Tag Archives: 78rpm

The 78 rpm Record

Primarily these records fall into two categories firstly the vintage ‘shellac’ type generally associated with record labels such as HMV, Victa & Parlaphone were produced commercially and played using steel tip needles and produced in mainly 10 and 12 inch diameters.

Secondly the 78 rpm records that most customers bring to us were those privately produced in-house by dozens of small recording studios around the country back in the 1950s that offered the services of recording family & friend type recordings such as singing, singing with piano in background or poetry & birthday greetings, personal messages etc.

These records were usually on a metal alloy base (sometimes glass) with a black ‘acetate’ or lacquer coating to which the groove was cut directly by machine from the sound modulation being transferred via the microphone. These records were not as robust as the shellac types and should be played using a fibre or trailing needle but in our experience many people only had the steel tipped needles which caused eventual damage to the playing surface hence quality is not very good with many unwanted audible thumps and clicks.

The acetate or lacquer coated 78s were also widely used in the recording & broadcasting industry as a quick way of capturing audio for demo or sample records and in this respect were not really intended for longevity. The acetate records were also made in the 1960s on more modern cutting machines at 33.3 and 45 rpm speeds again as simply a way to put varying audio into a wider playing platform such as demo discs for musicians to spread their music to radio stations. Often these dubs were taken from Reel to Reel tape recorders which were becoming more popular and affordable.

The shellac type were robust as far as being played with a steel needle and the composition of the record had some granulated limestone and cotton fibre too! this gave it that inherant audible grinding and crackle as the steel needle travelled across the playing surface, they were however bery brittle and easily broke if dropped.

In the making of 78 rpm records there are also slight differences in the width of the groove wall that the stylus runs along so we have to keep a selection of stylus with different tip thickness, this also helps in some cases where damage has occurred to the playing surface because a thinner tip stylus will ride further down the groove wall and may give a better sound and likewise a thicker stylus will travel higher up the groove wall which in turn may sound better so it is not a definitive solution but a bit of trial and error on our part to get the best possible result in capturing the audio.

It can also be noted that although 78 rpm is a quoted speed in some cases they can vary and again it is a question of getting the right balance sometimes a bit more difficult to judge as speed alters pitch and if you have nothing to match your captured audio to soundwise it is a bit more challenging.

The 78 rpm records do take more careful cleaning and in some cases a wet cleanis not appropriate so different approaches have to be used in a dry clean which could be brushing and vacuum.

We use the Rega Planar P78 turntable which is made for playing 78s and we have fitted this with a mono Nagaoka cartridge and keep their own brand 78 rpm stylus in a range of four tip sizes these cost on average £109 each so we treat them with great care.