How were vinyl records made in the 1950s?

Vinyl records keep growing in popularity every day with their ability to showcase an artist’s artwork and sound in a lot more depth and quality compared to what some other music mediums offer. Indeed, having a collection or even just a single record is something that has become fashionable, and vinyl is something that will grow old with you without getting old itself. But have you ever wondered how they were made back in the day?

Before becoming a true symbol of musical culture, vinyl records went through various phases material-wise to come up with the perfect structure so as to produce the best high-quality sound possible. Travelling back to a time post World War II and before the British invasion took over the rock scene, namely the fifties, a decade where this round, black spiral-looking object became more or less what it is today. We thought we would explore how they were made back in the time, capturing the very best of an artist’s material, while looking exquisitely stylish. 

Before the fifties, records were often made of a specific material called shellac which is a resin produced by a female lac bug. However, as from the beginning of the decade, a new material called vinyl became the new way to make a record come to life, hence the fact they were originally called “shellac records” then “vinyl records”. 

The primary step in producing a record is obviously to have some studio recordings. Once they’re all complete, you are good to go with the technical stuff. Speaking of which, by reading this little trip down a the-history-of-vinyl lane, we can assure you that you will be able to explain how they were made like a pro after this. So here we go with some very technical yet interesting terms regarding our beloved vinyl.

When the recordings are complete, a lacquer is placed on a record-cutting machine which will then create electric signals. These signals will travel all the way up to the needle. So far so good. Still focusing on the needle, it then starts to engrave the spiral-like aspect that we can see on both sides of a record, making its way towards the centre of it. As soon as the pattern is carved, it is then sent to a production company, who will coat it in metal, so as to have a metal master which is used as a metal basis, otherwise called a mother.

Then comes in the stampers, AKA the negative versions of the recording which will become the actual vinyl. To make sure everything stays in place, the stamper is placed in a hydraulic press before the vinyl is sandwiched in between. The steam of the press makes it easier for the stampers to engrave the pattern in the plastic and thus to finish the product. Finally, the disc will be stiffened using cool water and giving us this unique black object we have grown so fond of.

This technique was used during the fifties and has stayed pretty much the same today, with a few changes of course. Nowadays, records are a lot more flexible than they once were and they are also a lot more resistant. Bearing that in mind, the fifties considerably changed the way they were produced. They might not be as fragile as they once were, but that doesn’t mean that every record-lover shouldn’t owe it to themselves to store their collection in the best possible way. 

Here, some of the steps have been photographed and captured by Al Q: