Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: While cleaning my recently deceased mother's house, we ran across two records from WW2 that my dad sent home to her from Fort Hood, Texas.

I can remember hearing them played when I was a little boy in the '50s, but now they are badly weather cracked, as you can tell from the scans.

Do you know of any way these records could be restored? I would just like to be able to play them and possibly record them on tape or a CD.
—Tony Martin, via e-mail

DEAR TONY: It is not possible to assess the playing condition of records — or in this case acetates — by seeing a scanned image of just the paper labels. For that matter, even seeing the entire disc wouldn't help.

If you are in or near a large city, there ought to be a recording service where you can take these acetates for an analysis.

Some pretty amazing audio restoration software exists, and it wouldn't surprise me to find that a studio would give you on tape or CD would sound better than the source material ever did.

One humorous item caught my eye, on one of the labels. During the war, Pepsi-Cola, along with many other companies, offered various conveniences to service personnel.

In promoting their USO-like “Pepsi-Cola Centers for Service Men and Women, a Central Meeting Place to Send and Receive Messages” the label also prominently mentions “Free Shaves — Free Showers — Free Checking.”

The need for a shave and shower are obvious, but my first reaction to the free checking was to wonder why, with a war going on, anyone would be concerned about their checking account service fees.

Then, after a good laugh, I realized they must be referring to either baggage lockers or storage space. Arrgh!

For more on acetates in general, read on:

DEAR JERRY: While visiting in Paducah recently, I spotted your column in their local paper. Now I'm thinking you may be the perfect person to advise me.

A friend from Nashville gave me a stack of about a dozen acetates, most of which are by various country music artists. I know they are acetates because it says so right on the labels.

What do you know about this type of record? Are they rare?
—Zack Holman, Union City, Tenn.

DEAR ZACK: Due to the limited nature of their use, acetates are pretty scarce.

You don't describe yours, but acetates can be found in seven-, ten- and twelve-inch formats, and they may play at either 33, 45, or 78 rpm speeds. Acetates likely were made for most recordings made during the vinyl record era.

The process used to produce acetates made them fairly expensive in terms of unit costs, a factor which kept their quantities limited

The acetic acid and cellulose composition used in the manufacturing of acetates is very soft and they are not designed for repeated play. The metal core that is sandwiched between the lacquer surfaces makes the disc heavy when compared to a conventional record. These factors make the playing surface of the acetate quite fragile and subject to rapid wear and scratching.

Unlike promotional pressings, acetates are far less likely to be distributed to radio stations and media people for advance airplay and review. Label information is usually typed or handwritten in blank spaces provided for those details as well as session or reference notes.

For the most part, acetates find their way into the hands of collectors the same way as most manufacturing by-products do, passing from friends and relatives in the industry to fandom. Sound familiar?

Since the acetate is lathe-cut during the early stages of production, changes are often made before the final version of the track is completed. Thus, it is not uncommon to find acetates that differ from released versions in the same ways as previously explained for test pressings: alternate takes, varied mixes, altered lengths, differing lyrics, and altered tempos. These are the ones most coveted by collectors.

IZ ZAT SO? Some acetates are worth more than their weight in gold.

Several dozen Beatles acetates, from the collection of their one-time manager, Brian Epstein, have been sold in recent years. Most fetched from $1,000 to $4,000.

Even more amazing is that the owner of an Elvis Presley “Special Christmas Programming” acetate “turned down” an offer of $7,500, last year.

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