Dead wax and Vinyl heaven

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Hanco vinyl records

There are many Pigeon fanciers out there who not only enjoy live music of various hues, but also enjoy recorded music, especially when the format of choice is an analogue vinyl record as opposed to the obviously inferior corporate digital inventions of (spit) CD or, God forbid, MP3.

Who, with functioning ears, likes the sound of zeros and ones??? Oh, and don't get me on to Spotify. This whole topic is itself a subject for future debate.

Led Zeppelin

But how many of those, let's call them sophisticated music lovers, have ever wondered what the codes and stamps on the run-out area on each side of a record mean? Have you ever noticed them?

Many I imagine will understand that the alpha-numeric code known as the matrix identifies the record and often the particular pressing of the record.

Serious record collectors give this special attention as the theory goes that the first pressing is the best pressing as its as close in terms of time, distance and sound to the original recording as it can be.

The difference in market values is astonishing especially when the first run was limited. An example of this is the first Led Zeppelin album where the first press (turquoise lettering on the sleeve, plum/red label) can sell for four figures as opposed to circa £50 for later pressings.

Condition is, of course, a major factor. This again is another debate, but if anyone in the meantime wishes to sell me a turquoise Zep 1 for a couple of pints of Wrexham Lager, please get in touch.

Dead Wax

A more curious aspect of some, not all, dead wax zones is occasional often hand-etched, messages, symbols and names that appear between the last track on each side and the label — the Dead Wax.

While they can be the work of the band, for example, The Smiths "Strangeways Here We Come" has "Guy Fawkes was a genius" etched therein (ho ho!), they are usually the work of the record pressing engineer.

It was his job to turn the band performance into a playable record that reflects the artists' and producers' final vision. As such, it is a particularly vital process, but one often overlooked and even uncredited on record sleeves.

Imagine, if you will, a great book written but the typeface messy or illegible and how that would distract and diminish the content.

Well these are the people that make sure the quality of the sound is clear, defined and as true to the original intended sound as possible when they cut the initial master pressings from which the vinyl will be stamped. That way they ensure the sound and story of the record will not be lost in translation.

Some of the disc cutters that took pride in their work placed their signature on the dead wax on early pressings, and it is often seen as a quality assurance stamp.

Porky, Porky Prime Cut, Pecko


An example of one such prolific and sought-after engineer was George Peckham who (a musician himself from Liverpool) understood the importance of the cutting and pressing process and how it could change the dynamics of the sound.

The depth and width of the groove determines the volume, bass, treble and balance of the final sound so the skill to cut this onto a master disc cannot be underestimated.

He worked with a lot of big names in the UK, the likes of the Beatles, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Genesis in the 60s and 70s but latterly worked with dance music DJ's and producers who still preferred vinyl for the combination of warm sound, clarity and depth.

Back in the 70s, Jimmy Page appreciated his skills to the point that he arranged to fly Peckham to the States with the original masters to oversee their US pressings, as in the case of Led Zeppelin IV, as Zeppelin prepared for their all-out assault on the American market.

His work can be identified with various coded nicknames such as Porky, Porky Prime Cut, Pecko, Pecko Duck and dozens of other variations.

Check out this link of an interview with George Peckham in 2001 which captures his enthusiasm for his work.

There are many, many more unsung heroes like George Peckham e.g. Bobil (Bob Hill), Rasputin (Ray Staff), DMM Precision and so on. So why not dig out your old LP's, crank up the turntable, boot up the internet and find out who really made that record.


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