R. Crumb unsuccessfully attempts to flatten a 78 record in the oven

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Todd says:

Here's Robert trying to flatten a warped 78 record by heating it in the oven. It's a difficult process, and one that can easily destroy the record as well. His efforts were unsuccessful this time, and we're asking you for your help. Robert is looking for this 78 record by DOC HOPKINS – "OLD JOE CLARK" and "21 years". Released on Paramount 577. He needs a clean copy, Any leads would be appreciated.

R. Crumb tries to fix a warped 78 record by melting it flat in the oven

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  1. I’ve never tried this on a 78 (and wonder about its effectiveness on brittle acetate like that), however a similar method can be used with 33rpm LPs, however the OVEN is not the place; that much heat will cause a different kind of damage to the grooves, and even if you correct a warp you will end up with “ripples” across the grooves and loud surface noise.

    What you want to do is get two sheets of heavy glass or plexiglass, place the LP on one, place the other on top and let sit in the sun for a half-hour or an hour, then bring inside and allow to cool (or in some cases try and bend it with your hands once it is hot enough to get a little soft). Alternately you can you can pour boiling water over it, and place between the pieces of glass, and allow to cool. In some cases you will STILL get the ripples across the grooves, so it’s hit-or-miss either way.

  2. Yes I’ve tried and had some success with the two glass plate method. I left it in the airing cupboard (central heating water tank in there) with a pile of books on top for a month.

  3. I have no clue about where to find the records R’s looking for… but I did stumble upon a way to unwarp records when I was a kid. We were vacationing at the Jersey shore and someone in my family made the brilliant decision to put the portable record player right in the front window of the house, right in the sun.

    For some reason I got the idea to put one of our warped LPs on the turntable, in the sun, and let it spin for a while. Viola!! Don’t have any idea whether it would work on 78s though. :)

  4. Crumb’s still into collecting records, huh? I understand that’s how he met Harvey Pekar, but Pekar has apparently kicked the habit.

    I suppose in the age of digital music record collecting is an even more rarefied hobby than it used to be.

  5. how to fix a warped record. Put record on flat surface while inside sleeve. Stack about ten encyclopedia britanicas on top and leave it there for a week. The end.

  6. Collecting 78s has been rarefied since the 1950s, IIRC. I mean, they’re not what the regular Joe-record-collector collected – which were 45s and 33s.

    78s, like Edison cylinders, were a whole other kettle of fish, even in the 1960s. Much more…well, antique.

    Even so, I seem to remember my first turntables and record players having a “78” speed setting on them.

  7. Another thought: these old 78s weigh, like, several pounds. They are very sturdy & stiff, not made of the same flimsy stuff they started using to make records after the price of oil started to climb in the early seventies.
    Unwarping these slabs of bakelite (or whatever rocklike plastic/vinyl they were using) would not be the same or as simple, IMHO, as any “leave-it-in-the-sun” process, which might work for the so-flimsy-watch-it-whip-like-a-rubber-sheet-when-you-wave-it-in-the-air “vinyl” they were using for records since, say, 1971.
    They were made, like the men of yore, of sterner stuff.

  8. My first record players in the 60s had both 78 and 16rpm speeds. You would flip the cartridge over to switch from the 16/33/45 needle to the 78 needle.

  9. As for vinyl (33rpm), the sales have been increasing since around 2000. People started recognizing how crappy CDs sound in comparison and now there are new vinyl plants opening left and right.

    The only slightly sad thing is that, CDs are FINALLY starting to sound pretty decent, but even those will probably die now with mp3s.

  10. It’s really nutty how our tech-centric society gravitates towards “bigger, fancier” on one end and “smaller, convenient” on the other. Like so many things these days, people don’t realize how much they’ve given up in the name of convenience. My records still sound much sweeter than any shitty iPod ever will… long live vinyl (literally- since that shit won’t break down for a long, long time..!)

  11. We destroyed a few records this way. And then went further, by melting/warpind them more. We ended up with bowl-shaped objects, good for loose change, or ashtrays if you block up the little hole in the middle.

  12. There’s a much more controllable method for doing this. Find what’s called a “dry mount press,” which is a large, extremely flat heated thing used to mount 35mm film in cardboard slide holder. The inner surfacesPut the recording in there between two large sheets of white paper (not cardboard, not EVER). Carefully clamp the lid down, making sure you’re not cracking the record. Turn on the press’ heating element and let it go up to about 160 or 170 degrees. Let it come up to temperature, then turn it off and walk away for a couple of hours until the thing is at room temperature. Unclamp the press lid and the recording should now be perfectly flat.

  13. If recovering the audio is the goal, as opposed to restoring the record, it might be worth while to get in touch with these guys http://www.cs.huji.ac.il/~springer/ (before destroying the next one). Looks like the technique is far from perfected, but it looks promising to me.

  14. I had an LP that warped in the sun. So I put it back in the sun and weighted it. It flattened out and played just fine.

  15. When some friends got married they had an “Oldies” theme, and the tables were decorated with actual 78’s. Well, we thought they were just fake flimsy plastic decorations (having never seen an actual 78 IRL before). We dropped one on the tabletop and it broke. We felt terrible. So terrible, in fact, that we never confessed out crime.

    This post has reignited the guilt ;_;

    … but why were they using actual albums as decorations in the first place? Blah!

  16. What I think would be better than techniques of flattening, is a getting a FLAC of the recording from another undamaged record.

  17. For the love of audio! Please experiment with a control first and not the original recording. Go to Goodwill (or equivalent) and find a 78 that you don’t care about and find ways to make it warp/unwarp.

  18. #29 posted by Anonymous

    For the love of audio! Please experiment with a control first and not the original recording. Go to Goodwill (or equivalent) and find a 78 that you don’t care about and find ways to make it warp/unwarp.

    Pretty sure that, as a collector, he’s done it before. It just didn’t work this time.

    A thread with details of somewhat less makeshift conservation techniques is here.

  19. You might be able to set the turntable to its lowest speed and get the needle to track that way. Then you can digitize the sound and speed it back up to normal in an audio editing program.

  20. is he trying to save the music or the LP? Perhaps this is an application of the 3d scanner and printer

  21. Wow. all this heat!I’ve got thousands of records and the thought of that much heat on them is terrifying! Sure it’ll flatten the album, but it’ll also distort the all the peaks and valleys in the groove – bad news, specially for the high end.

    78’s were usually made of shellac, with assorted binders and filler. They’re not such a thermally pliable material as modern records – usually vinyl or thermoplastics. As a footnote, they often included an abrasive, designed to wear the needle, instead of the other way around (hence the cups of steel replacement needles handy at the ready)

    I vote for the slow process of time+moderate pressure. Try to rush the pressure part, the record will likely crack.

  22. Seems like it would be smarter to invest in one of these:

    http://www.elpj.com/

    If he’s really serious about preserving and playing them, that is. It doesn’t depend on flatness.

    I’m not sure you can do this with a 78. They were made from lacquer, not vinyl, which is much more finicky.

  23. I was shopping for speakers in the 70’s and tried out several in the shop before deciding on a set I liked. At that point the sales guy asked me to look at the turntable in the corner – that’s where the audio feed had been coming from. The record had a massive warp, and I hadn’t heard it!

    Naturally I bought the turntable on the spot. I still have it, still use it, and it still plays with exquisite sensitivity – in my estimation the next best thing to the no contact laser player mentioned above.

    How – only the cartridge moves, not the whole arm – very low mass to move – it will follow all kinds of warps and hardly notices scratches.

    Also because of the very low force on the record, absolutely minimal wear is created with each playing.

    It’s also very nice to look at – versions of it won design awards, are in modern art museums, and were in ‘A Clockwork Orange’

    Its the Transcriptors Skeleton Turntable:

    http://www.transcriptors.net/

    (transcriptors website – look up the skeleton in the gallery)

    1. Hi,

      Its was a 1964 Hydraulic Reference Turntable that was in a Clockwork Orange. Stanley Kubrick came to see my late father at his factory in Borehamwood, hertfordshire. My father did not design the Skeleton until 1973.

      Regards

      Michael Gammon
      Managing Director
      Transcriptors Limited
      http://www.transcriptors.net

  24. My recommendation: microwaves are much faster and can bake in that hot pocket chunk for all of history. I also personally like to baste mine with a little EVOO and rosemary so the house smells nice while I fill the building with vinyl particulate.

    How about he just man up and go buy another record or god forbid, pay a professional to do this next time? Government record bailout for R Crumb???

    @audiophiles-I tend to notice a lot of compression and distortion on vinyl. Cds not so much. I really hate it when I buy a cd that hisses and pops at me all through the track ;) You can digitally archive all of that reduced sonic clarity and background noise for the ages now. I know I know, CDs don’t have the sonic complexity to capture AN ENTIRE BAND IN ONE ROOM RECORDED WITH A RIBBON MIC. How about I play the CD version and record it through a speakerphone for ya? I’ll even throw in some ground loop to mimic early unbalanced connections. Sucks when someone picks out the obvious…

  25. Only two ingredients needed! Low heat, and a LOT of patience!

    This makes me appreciate the wide world web.

  26. #37 – You’re absolutely right about “assorted binders and filler.”

    I’ve got over 25,000 records (well, records, reel-to-reel tapes, and just a few cylinders) and in the process of accumulating all that, I’ve managed to pick up quite a few 78s. I was really curious about those really old ones that are over a half-inch thick, so I singled out one that was in horrific, scratched condition with no cover/box and all screwed up in every way. Since it was totally worthless, I broke it just to see what was inside.

    It think it was pressed sawdust. There was a seam around the edge, so I’m guessing that the bakelite (or whatever it was) was just pressed in sheets onto a sawdust disc and heat-sealed. I don’t know; that’s just a guess. But I was a little shocked to see that sawdust.

    I said all that to say this – I can’t imagine that thing ever warping. There was just too much stable mass. Of course, I would hate to have to build shelves to hold a large collection of those things. I guess we had to sacrifice something to get records that didn’t weigh so much.

  27. Anon@40

    Re:@audiophiles..

    Sucks when someone picks out the obvious

    Whut? I couldn’t make head nor tail of any of that.

  28. I used the following method to flatten a CD which was very very very little bended (just enough not to be read) after an uncared travel bag transportation:
    I boiled some water in a pot, then, after turning off the gas ring, I carefully laid down the disc on the hot water surface letting it floating.
    I waited until the water cooled down and got back a perfectly flatten, fully functional CD.

    I don’t know whether your disc will float, if so this method assures “low” temperature in order not to damage the thin tracks, no solid support base and a truly horizontal surface.

    Bye!

  29. Several layers of sheet or pillowcase on top and bottom. Apply gentle heat with a steam iron to soften. Put weight on top while it cools.

  30. @arkizzle
    Thanks for posting my short rant. I just wanted to do a little time machine experiment of chicken and egg. What if vinyl had come out after CDs? How would we describe its quality vs digi audio? I think people kinda lie to themselves when they buy $30,000 worth of equipment so their audio doesn’t sound like crap. I have had fun in the past remixing and spatializing older recordings. Ribbon mics tend to distort easily just by their nature and their frequency response (in those days) rivaled a telephone connection. This coupled with the fact that most early studios would only have one or two mics for the whole band in one room as opposed to today’s 8-10 mic setups. That is where the speakerphone thing came up. Anyhoo, best of luck to all!

  31. Heating any record will damage the sound.

    I just put a stack of quarters on the tonearm. The more warped, the more weight. This damages the record too, slightly more than normal playing but less than heating.

    Once you get the weight right, record the output on an analog FM tape recorder set at the highest possible speed. Play it back at the slowest possible speed into your digital recording tackle, using the highest possible sample rate (being aware of possibilities of aliasing of course).

    You now have the best sound you’ll ever get off the record in hand ready for pop & hiss removal. Archive the disk in a neutral medium and work with the copy.

  32. First, get a box of glazing putty, a snorkel, a sixteen pound maul and, this is very important, a digital, not analog, barometer. Take the barometer to a taxidermist and have it installed into the left side of a sea bass–the fish can be mounted our unmounted, but it must be the left side. Go to the nearest barber shop with a functioning barber pole and offer to trade the sea bass for a mohawk haircut. After getting the haircut, take a photo of yourself and e-mail it to your mom. When she calls you upset about how awful you look, apologize and ask to borrow $50. On your way over to borrow the money, stop for a swim and take the snorkel and the glazing putty into the ocean with you. If you don’t live near the ocean, that’s OK. That’s why you’ve got the glazing putty and the maul. Next swim out to the break and wait for some good sets to body surf, making sure to drop in on only the prime numbered waved. Next swim the back stroke to shore while

  33. The answer is to never try to flatten a record, but to simply slow the record player to the point where it won’t jump, then speed the recording in software. Easy.

  34. Something to remember – the old 78 rpm records were pressed (or cut) with the sound encoded in the horizontal plane – that is horizontal stylus motion. Thus, the requirement to use a different audio head (or a gramaphone) to play them. 78 records can be readily digitized by scanning (see http://sciencematters.berkeley.edu/archives/volume4/issue30/story1.php). Stereo signals are harder as the sound is recorded in 3 dimensions (2 cuts at 45 degrees to the horizontal).

    Early 78s are shellac with filler, later ones were celluloid, or even vinyl. Vinyl records are softer and will deform nicely with heat (as noted above).

  35. I second #23’s recommendation. My dad is a picture framer; most picture framing and poster shops should have large heated “dry mount” presses that are used to mount artwork to backing board (I’ve never heard of the slide film use of the machines until now). These are temperature/pressure adjustable and apply very even heat and pressure. I flattened a Quadraphonic Pink Floyd LP between a couple sheets of mat board in my Dad’s machine and it worked pretty flawlessly. It only took like 15 minutes though, I’m not sure why you would need a couple of hours.

    Just find a local shop and go ask the shop owner. If they’re anything like my dad they enjoy the company :)

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