Test pressings and acetates

Test pressings and acetates

The most famous acetates of all: The Basement Tapes
TOP: British version on Emidisc blanks
BOTTOM: US version on Siunset recorders blanks
Both from The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 The Basement Tapes Complete: Bob Dylan & The Band

Acetates are early pressings done at the studio on thicker and softer vinyl. They were aluminium discs, coated with a nitrocellulose lacquer. They could be recorded cheaply and quickly,. and they wore out fast with playing.

They wear out quickly and were run off for musicians and producers to take home on the spot, or, in the case of Dylan’s Basement acetate that circulated among UK musicians in 1968, as a sampler to sell songs. Manfred Mann said they got the first British pick, as Dylan had been impressed by their covers. Most people who had access to them taped a copy, which is why a bootleg version soon appeared, followed by many others.

Judging by online images, there were several acetates distributed in London. Each label was handwritten or typed manually, not printed, so the one above, sold at auction, has an IBM golfball handwriting font. It was a double-sided 12″ disc, and Bonham’s auctioneers had provenance that this copy belonged to Brian Jones. It seems unlikely the Rolling Stones were in the market for Dylan songs, so some may have been simply gifts, both Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix had tape copies. It sold for £1,750 in 2017, which is not excessive for its rarity.

Record yourself

At the Festival of Britain in 1951, HMV had a “record yourself booth” with discs. These look like microgroove discs, have no speed printed on them, but would have been 78 rpm. Note ‘The Gramophone Company’ i.e. HMV.

It was in this type of booth at Sun Records that ElvisPresley started his recording career with My Happiness as a birthday present for his mom in 1953. The disc was valued at $500,000 speculatively, but was auctioned at Graceland in 2015 for $300,000 to an undisclosed buyer.

Facsimiles of the acetate – there was only one copy – were released on 10″ discs for Record Store Day, 2015 by Third Man Records.  The recording was cut from the original acetate and was not processed to clean up the surface noise, pops, and hiss, but it is pressed on a microgroove disc playable with a modern 78 rpm stylus. Jack White, such a hero to the record collector, prepared the release but certainly didn’t gouge the market. It’s said five hundred copies were made at $40.

My Happiness: Elvis Presley 1953. Facsimile 10″ 78 rpm
Record Store Day release 2015

Jack White’s Third Man Records installed such a recording booth in Nashville and in London. In 2014, Neil Young went into the booth and recorded an entire album, A Letter Home using the vintage equipment.

Neil Young: Retro-tech means recorded in a 1940s recording booth. A phone booth. It’s all acoustic with a harmonica inside a closed space, with one mic to vinyl. It’s a funky old machine, it sounds like Jimmy Rogers or something.
Interview by CLASH, 17 March 2014

A Letter Home: Neil Young, vinyl LP 2014, artfully aged. Third Man Records.

Of course that wasn’t issued as an acetate nor a test pressing. It was LP and CD.

In Spite of All The Danger: The Quarrymen

The Beatles first recording asThe Quarrymen was In Spite of All The Danger / That’ll Be The Day. It was recorded at Percy Phillip’s home studio in Liverpool in the early summer of 1958. The plaque over the door of the old home studio says 14 July 1958, but that’s disputed and it was recorded on a Saturday, which would be 12th July. They paid 17/6d (87.5p), but only had 15/- (75p) and had to come back with the extra half a crown.

It was recorded on one mic, hanging from the ceiling. Mark Lewison reports:

Anecdotes have Percy Phillips waving his arms at them, hurrying them to a finish, because he could see the disc cutting lathe reaching its ultimate point, almost at the centre label.

They had just the one directly cut copy of the recording (if they’d wanted another one, they’d have had to record it again from scratch) so the five group members shared the disc for a week each. The pianist on the session, John ‘Duff’ Lowe was the last to have it, keeping it for nearly 25 years. In 1981, he decided to sell it at auction. Paul McCartney stepped in, and bought it directly from him. McCartney had the sound restored and then made approximately fifty copies of the single that he gave as personal gifts to family and friends. The original is valued at a minimum of £200,000 (Rare Record Guide 2022), and the McCartney gift copies are rated at £5,000 each now. It’s on the CD / LP Anthology Volume One. Paul McCartney started performing it live from 2004 on.

The direct to disc method has been used for audiophile releases, mainly jazz, where the recording is live, cut directly onto a master disc for pressing. No intervention of tape or processing.


Rachel: Raymond Froggart (sic)

Most acetates are humbler affairs. Rachel, is a studio acetate, not a record label one, produced by Trident Studios London. It’s an 8” disc – the extra inch is all play in space. Later it was released on Bell, 1972.

The CBS acetate is a ten inch disc dating from 1967 ‘made in England’. The sleeve is Transco (“A Sound Investment”), and was made in Linden, New Jersey in the USA, because acetates were bought as blanks, imported in quantity, then cut rather than pressed. 

A ten inch CBS acetate on a Transco blank from this era is exciting to pick up … the Basement Tapes arrived in England on just such ten inch acetates, but this is You and Me by Carl King, a poppy British CBS production. The YouTube video for this song was uploaded by Carl King himself and is a fascinating display of memorabilia … like a royalty statement for sales of 246 copies of the previous record, and an account for three guineas for a BBC appearance.

Test pressings may not have a printed label, and acetates (which are brittle and only useable for a limited number of plays, no more than fifty) certainly won’t.

The first example is a Decca Group acetate from 1964. The record is The Dodo by Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (NOT the guy from KISS), and is a London issue with London catalogue number: HLU 9935. It’s an Advance Test Recording.

This 10″ Decca acetate will be worth rather more:

Street Fighting Man: The Rolling Stones acetate, 10″ disc,

It sold for $456 in 2014.

Hollywood: Jackie Trent 1968

The next example is a Pye test pressing from July 1968 with its Pye catalogue number (7N 17623) scribbled on the reverse. It’s on an Emidisc blank only because EMI manufactured blanks, just as they manufactured Emitape. The value of test pressings of “not collectable” material or even average collectable material will be low. The value of say The Beatles or The Rolling Stones will be extremely high. 

My Heart Belongs To Daddy: Joanne Scoon

I can find no trace of My Heart Belongs To Daddy being released, though Joanne Scoon had recorded for Philips in 1959 (Constantly), and had toured as a support act to Billy Fury and Marty Wilde.

Advision is the studio. The age is shown by the old London phone number GRO 3342 (pre 1966). The studio was started in the early 60s, initially for adverts and jingles (AD vision), then moving to rock and pop. David Bowie, The Yardbirds, The Move, Cat Stevens, David Essex, Queen and Slade were among those who recorded there.

In those days, studios could press acetates right away. They were replaced by open-reel tape, then cassette, then DAT tape then CDR.

Will You Love Me In The Morning? Sam Mollison A&M 1992. Reverse has imprint of another label and the “Atomic” label logo. It is on Atomic

Just because you made an acetate, it didn’t mean it would be released. See Oak Records (linked) who specialized in acetates for the early Rolling Stones and David Bowie. There’s a 1963 Rolling Stones acetate recorded at IBC Studios too.

I saw a box of acetates with blank or illegible labels. The vendor wanted £50 for the lot … ‘You don’t know what might be in there …’ No, you don’t and I wasn’t daft enough to try and find out.

Test records

Your Memory: The 5 Satins, MGM test recording, August 1960
I Didn’t Know: The 5 Satins, B-side, MGM

The MGM test records from EMI in 1960 are clearly marked Microgroove Test Record, i.e. not an acetate. They’re on a standard white EMI blank label, and the A side and B side were on separate discs (recorded on both sides of each), with both in a stock MGM sleeve. Note This record may not be placed on sale until sanctioned. That’s pre-printed on the label, not that you could sell discs with handwritten labels anyway.

The International Man: Donovan, RAK 1977 (EMI pressing)

Factory samples can go for astronomical sums, but only for the right artists, and the right artists are an immutable elite group of the most collected …  right, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Queen etc. The illustrated Donovan factory sample on RAK is worth no more than a standard copy.


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