Do you have a stack of LP (Long Playing) records in a box in a disused corner of your house? How about a collection of 45's from a bygone era? Did you know that there is science and art in the creation of those lacquer discs? On July 25th, the AES-LA hosted Bernie Grundman, Kevin Gray, and Pete Lyman, moderated by Pete Doell, a mastering engineer in his own right.
Bernie Grundman has mastered vinyl for some of the greatest albums in modern history, including Carole King’s Tapestry, Steely Dan’s Aja, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Prince’s Purple Rain, to name but a few.
Pete Lyman, mastering engineer for recent recordings by Chris Stapleton (From a Room, Vol. 1) and Jason Isbell (The Nashville Sound), as well as, Colter Wall, Jade Jackson, All Them Witches, and Rod Melancon, also joined the conversation.
Kevin Gray, was the youngest engineer at Artisan Sound Recorders in Hollywood in 1972, and worked with America, Paul Anka, The Beach Boys, ELO, and Billy Joel.Currently he is the owner and engineer of Cohearant Audio, LLC.
The discussion started with how much of their work is vinyl.Bernie stated that the vinyl mastering room is constantly busy, and is about 30-40% of his work.Vinyl never completely disappeared, but started a resurgence in the 1990s, and has grown since.Kevin estimated about 85%, mostly in remastering from the major labels.Pete estimates 30-40% of the mastering business is vinyl work; 80-90% of the mastering for a project also includes a vinyl master.
The vinyl material used for a record used a percentage of lead, which helped to quiet the recording.Current regulations prohibit that composition.When vinyl wasn’t mainstream (in the late 1980s & early 1990s), those production runs were small, allowing for higher quality.
Kevin opined that the 180 gram pressings are like the “Super Big Gulp of the vinyl world”.They are made for mass market consumption.Heavier vinyl has less tendency to warp, but is harder to press without “non-fill”, and noisy lead-in grooves.
Concentric grooves were sometimes requested.Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief is an example, with three parallel grooves.For Disco Volante, the band Mr. Bungle wanted for an interleaved groove, falling between the grooves of the 3rd song “Carry Stress in the Jaw”.During the blitz in World War II, horse racetracks in England were closed down.To maintain interest in betting, horserace records were produced with three possible endings on three parallel grooves.The pubs played the records for the patrons, and people bet on the “race”.
When asked if anyone manufactures new lathes, Kevin remarked that “there were a lot of them made”, and they can be retrofitted with new parts.Pete pointed out that the lathes used to cut the lacquer were