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Some Notes on Wax Cylinder Recording

When you consider just what is expected of a 100 year old phonograph, and how it is expected to do it, it is really remarkable that it ever worked, let alone still works after all this time. Although records as loud and clear as the commercially available moulded product of the 1900s cannot be produced with the home set up, with a little patience and more importantly, experimentation, records that are perfectly wonderful can be made which will play dozens of times.

There are no hard and fast rules for getting the best results every time. There never were. Some people have voices that record easily and others do not, but there are a few points that may be passed on and I list them as follows.

1. The phonograph used must have enough power to run truly with the extra work it is expected to do in recording.

2. The blank should have the best possible shaved surface, and should not be cold. Body temperature is ideal, but remember it will stick on the mandrel if allowed to cool.

3. The recorder if properly adjusted should need little attention other than cleaning away shavings. This should be done by blowing, never a brush.

4. Occasionally, the sliding collar in the Edison recorder does not drop down into the corresponding cup in the diaphragm carrier. A gentle shake will cure this, and a small amount of oil placed carefully on the inside of the neck where the tube slides, will stop this occurring again.

5. Whichever horn is to be used should be attached with the shortest length of rubber consistent with making a connection and not absorbing too much sound.

6. Experimentation is the only road to success with choice of horn. However a conical horn works best, and as a rule, the longer the horn, the better the bass response. For talking, singing the 30” horn supplied by Paul Morris’ Music represents an ideal compromise. The horn should be stout enough not to vibrate, since this wastes energy.

7. Depending on how loud, sonorous or directional the source to be recorded, a distance of about 2” from the end of the horn works well. A violin should be closer if this were possible, whilst a cornet could be six feet away with advantage.

8. Singing and speaking should be done close in and at as level a volume as possible. Loud open vowel sounds will introduce distortion, and if unavoidable must be done from a greater distance. This is known as “drawing back from the horn”

9. Just occasionally, a combination of the thickness of the blank as supplied, the stylus mounting and the position of the phonograph carrier arm relative to the surface of the blank means that the stylus will be too low, and dig into the blank too deeply. Always check for this, and if it happens, twist the recorder a few degrees so that it does not mate with the carrier arm, causing it to be raised up a little. This is known as using it “in the up position”

10. The record or phonogram should be dusted with a camel’s hair brush and can be played several dozen times without significant loss of volume

11. Blanks as supplied are ready shaved, and the only really satisfactory way of re-using them is by further shaving on an office high-speed shaver. Paul Morris’ Music offers a shaving service-please ask. Blanks are supplied thick enough to be shaved and re-used at least a dozen times.