Monday, April 18, 2011

Another day at the Musical Collectables Record Show in Mississauga...

...and a particularly disappointing one. Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the first ever Musical Collectables Record Show that was held at the York Farmers' Market in April of 1976.

I had expected this to be quite a birthday bash, but unfortunately, I was somewhat let down by the whole experience compared to last year's October show.

Onto the roses and thorns:

-A great selection of records overall, including 45s
-Lots of familiar faces from the past, e.g. Graham Whitehead, Star Records, Randy Sharrard
-Lucky draw competiton for a giveaway of $100 to a randomly selected participant every hour

-Not enough parking for an anniversary event
-No party decorations in the banquet hall. Come on people, this was a birthday event on the heels of Record Store Day! Where's all the balloons and cake?
-No live entertainment from developing artists and few (if any) special offers
-OUTRAGEOUS prices for some very common vinyls, e.g. "The Pack Is Back" by Raven which comes up all the time and often for very, very cheap... I paid 75 cents for it at the thrift store and it's going for like $20 at the show!!!
-Some very obvious fakes of "Introducing... The Beatles" going for big bucks - obviously trying to take advantage of collectors who just can't tell the difference between what is or isn't worth collecting!
-Crowded vendor tables; this made for lots of pushing and shoving, and it was difficult to browse for long without getting into somebody's space
-Not many of the vendors' tables were marked as to who they were; I lost my map on route and couldn't find Kops Kollectables!
-Absolutely OVERHEATED in the main room of the banquet hall... made me wanna run out for air, which I did a few times!
-Some impatient vendors who did not appreciate my looking at the deadwax or the vinyl condition; guess they're hoping for people to buy their stuff sight unseen
-Prior to the show, visitors were asked to email their wantlist for vendor review, and they promised that if they had what you were looking for, you would be contacted by email and directed to that vendor at the show. This didn't happen with me! I spoke to one of the vendors and they said that they had problems accessing the list. This was VERY, very annoying for me because I hoped to have a more organized shopping experience, but, in the long run, it was just as confusing as ever. I had to shop without a wantlist, so I likely missed some of the stuff I was looking for...

Well, that's about it. I will be making a finds video soon to share whatever I found at the show. I'm hoping for a better show this October... BUT, this one left me feeling very cold and incomplete. Overall, I would rate it 2 out of 5 stars. There's always room for improvement!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Styrene: a risky purchase for vinyl record collectors?

"For those of you who have all these Decca albums from the 1950's, do not... I mean, DO NOT use a sapphire-type needle or a screw-type needle. Otherwise, it will permanently damage it, and it will no longer playable (sic), because you'll probably notice that this is a styrene Decca record."
-Chris from Brooklyn (aka HomeoftheGoodGuys, Musicradio77, WCPR1620AM, GEWildcatRocks, BrooklynMouse, etc.)

Back in the 20th century, record companies tried to give the best music to people via vinyl for a low price. Unfortunately, the price of cutting the cost for a 45 record included making it out of a very different sort of plastic: namely, polystyrene.

Polystyrene, in my opinion, may have been cost-effective as a material to make 45 records back then, but, as time has proven, it is certainly not enduring. "Why?" you may ask. Because records made of styrene tend to wear out in a much shorter time. And when they are worn out, they can put your stylus at risk AND will sound absoutely TERRIBLE compared to 45s made out of real polyvinyl chloride (with a few exceptions, such as my 45 of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Eat It").

So what's the big deal? Well, I can describe what a very worn styrene 45 sounds like. The grooves are noise-laden and the stylus ends up riding in what I like to call Sibilance City. And all that surface noise and distortion is within the well-worn grooves, because some person obviously played it billions of times back in the day with a phono cartridge that applied mammoth-like tracking force to the record!

So you might be wondering, how do you tell a styrene record apart from a record made out of real vinyl? Well, the question is answered in the picture below:

See the differences in the picture? They're pretty obvious alright. The vinyl 45 has a shinier surface, and the label is pressed on together with the vinyl mold by the pressing plant. The styrene 45's surface looks more "dull" compared to the vinyl 45 and also has a rough-edged rim around the label. And speaking of the label on styrene 45s, it is glued directly to the record. I guess this was done because styrene was more brittle compared to vinyl.

Should you stay away from styrene altogether? Well, not necessarily. If you want to dig up some of those golden oldies, there's still a way to give them a listen. Getting the best sound out of this material is doable with the right equipment. Here's a list of stylus types that would/wouldn't be the most suitable for a styrene record:

GOOD: spherical or elliptical diamond
BAD: "line contact" shaped diamond (especially the Audio-Technica AT440ML/MLa), sapphire/screw-type, osmium

(note: the absolute WORST thing that could happen to a styrene record is having them played on a wind-up gramophone with a steel stylus)

Interestingly, "line contact" shaped styli will eat up the grooves of a styrene record. This is because they are shaped after the stylus on a vinyl cutter head, and were designed with sound accuracy in mind, but not with styrene records in mind. Just goes to show you that different styli react differently to different materials used to make a record.

Finally, did you know that some record labels used styrene to press their LPs as well? That's actually true. Examples include some of Decca's late 50's LPs (as mentioned in the quote at the beginning of the article; they claim to have made them out of "Deccalite"), records pressed by Sunset (Liberty's "budget" division), Harmony (Columbia's "budget" division), and all the labels owned by the Record Corporation of America (such as Royale and Halo), just to name a few.

So that's just about it. If you want to hear a styrene 45 in action played with the right equipment, here is a video of my "Weird Al" Yankovic 45. Just goes to show that you can still get good sound out of styrene by using the right type of stylus (note: video blocked in Germany due to copyright restrictions by the GEMA):


Sunday, April 3, 2011

A test pressing of a The Mamas and the Papas album!

Hi everybody!

While I was at a garage sale today, I stumbled upon a single-sided test pressing from Decca UK. It had no markings anywhere on it about the artist and the album title except for the word "TEST" on the label. When I got home, I researched the catalogue number and it turned out to be that of the mono version of "Farewell to the First Golden Era" by The Mamas and the Papas. Interestingly, the catalogue nubmer was for the US Dunhill pressing, so I had to play the record to confirm that it is actually The Mamas and the Papas. And it is!

I checked on the Internet and I couldn't find anything about this particular test pressing. However, there was one eBay auction for a double-sided test pressing also of the Mamas and the Papas, particularly for their album "The Papas and the Mamas", and the auction claims that it is an export pressing for sale in the US. So mine MIGHT be a rare export pressing made in the UK for sale in the US, but the strange thing is that it wound up here in Canada... maybe somebody worked at the Decca plant and took it with them.

Do these come up often, or do I have a real rarity on my hands? Mind you, I'm not selling it; I kinda like the idea of stumbling across something that may be a one-off private pressing. Visually and audibly, I would grade the record as VG+. This mono cut doesn't have that much bass, but otherwise it still plays nicely with a minor pop in two spots.

Oh, and the record came in a poly-lined inner sleeve that says "MADE IN ENGLAND R.S. 5-78" and a UK patent number. Also, there is a hand-written "TEST" in thick black marker.

I submitted an entry of this test pressing to Discogs with the track listing and everything.

Take care,