What’s all this 1st Pressing malarkey?
Once you get into vinyl records and start doing a little research, it becomes pretty quickly evident that some pressings are valued more than others.
There are the limited runs for a start. If you’ve ever collected anything in your life, you’ll know all about restricted availability being the shortcut to paying higher prices, generally, for just about anything right?
And then there’s the variant offerings – coloured vinyls, or splatter wax, deluxe audiophile editions, and extra goodies included in box sets and so on and so forth, in every imaginable combination.
But what are first pressings? And why do they sometimes command such a premium on price?
Why would you pay just $28 for a brand new modern repressing, and perhaps $50 for something done 45 years ago on flimsy thin wax, in a somewhat beat-up, dirty cover?
A couple of definitions up front : a first pressing is the first run of vinyl made after the band or artist have completed their recording of a single, EP or album and released a vinyl record, in a particular country.
So you can have first pressings from the USA, the UK, and of course Australia, as each of those countries produced different pressings of a particular record for their markets.
Later pressings of these records are then known as ‘second’, ‘third’ and so on pressings – some vinyl albums like Fleetwood Mac’s ever-popular 'Rumours' will have many pressings, in many different countries, and some lesser records will have only one in perhaps a few territories, and some of course only a few hundred copies in their local town.
But if you’re Fleetwood Mac, as in our example, you have virtually your entire later catalog constantly in print, being repressed all the time, and your pressing counts are in double, if not triple figures by now for certain titles.
In fact if you go to Discogs right now, as of this episode, there are 444 different pressings of ‘Rumours’ over the last 42 years since it was first released.
Vinyl, cassette, CD, 8 track, reel to reel, DVD-A and mini discs.
A frightening number of first presses in all those categories to consider owning….
The question is though, why do you want a first pressing of any of them?
Well, there’s three main reasons why you might consider that…
The first is that the original 1977 albums were mastered by the sound engineer from the original Master Tape.
The Mastering Engineer, in this case the legendary Ken Perry from Capitol Mastering in Hollywood California, would have used the only tape available to him at the time in 1977: the final agreed and approved mix of the album from the band’s studio sessions.
This means the quality of the source is almost guaranteed: you have the original tape from the band’s recording session, and you have the original mastering engineer the band or label picked for the job behind the desk.
Second or subsequent pressings of the album in later years *may not* use the original tapes, or may even have a different Mastering Engineer do a remaster of the music.
In other countries, the pressings may be from different masterings entirely (as is often the case here in Australia of course). We’ll get to the complex and absolutely fascinating subject of masterings in a future episode of the Vlog.
Suffice to say, it is a perception popularly held that whoever did the original 1st Pressing Master, may well have done a superior job than any subsequent mastering efforts, considering they had access to an original fresh sourced tape, and that special feeling the engineer had with working with the band themselves – that cannot be discounted.
The Second reason you might favour a 1st pressing is linked to the idea around 1st Stampers.
Stampers are what the vinyl pressing factory uses to press the vinyl itself from the metal parts (metal lacquers). In a complex series of processes which we’ll cover in depth in a future episode of the show, the first stamper is made from the lacquer; forming a "Mother" press.
These stampers used in these giant-steam driven hydraulic record pressing machines have a limited life once in use. It is generally thought that degradation begins around the 1000 pressing mark, and that by the 10000th press, the stampers are exhausted and should be replaced.
Now if you’re only pressing 5000 copies total of a record, that’s not going to be an issue.
But what if you’re pressing several million, as in the case of the perennial favourite, Rumours? You're going to need to machine a lot of stampers, and each one of those have the potential to be further from the original tape sound.
So generally, the closer one can get to the early "Mother" press, it is thought, the better quality your final wax pressing is going to sound. This goes for the potential re-issues and remastered copies as well of course, but , this will get confusing fast.
Let’s just say, if you can get a first pressing from the master tape, and you can get an early stamper, it is thought the sound quality will be optimised. That is the second potential reason first pressings are coveted.
Third and last, there’s the collectability factor.
Simply, for collectors, quite often the First Edition of something, whether it’s a book, a car, a toy or a vinyl record, can be more valuable/collectable than a later copy.
Whether that’s a nostalgia factor, or just to hold something original and really old, having first pressings of an album is often seen as being desirable by collectors.
What are your thoughts on FIRST pressing vinyl?