the left groove and at the same time wiggled another way as it followed the right groove.  Inside the cartridge were two sets of magnetic coils that detected and isolated these vectors and transmitted the signals up through separate wires.

I suppose this could be considered "Edison's revenge" in a way.  The man fought tooth and claw for his up and down or hill-and-dale tracking (vertical) patents, whereas the Volta Group and subsequently the Victor Company were very successful using side to side stylus movement.  Stereo is a combination of two vectors that results in an up and down motion as well as a side to side.