Unusual types of gramophone record

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Usual types of gramophone record (phonograph record in U.S. English) are discussed in the main article. Additionally, various unusual types were occasionally produced, including unusual sizes, formats, and other gimmicks .

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Some unusual types of gramophone records

Unusual size discs

  • 16 and 20" discs — Although 12" was the largest disc diameter used in consumer products, broadcasting studios made use of 16" and 20"-diameter 78 rpm acetate "transcriptions," used for time-delaying programs and for prerecording broadcasts. These could provide up to 20 minutes of unbroken program material with very good fidelity (indistinguishable from live to casual, but not to critical listeners). Early classical LP recordings were in fact initially recorded on 20" 78-rpm acetates for later transfer to LP. 16" turntables are still seen in professional broadcast equipment, although it is probably very rare that any disk larger than 12" is ever played on them.
  • 7" 78-rpm children's records — The 78 rpm records of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were breakable shellac (and broken records were a very common accident). In the 1950s, unbreakable records of various plastic compositions were introduced and coexisted with breakable shellac records. Unbreakable records were, of course, favored for children's records. A common format for children's records was the 7" 78-rpm unbreakable record, easily handled by small hands, and during the 1950s, 7" Little Golden Records made of bright yellow plastic were a common sight in children's playrooms in the United States.
  • 10" LPs — Both 10" and 12" 33-rpm LPs were common during the life of the LP format. The 10" format was common at the beginning and rare toward the end, but it never died out completely.
Missing image
7" and 5" singles.
  • 8" EPs. Mostly seen as Japanese pressed records in the 1980s and 1990s, and after 1992 in the US (1 record plant started producing them after then).
  • 5", 6", 11", 13" records. Underground hardcore punk bands in the 1990s started releasing EPs on all sizes of vinyl from 5" to 13" in size.
  • 6", 7", 8", 9" flexi disks were much more popular in Japan where they were known as sound-sheets (sono shito) and were often in traditional round format, vs the square ones included in a magazine.

Unusual materials

7" 33⅓ "flexidisc" records were seen occasionally. One common use was as inserts in books which, for whatever reason, included audio supplements. LP recordings could be made on very thin, flexible sheets of vinyl, and this was sometimes done for a mixture of practical utility and novelty appeal. At least one "magazine" was published with a spiral binding, a hole punched through the entire magazine, and four or five of these flexible recordings bound into the magazine. The magazine could be opened to one of these recordings and turned back upon itself; then the entire magazine placed on a turntable and the record could be played. In the early days of personal computers, when programs were commonly stored on audio cassettes, at least one computer magazine published "floppy ROMs," which were bound-in thin-plastic 33⅓ rpm audio recordings of computer data.

Paper records were pioneered in the 1930s by Hit of the Week Records and Durium Records.

Unusual grooving

Inside-to-outside recording — Almost all analog disc recordings were recorded at constant angular speed, resulting in a decreasing linear speed. The result was increased "end-groove distortion" toward the center of the disc, particularly on loud passages. Since classical music tends to start quietly and mount to a loud climax, it was frequently suggested that it would be better if recordings were made to play from the center of the disk outward. A very few such recordings were made. However, the domination of record changers, and the fact that symphony movements are not uniformly twenty minutes long, made these recordings no more than curiosities.

Pathé Records for a time used inside start and other commercially distinctive grooving.

Partially-grooved 33s — Traditionally, 33⅓ rpm LP's were recorded to within about half an inch of the label, using most of the recordable surface. Again, in an effort to increase fidelity, a number of companies limited the amount of recorded material to about fifteen minutes on each side. This really did avoid end-groove distortion, but the large shiny blank space at the end of the disc was visible evidence of waste.

An early binaural format — Before the development of the single-groove stereo system circa 1957, at least one company, Cook Laboratories, released a number of "binaural" recordings. Each side of one of these recordings consisted of two long, continuous tracks — one containing the left-ear signal, one containing the right-ear signal. It was intended that the buyer purchase an adapter from Cook Laboratories that allowed two cartridges to be mounted together, with the proper spacing, on a single tonearm. Only a very small number of recordings were ever released in this format. It would be interesting to know how many purchasers went to the effort and expense needed to play them binaurally.

Trick recordings with multiple grooves — the intended answer to the trick question, "how many grooves are there on a record," is "one on each side." It is, however, possible to make recordings with three or more separate, interlaced spiral grooves on a side. Such records have occasionally been made as novelties. Depending on where the needle is dropped in the lead-in area, it will catch more or less randomly in one of the grooves. Each groove can contain a different recording, so that you have a record which "magically" plays one of several different recordings. An example is Monty Python's Matching Tie and Handkerchief.

Locked grooves — while the typical record has a nearly silent end-groove (a circular loop at the end of the record that the needle travels around indefinitely, waiting to be picked up either manually or by an automatic device), it is possible to record sound in this groove. A notable example of this was an LP by The Who with an infinite-loop squeaky-wheel sound recorded in the end-groove; another was the UK release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This concept has been extended to the production of records consisting entirely of circular "locked grooves" to provide collections of infinite loop sound samples of duration limited to one revolution of the disc. Notable examples of this are the releases from RRRecords of the 7" RRR-100 (with 100 locked grooves) and the 12" RRR-500 (with 500 locked grooves).

Special vibration resistant discs

7" 16⅔ rpm "Highway Hi-Fi" — Analogue disc reproducing equipment has always required a mechanically stable platform for the turntable and tonearm. In a wood-frame residence, dancing on the floor could be enough to cause the tonearm to skip grooves. Playing a disc in a moving car would seem impossible. Nevertheless, from 1956 to 1959, one auto manufacturer, Chrysler, surmounted the challenge with what was (optimistically) called "Highway Hi-Fi." It did not play ordinary discs, however, but only specially recorded 7" 16⅔ discs, offered only by Columbia Records and only in a limited number of titles.

Unusual appearance discs

Missing image
A selection of coloured and picture disc singles

Unusual colors, and even multi-colored shellac first appeared in the 1910s on such labels as Vocalion Records

In the late 1970s, such gimmicks started to reappear on records, especially on 7" and 12" singles. These included using coloured acetate instead of black vinyl. The whole spectrum was available, from clear transparent (including a witty transparent 12" of Queen's The Invisible Man), white, red, blue, yellow and even multi-hued. Some recordings were released in several different colours, in an effort to sell the same product to one person multiple times, if they were of the collecting bent. This appears to have been a successful marketing strategy to some extent.

The 1977 release of the 45rpm single of Strawberry Letter 23 by The Brothers' Johnson was produced by A&M Records with a slightly pink center label (as opposed to the usual buff color that A&M uses), and had strawberry scent embedded into the plastic to make the record give off the odor of strawberries.

Picture discs

Picture discs debuted in the 1940s. Vogue Records are still sought after by collectors.

Missing image
12-inch picture disk for the 1984 Duran Duran single "The Reflex"

Following the coloured vinyl fad, picture discs started to appear in the 1970s. These were made by including a very thin decal at the pressing stage, which then moulded into the record surface and became a permanent part of the disc. Often pictured discs and coloured substrate material were combined. Sometimes the images were meant to create an optical illusion while the record was rotating on the turntable; others used the visual effect to add to the music — for example the 1979 picture disc of Fischer Z's The Worker featured a train which endlessly commuted around the turntable, reinforcing the song's message. One notable aspect of many picture discs was that the decal material degraded the sound quality quite noticeably, as it introduced a higher level of surface noise. As Vogue Records proved decades earlier, this need not be the case, if a high grade transparent shellac or other material is laminated over the image.

Picture discs as a gimmick fell out of favour in the early 1980s.


See also

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