POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 1
Stan Ricker Live and Unplugged: True Confessions of a Musical and Mastering
Maven, Part One
(This article first appeared in Positive Feedback, Vol. 7, No. 5)
Stan Ricker has a unique combination of knowledge of music, recording, and mastering, and is one of the few true renaissance men in audio today. Stan is a veteran LP mastering engineer, renowned for his development of the half-speed mastering process and his leading role in the development of the UHQR (Ultra High Quality Recording) process. Stan cut many highly regarded LPs for Mobile Fidelity, Crystal Clear, Telarc, Delos, Reference Recordings, Windham Hill, Stereophile, and roughly a dozen other labels, including recent work for Analogue Productions and AcousTech Mastering. Stan is particularly well known to audiophiles such as myself, who were actively purchasing high-quality LPs during the mid-70s to mid-80s.
Stan's love of music has stood him in good stead in his mastering career. His long experience as both a band and orchestra conductor has trained him to hear ensemble and timbral balance, which has proven to be exceptionally useful in achieving products of the highest caliber. Stan has played string bass (both bowed and plucked) and tuba from the fifth grade through the present, and he turns out to be something of a bass nut. Watching him play standup acoustic bass in front of his Neumann lathe with "Stomping at the Savoy" playing over his mastering monitors was a special treat for me. (Writing for Positive Feedback does pay, just not in cash.) Stan also has a love of pipe organs, and is quite knowledgeable regarding the acoustical theory of pipes. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education from Kansas University, but his prodigious mastering skills were self-taught.
As the capstone to his career, Stan has gone into business for himself with the creation of Stan Ricker Mastering in Ridgecrest, California. He has a state-of-the-art Neumann VMS 66 lathe with a Neumann SX-74 cutter head, a Sontec Compudisk computer controller, a Technics five-speed direct drive motor, and console and cutter head electronics designed and built by Keith O. Johnson. Stan now specializes in less-than-real-time mastering from digital sources (DAT, CD and CDR) onto 7" or 12" 33 rpm or 45 rpm LPs. The lacquers that Stan cut for me speak for themselves. He can also handle up to 14" diameter reels of half-inch analog tape at 30 ips. By day, Stan is the head buyer for the Telemetry Department at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake.
Stan has lots of great stories, and is known for speaking his mind. He has been called "iconoclastic" (The Absolute Sound, Vol. 4, No. 14, 1978), "pleasantly cantankerous" (Stereophile, Vol. 20, No. 6, 1997), a "crusty curmudgeon" (by Bert Whyte), and "the most understated renaissance man of audio" (Positive Feedback, Vol. 7 No. 1, 1997) by yours truly. Stan is all this and more, as I'm sure his wife Monica will attest. I have wanted to do this interview for several years. Our first session was held in Ridgecrest on December 21-22, 1997. We continued on January 7, 1998 on the way to WCES in Las Vegas, which proved to be a refreshing respite from the hypnotic blur of countless Joshua trees whipping by. We concluded on January 31, 1998 back at Stan's place. Each time, all I needed to do was wind Stan up, let him go, and have a rollicking good time with the man who was once quoted as saying that "conformity is the high road to mediocrity."
Dave: Stan, I'm very glad to finally have the opportunity to do this interview. An interview with you is long overdue in the audiophile press. Thanks very much for taking the time to give us your unique perspective on music, LP mastering, acoustic bass playing, the half-speed mastering process, conducting, the UHQR, pipe organs, Neumann lathes, classic cars, tubas, your gift of perfect pitch, and most importantly, what happens when a glob of nitro-cellulose shavings happens to come into contact with a match. But first, let's begin at the beginning. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and how did it all start?
Stan: I was born the fourteenth of December 1935, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I lived in Marblehead, Lynn, and Swampscott, Massachusetts. My mother had two brothers, one of whom lived in Marblehead, and the other one lived in Exeter, New Hampshire. We spent many summers in Exeter, a place I really grew to love. My cousin, Harry Thayer, and his brother, Charlie Thayer, still live there.
Dave: You've spoken very fondly of Exeter. I was there just a couple of months ago, and really liked it as well.
Stan: My uncle used to own the Exeter newspaper, The Exeter Newsletter. He purchased it in the forties when I was a little kid. Then he sold it to his sons, and the oldest son Harry recently (ca. 1988) sold it to the Dow Jones Corporation. I learned a lot from my uncle about bosses who really appreciate their employees and reward them accordingly.
Dave: You were exposed to music and audio very early in life. What came first, was it music or was it hardware, or both?
Stan: I would say they both arrived simultaneously. My mother tells me that the first time I did anything with music, I was three years old, and I sang some song at my uncle's house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I sang into a microphone, and it was recorded on one of those Wilcox Gay Recordio machines, which was quite the thing in 1938, 1939. It was big, like a Stromberg Carlson-type cabinet, and you had this record machine that was a turntable with a cutting arm and a playback arm on it, so you could record something and then play it back. The disks were ten-inch acetates. You know, I do remember that, though I don't remember what it sounded like.
Later, when I was seven, my parents gave me a phonograph for either my birthday or Christmas. I think it was my birthday, and they gave me a bunch of records, which, of course, were 78s. And I remember one of the first records I had was an Arthur Godfrey song, "The Too Fat Polka," and I discovered that I could put my fingernail in the groove and feel the vibrations, and could put my ear next to my finger and hear the music that way. So it was always a parallel experience between live music and recorded music, and one was just automatically an extension of the other, and even 'til this day, I don't see how one could get along very well without the other. They're part of the entire experience of music performance without a live audience. Recording sessions are very difficult. Live audiences are where everybody gets excited, you know, that's the fun stuff. And every time you do it, whether you play in the orchestra or whether you're conducting the orchestra or anything else, you always have a bit of butterflies. I still get excited when here comes a new job on a tape. What is this? What's it gonna be like? What can we do with it? How's it gonna sound? How can I help it sound as good as possible? So there's always an excitement, a sweaty-palms time that goes with it and I hope I always keep that excitement, 'cause you can learn something new every day.
I started playing the string bass and the tuba when I was ten years old, in fifth grade, after we moved to Bannockburn, Illinois, which is just north and west of Deerfield, Illinois, which is a western suburb of Highland Park, which is a suburb of Chicago on the North Side. I also lived in Hawaii. My dad was a Naval officer, and after World War II the dependents were allowed to join their family members at the military outposts, wherever they were stationed. My dad was a University of Colorado graduate in Civil Engineering, bridge building and tunnel building, and he was Executive Officer at a Naval base called Lua Lua Lei, which is an ammunition depot.
So we lived there while I was ten and eleven, having moved from Highland Park. The Navy didn't have a school, a dependents school, so a designated driver used to come and take my sister, who is two years older than I am, and myself over the Kole Kole Pass to Scofield Barracks Army School. That's where I first heard a real, honest to God, kick ass military band, with five big sergeants playin' five big York four-valve Sousaphones. And man, I'm runnin' around behind that band, "What are these? Boy, do these sound good! I wanna play one of those!" Ya know, I was so impressed by these! There I was, experiencing something grand. These were outdoor concerts. The band came and played during the lunch hour. Set up in the baseball diamond. And they'd play these noon concerts, every Wednesday they came over. You could stand behind the tuba section and it would just vibrate your whole body. I didn't know it at the time, but I was experiencing exactly what multiple woofers do in sound systems. They mutually couple. If you take a whole bank of tubas standing side to side with one another, or a whole raft of string basses in an orchestra, they do the same thing. And that's one of those grand cases where the sum is more than the individual parts. It was just, what do I say, ballsy. It was great. I was totally impressed by this.
Dave: So Stan Ricker became a bass nut at a very impressionable age.
Stan: Yeah, right (laughs). Yeah, fifth grade, ten years old or so, is a very impressionable age, so when Dad got transferred back to the United States, we came back to Highland Park, Illinois. I continued at Bannockburn grade school. We got a new music teacher that year, and she came in and said, "Hey, if you were to play in a band or orchestra, what instrument would you want to play?" And I said, right off the bat, "Hey, Mrs. Shimer, I wanna play tuba." "Okay", she said. So what happened is, she and her husband took a big old van, went down to Lyon & Healy in Chicago, rented all these used instruments, and started the school orchestra. It was lots and lots of fun. But I mostly learned how to play the tuba and the string bass by ear, until I got into high school. We didn't have much music in the grade school. Mostly, Mrs. Shimer would write out the parts. She was really good at that kind of thing, which, looking back on it, is kinda rare for a grade school music teacher to sit down and play a recording and write the parts out, all by ear. I remember our first year we played, shall we say, an adaptation of Brahms First Symphony (laughs). Only one movement, fortunately!
Dave: With tuba.
Stan: Yeah, tuba, string bass, and some clarinets and a bunch of violins and piano and drums. It was the kind of orchestration, actually, you would have called in those days a cafe salon orchestra, you know. A mixture of just about everything.
Dave: And you both bowed and plucked the string bass.
Stan: Oh yeah, I plucked that thing. I marginally taught myself how to play the string bass and, except for a few isolated instances, didn't actually see much printed music for the bass until I got into high school. Before that I was doing it almost all by ear. So I "Suzukied" myself (laughs), to quote a latter-day terminology. The Suzuki method is students learning how to speak through their instruments. Just as we, as children, learn to speak our native language, English or whatever, by listening to our parents and imitating them, so you learn to speak music by having an instrument in your hand (or in your throat) and becoming familiar with what it sounds like. If you do this, you get this characteristic kind of sound out of it, and it's not until several lessons, several semesters, maybe years, before you actually see music notation on a page. Just like kids learn how to talk long before they learn how to read and write. But this thing about just shovin' paper in front of people with notes....
I remember, so clearly, my first reaction when I saw a paper with what we call "notes" on it. My Dad was an avid golfer. He was a sportsman, and so when the music teacher put this sheet of printed stuff on a stand and said, "See that note, that's C," and I looked at all these notes goin' across the page, I asked her, "Why are all these golf clubs on this page?" and "Why are some of 'em solid and some of 'em hollow?" Because you see, musical notation had nothing to do with conveying pitch, tempo, frequency, intensity to the untrained person, nothing, you know. Just like, you do this (motions with hand), we call that a letter A. We have to learn what the symbol is for the sound, the concept, and so forth. So, yeah, I "Suzukied" myself. I learned to play bass with a lot of records like that tune that we played earlier, "Black Beauty," with Duke Ellington. I learned to play the bass to the original of that, you know. And a lot of it's bowed bass. They played jazz, bowed bass and tuba, in the early days. And most of the bass players were not considered complete bass players unless they played at least two instruments. You had to play the tuba. You had to play the string bass. Some even played Bass Sax. You had to play them all well, and you had to play 'em in a number of different styles. Nowadays bass players don't have to do that. Electric bass players, a lot of 'em, don't play string bass and even fewer of them play tuba. But I always felt it was my duty that, hey, if it was a bass generator I was gonna tackle it (laughs). If there had been subwoofers in those days, I woulda learned how to make 'em go.
Dave: So, your fingering was all self taught?
Stan: Largely so, yeah, by just looking up in books, consulting what's the fingering for C on a tuba: one and three, okay. Write it down and after a while you'd learn these things, see. Same with the string bass. And then I managed to do well enough in my music that when I graduated from high school, that was a whole nother trip (laughs).
Dave: Is your acoustic bass completely hand made?
Stan: It was a four stringer and I converted it to five strings with a low B string at twenty-nine cycles. And this superstructure down here moves the tie-point of the strings 2.5 inches off the lower end of the body, so the angle over the bridge isn't so acute. So you don't have as much compressional pressure goin' on the face of the instrument, which is equivalent in a loudspeaker to having a DC bias constantly going through the voice coil, you see. It's pushing it away from its really happy, neutral place.
This bass was a four stringer that was broken. I rebuilt it as a five stringer and built this wedge, bought a new fingerboard, put this wedge on here (between the fingerboard and the neck). That was for the purpose of raising the fingerboard so I could have a taller bridge, so you get more mechanical advantage. I couldn't buy a five-string tuning machine, so I had a local fellow, he and I designed it and he built it. His name is Jerry Kirsten, and he does machining, manufacturing, and instrument making. He did all this brass work. My idea was to put these brass weights here to add mass to the top end because the vibrations of the strings, especially the lower frequencies, tend to cause the neck of the instrument to whip about. By increasing the mass, it reduces that element in the instrument, which therefore makes the sustain of the instrument a lot longer than it would be. Oftentimes the notes just peter out. They just go dead, real fast.
Dave: I know you also have a great love of organs. How did that develop and when did that all start?
Stan: By the time I'd gotten into high school, well, things happened when I was fourteen. For instance, I went to Trinity Episcopal Church in Highland Park and we had an old, two-manual Austin organ in that church, but we had a really excellent organist. His name was John Henry McClay. He was head of the Choral Department at Northwestern University. He commuted up to Highland Park to be our organist on Sunday. And he had recognized that I had some kind of, maybe a little bit better than average either hearing or listening or playing ability or musical ineptitude (laughs). However you care to say it. Anyway, he offered me free organ lessons and I went home and asked my mom and dad about it. My dad just blew up, and I didn't take any lessons from John Henry McClay. I was just impressed with that pipe organ. When you wanted real woof, it was there. This organ had stopped diapasons: square, wooden pipes with a tight, but movable (for tuning) stopper, which produce a very, very pure tone when not driven hard. Almost a pure sine wave. I was fascinated by how these pipes, so effortlessly driven, with such little wind, could produce this marvelous woof.
At fourteen I grew very disenchanted with the Episcopalian Church, because I could make no connection between what the minister was preaching and today's events or, to use today's vernacular, it was not the "Church of What's Happening Now," you know (laughs). As a teenager, I guess I was really looking for something that spoke to my needs more, and up the street was the First Presbyterian Church of Highland Park, and my band director at Highland Park High School, Harold Finch, was the Choir Director. His wife Doris was organist, and one of the members of the church was William Kimball, the piano and organ builder, and he had just given the church about a 105-rank instrument, with four thirty-two foot pedal stops in it. And boy, I tell you, the voice of God spoke that morning (laughs), and I tell you whatyou talk about Woofer City, U.S.A. That thing'd really make a believer out of you. The choir sat over there, the congregation's out here (gesturing), and the altar was up there, and the organ was in the entire wall back behind the altar. Mind you, though, it was probably fifty to seventy-five feet wide. It was big and it was spacious. When that thing spoke, I mean, the whole place went up and down (laughs)! It was exciting beyond, I mean, I don't know if I got any religion from that place, but I sure got some indelible impressions about what power music could really have in your life. And boy, when they did stuff from Bach's B Minor Mass, or Faures Requiem, oh, just stuff like that, it really, really got to me!
When I went to the Presbyterian Church, Dr. William Young, he'd talk about things, about how your attitude affects you in school and life; things that I could actually relate to, and so that was a great eye opening for me. Soon, Mr. Finch invited me to sing in the choir. Well, the choir area in the Presbyterian church was huge It was in the shape of a huge "U." The two sides of the "U" faced each other, and you could put about fifty voices per side. The back of the "U" was where the big altar was, behind it was a porous screen, which is where the Kimball organ lived. The church had a vocal quartet that came up from Chicago; I think they were some folks from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, they were always very good. And so when you took these soloists, and the choir, and the organ, and you put it all together, that, other than being in the high school band and orchestra, was my first really full-blown experience of being up there where the music's happening. And I tell you, I'll never forget it.
Dave: At another very impressionable age, fourteen.
Stan: Yeah. Well, when you hear things like that, any damn age is impressionable. When you hear something that good. I mean it'd be like the first time you ever drove your car over 140, or the first time you were ever in a space shuttle and it lifted off, you know, things like that. No matter how old you are, there are certain things that make one hell of an impression upon you because they're really so powerful. For me that was one of those things, so that's partly where my love of pipe organs came from.
I remember Easter things so well. I used organ recordings to test my loudspeaker systems because I had three fifteen-inch loudspeakers mounted in my closet door, a la infinite baffle, and the only things that I could find that would really push the low end were 78 rpm recordings on RCA, E. Power Biggs before he went with Columbia in the LP age. He was originally with RCA, and there were some mighty powerful recordings that he made, mostly on the four-manual Aeolian-Skinner Organ in Boston Symphony Hall. You could get 27 1/2-cycle low As real well, and I could realize them in my room with cloth suspension loudspeakers. I'd experimented with mass loading speaker cones and all that kinda stuff, too. Oh yeah, it worked very well. That's the first loudspeaker of any seriousness that I ever bought sitting over there, a 1948 Jensen H510 co-ax, and the JBL 075 tweeter came in 1956. It was in your face. It was everywhere. Obviously I got no high frequency response in the closet at all, which was full of clothes and things like that. But, wow, you could sure find a twenty-seven cycle low A quite easily. People don't believe that kind of low end exists on 78s, but it very definitely does.
Dave: Yeah, I heard phenomenal 78 reproduction recently. I was at Clark Johnsen's Listening Studio in late November, and he played some 78s that really opened my ears. But this speaker you were talking about is the one for which your mother sewed a special surround.
Stan: Yeah, yeah. See, I had been reading all those little books that G.A. Briggs of Wharfedale Wireless Works had written in England. He talked about loudspeakers with cloth surrounds and things like this. I had been out working a couple of summers mowing grass at fifty cents per yard. I mean, not per yard as in, thirty-six inches, but per yard as in, three quarters of an acre per plot of one family housing! And you do that for fifty cents. Anyway, I saved up my money. I had like a hundred-and-some-odd bucks, and I bought this Jensen H510. It was Jensen's answer to the Altec 604 co-ax. And I was astounded to find that here was a fifteen-inch loudspeaker, the cone resonance was seventy-two cycles, which was exactly the same frequency as the D string on my bass. I mean, one string above that is G, which is ninety-six. And then below the D is A, which is fifty-five, and E which is forty-one, and this loudspeaker couldn't even reproduce those notes below its resonance. So, I thought, well, what's to do but lower the resonance? So I separated the cardboard gasket from the frame, but first I took a twelve-inch record and I laid it on this fifteen-inch loudspeaker, and I found that after you got past the corrugations of the surround, that actual cone of a fifteen-inch loudspeaker is twelve inches. Then I took a razor blade, centered the record, and just cut all the way around it, then separated the gasket, used some of my mom's fingernail polish to soften the glue, and got the rest of that surround out of there. Because in those days I don't even know if MEK had been invented. You couldn't go out and buy the damn stuff, that's for sure.
Dave: And MEK is...
Stan: Methyl Ethyl Ketone. I don't know when it came into being but I'd never heard of it as a kid, so all I had access to was my mother's fingernail polish remover. Which is quite stout stuff, almost pure acetone. So, anyway, I was reading Mr. Briggs' dissertations on loudspeakers and excursions and cloth surrounds and all this, so the first cloth surround I made was just cut out of a bed sheet, fifteen inches outer diameter, eleven inches inside diameter, which gave me half of an inch overlap onto the cone. I just glued it on there and as long as you just had small excursions the performance was okay. But as soon as you got an excursion where the surround ran out of cloth, ran out of compliance, it just stopped, stone hard, and turned into the best third-harmonic generator I've ever heard (laughs). All the low organ stuff began to sound like there was a huge sixteen-foot pedal reed attached to everything when I turned it up loud. I realized what was happening and showed my mom that it needed to be more resilient and not stop so hard, and she said, "If we cut the cloth on a bias we can avoid that problem." She said, "You can't cut a continuous ring. We have to cut separate pie-shaped pieces of cloth." So we used some scotch plaid and cut a bunch of pieces, kinda pie-shaped, glued 'em around the outside edge of the frame and overlapped them onto the cone, glued them to the cone, and then sewed all the overlapping edges together. And that thing still exists, as you saw.
Dave: Yeah, I'm quite impressed that you still have that. It shows real parental support, which is really, really important to developing a life-long love of a field.
Stan: Yeah, Mom supported me in a lot of things like that. I'm eternally grateful to her and she's still very much with us. She lives in Zellwood, Florida, which is a little bit north of Orlando. She loves to play golf. She was born in 1913, so that means she's about eighty-four. Her birthday is in July. Pretty smart old lady. But that concept of cuttin' the cloth on the biasshe loved to make clothes and she made almost all her own clothes and she made most of my sister's clothes as well. It was a way for her to be creative as well as to save money during the war years and so forth. She continued with it for many years thereafter.
Dave: You had some really meaningful listening experiences during this time, too, for instance, hearing Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony and Heifetz and Piatagorsky.
Stan: Yeah, Gregor Piatagorsky came to Highland Park High School and played for us in those Community Concerts things. I was especially taken with one number he played. He says he's gonna do this a la Andre Segovia, and he picked the cello up and set it across his lap like a big guitar, and proceeded to play the most delightful old finger-picking pizzicato Bach on it, you know.
Dave: That's phenomenal. That must have been a real joy to see.
Stan: Oh and to hear, yeah, yeah. And we had the Washington, D.C., Navy Band and the Cleveland Symphony come to the high school and these concerts. I found out that if you wanted to get some really good low end you went up in the balcony and sat all the way in the back. That's when I found out what a bass drum was all about. Those big suspended drums. You've seen those bass hoops and the drums are suspended by calfskin thongs because with a bass drum, when you hit the bass drum head, the two heads move in phase, side to side, the air mass inside goes side to side with the heads. It is only contained by the elasticity, tension, and mass of the heads. Now, in order for this to be a system in equilibrium, when the heads and the air go one way, the shell has to go the other way. That's why you always have this bass drum suspended from the hoop. As soon as you put the bass drum on a stand or set it on the floor, you prohibit the shell from moving counter to the air mass and the head, and you kill the whole sound of the instrument. It just totally wipes it out. You'd be surprised how many percussionists don't understand this. A lot of recording people don't understand it. Jack Renner and Bob Woods understood it real well when we were doing some early Telarc stuff. I remember when we were first doing the Cincinnati Symphony's 1812 Overture.
Dave: Ah, the famous cannon shots.
Stan: The famous, well, not only cannon shots, but it's got some hellacious bass drum whacks in it, too. We were having trouble with the bass drummer in the orchestra. He happened to be the percussion section crew chief. We'd get the drum tuned the way we wanted itit had to be in the back center of the hall, so when you hit on the back head and the sound emanates from the forward head, it goes out and hits all three microphones in phase, which means lateral modulation on the disk, which is what you want, not vertical. We'd get it set up about right, go back to the recording booth and look at it on the oscilloscope, and it would be all skewed. We'd go back out there and the guy woulda turned the damn thing, you know. And finally Jack and I went out there and Jack said, "Listen, dammit, we're payin' for this. You do it our way." And the percussionist said, "Well, we never had to do this for Vanguard Records." And Jack and I both said, about the same voice, "Well, that's probably why you never sold very many ****** records through them, did ya?" (laughs). Ya know, you cannot fool Mother Nature. You have to do these things according to the laws of physics!
Dave: So, what were your impressions of Reiner and Chicago? How old were you when you first heard that?
Stan: Well, hell, I was at least a freshman in high school, so I had to have been fourteen. Oh, I just thought that was, oh I mean, everyone was, "Oh, God, we're gonna go hear Fritz Reiner. Oh man, is he good." I mean he was everything he was cracked up to be, plus tax. I remember one of the things he played, Finlandia. All this stuff and oh, the cymbals and the bass drum were so together and, you know, everybody else was doin' their thing really well, but I'm watching the bass fiddle section. I think at that time the orchestra had either ten or twelve basses, and almost all of 'em had low C extensions on 'em. I used to go around to all these different bass sections and see how many of 'em had low C extensions, and almost all of 'em did. If you look at the individual basses in an orchestra today, in fact, it's hard to get a job with a standard four-string bass in a symphony any more. You have to have either a low C extension or you have to have a fifth string, like that bass I have at home, cause otherwise there's just a lotta stuff written down there you can't get with the standard four-string bass. You can't get your thirty-two cycle low C. You lose C, C sharp, D, and D sharp, which is most commonly called E flat, which is the most glorious key ever invented. The strings sound so good in E flat, and the woodwinds and the brass love it, too.
Dave: You also paid a lot of visits to Allied Radio when you were in Illinois.
Stan: Yeah, yeah. Every Saturday for a number of years, from Highland Park I used to have to ride the Chicago & Northwestern train down to Chicago to go visit the dentist, Dr. McKay. He was attempting to put some corrective dentures on my crooked teeth, and as everybody can see, he was a kindly man, but he wasn't very effective. So I'd ride the 8:10 train down to Chicago and my appointment with Doc McKay wasn't until about ten o'clock. I mean this was a Saturday, mind you. Who in their right mind wanted to go to work on Saturday, anyway? He was gracious enough to come in. How my dad was able to talk him into doing this, I don't know. I had hours to kill every Saturday, so as I would walk to my destination I went by 833 West Jackson Boulevard, and that's where Allied Radio was. They were in the back of a shoe store at that time. That's where I first heard an Electrovoice Aristocrat corner horn enclosure, licensed from Paul Klipsch. The first time I heard thirty-two cycles, low C, right out there in the open (other than in my own room). I was real excited by all that. Also, that's the first place I actually physically saw an Altec 604. So that had to have been around 1952 or '53, because I was doing so poorly in Highland Park High School. After my junior year my folks took me out of Highland Park High School and sent me to a boarding school in the state of Maine called Hebron Academy. Of course, over in Israel they call it "Hebron" (short e), and we hear about on the news all the time. But in Maine they call it Hebron (long e). And one of the reasons they were happy to send me there was because Hebron had absolutely no music culture at all, nothing whatsoever to do with music, and I knew I really had to get my grades up. So I repeated my junior year. I went to Hebron junior and senior year (1953-54) but I promptly started a Hebron Pep Band (laughs).
Dave: I don't think that's what they had in mind.
Stan: That wasn't what they had in mind, but it worked out well because it was directed by Mr. Philip Stackpole, who was my Algebra and Geometry instructor. Mr. Stackpole was a marvelous pianist; the academy had a Steinway D and Phil knew well how to use it. He was a music nut, and he was just looking for an excuse to do this band thing, so when someone got enthusiastic about it, he went with it. And then there was a record club. I wound up being president of the record club.
Dave: That sounds very dangerous.
Stan: Yes. Mom and Dad weren't too happy when they found out I was doing all this musical shit, at a supposedly nonmusical secondary school. But anyway, I got my grades up to the point where I was accepted at four universities, and then was faced with the dilemma that I didn't really know what I wanted to study. All of the colleges sent representatives to the high school campus, "Hope you'll consider goin' to our college," and so forth and so on. College Career Days, or somethin' like that. So anyway, I just filled out a bunch of damn paperwork and sent it in, and I got accepted to Purdue, the University of Colorado, Dartmouth, and Eastman School of Music (laughs). And I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do. None of this was on anything what you call a scholarship. It was one of those, "Yeah, I'll go to school," and we'll accept your money. So, I knew already that Mom and Dad had really been bitin' the bullet just to send me to Hebron. They were also sending my sister to the University of Colorado at the same time, and I thought, "Oh God, if I go to one of these schools and screw up, boy is Dad gonna be pissed." I remember that was my exact viewpoint, exact words on it. So I elected not to go to college, but to enlist in the Navy. Those were the years where you had no choice after you got outta high school, you either went to college or you were gonna be service bound. You know, go register for the draft and things like this.
Dave: Right. The draft is etched in my memory.
Stan: Yes, yes. It's been around quite a while. Frankly, I think it would do the country a helluva lot a good if they instituted that again. We wouldn't have so many people with absolutely no idea what they're gonna do, or no goals. Even if the goal is just to cover your own ass for a few years.... In spite of that, there's still folks like me who haven't figured out what we're gonna do when we grow up.
Dave: Yeah, well, most of those people are doing what they really love.
Stan the Barnacle-Encrusted Musician
Dave: Tell us about your experience in the Navy, Stan.
Stan: When I graduated from high school I auditioned for the Navy Music Program and was accepted. So I went to the Navy Music School in Washington, D.C., and that was the first time I ever had any really formal music education at all (1954-1955). I had very good musical instructors. Almost all the instructors I had at the Navy Music School were Eastman graduates. Really fine.
I remember being absolutely surprised at having an Army PFC, whose name was Richard Kneiter. He was a graduate of Eastman School of Music, and boy did he know his theory. He made it so vividly clear to me that I remember saying, "Now I understand why a G7 chord goes to C (or sometimes A minor)!". Because I had just learned that these things were so (by ear), but didn't know anything about the voice leading or the mechanics of good writing, which are guided by good hearing, what one expects to hear from one chord sequence to the other, and what are the rules regarding that. So I was very excited to finally have all my many scattered-around bits and pieces of music info finally put in a structured, organizational context where I could really begin to understand it. It took me years to understand that music really is a language. You learn music by imitation and it's only later that you learn how to read it and write it. But you learn how to speak it first, and I was finally getting to the point where I could read music and make harmonic sense out of it. For me that was a great awakening.
My main duties in the Navy (1954-58) were to play tuba and string bass and bass drum in marching bands. We didn't do much marching aboard ship, but when I was stationed in the New York Navy Band, we played at least one parade up or down Fifth Avenue every week. They were usually five-mile parades, so I got lots of practice in being involved with live, loud music. Record players and loudspeakers sounded pretty dismal and lacking compared to the real thing, and today they still do sound pretty second rate compared to the real thing.
Aboard the battleship New Jersey, I was in what's known as the Comm Sixth Fleet Band. I was stationed on the French Riviera for a while, with a very good Navy band, and that was a good experience in and of itself. I was playing a lot of dance band stuff and concert band and parades. I played bass drum on those parades, 'cause the tuba that I was issued was a nice tuba for a Sousaphone, but the mouthpiece had some of the plating off of it. Under the plating is brass and I got brass poisoning on my upper lip, so I couldn't play the tuba for about my last fifteen months in the service. For dance band stuff I, of course, continued to play my string bass. In the parades I played bass drum, and I really enjoyed it. Really, really enjoyed it. There's a real art in playing one of those things, in tuning it right and damping the heads right, so that when you hit it with a hard beater, you get a real smack, or a crack.
During my time aboard the New Jersey we did a midshipman cruise. We went to Annapolis Roads and took the midshipmen, class of 1958, on what they call their junior-year cruise. I was seeing a lot of interesting things what these midshipmen were doing. The radars and the gunnery works, how you aim and train a gun, and how it was all done by very crude computers. Seamanship and navigation I found very interesting, as well as enjoying doing my music, which was my real job. I got interested enough in what those midshipmen were doing that I applied for an appointment to the Naval Academy. So I went there as a midshipman in the summer of 1956. That was the first part of my time at the Naval Academy. Turned out though, I didn't really have my heart in it, 'cause I spent more time with the Naval Academy Band listening to them practice when I should've been doin' my homework. There was one class I just couldn't fathom. They called it Descriptive Geometry or Mechanical Drawing, where they give you a picture of some square box that looks like a cash register. It's got a whole bunch of stuff hidden inside, and you're supposed to draw it from a side view and a top view and front view and show what's hidden inside, and so forth, and I have, even to this day, not very good spatial perception. If I can't fiddle with it with my hands and figure out how it works, I just don't understand it (laughs). If I didn't know what I was drawing, I was just totally guessing. So I flunked out of the Naval Academy because of my lack of abilities in that area (Feb. 1958), reverted back to enlisted status and finished my enlistment (Aug. 1958) at the New York Navy Band (Brooklyn Navy Yard).
It was during that time, in 1957, that I first met Mr. Bert Whyte. The band was involved in early stereo broadcasts with radio station WQXR in New York, when Bert Whyte was Chief Engineer of WQXR. He recorded the band in stereo. I think he used two RCA 44s, but I'm not sure. Two RCA ribbon mics, and recorded them on two synchronized PT-6 Magnecorders, which were mono machines. I don't know to this day how he kept the damn things synchronized, but we had a giant playback session of this thing over in Queens, I believe it was. It was a Chinese restaurant called the Dragonseed Restaurant, and it was the Dragonseed Hi-Fi Club. We had in attendance Mr. Saul Marantz, and we had Rudy Bozak, and the head of McIntosh (Mr. McIntosh, I presume). We were using two of the two-hundred-watt McIntosh amplifiers. We were using four of Rudy Bozak's Concert Grand loudspeaker systems, two per side, and I think Marantz preamps, I don't know. There was a whole bunch of famous people there, and the whole band was there, and our commander, Dr. Donald W. Stauffer. He was our Band Director. He was working on his doctorate in music acoustics at Columbia at the time we were doing this. It was quite the exciting thing to hear stereo playback for the first time ever, in a large environment. This was a multi-hundred type seating restaurant and what they'd done was, the restaurant wasn't open on Sundays, and they cleared out all the tables and made space for us all to come in and listen.
So we had these double Rudy Bozak Concert Grands on each side and the band sat in between. We enjoyed our first taste of stereo. It was quite impressive. The microphones they used were, well, they were okay. They were RCA 44s, ribbon mics. Pair of 'em standing on the stage when we recorded. It was quite interesting. I enjoyed that. When they finally broadcast this thing, that was before FM multiplex, and they had FM on one channel and AM on the other channel. So the band barracks was pretty long. It was a typical long military type barracks building, with a lotta windows. We raised all the windows and we tuned all the FM radios to the FM side, which I guess was left channel, but I don't know that for sure. We set them facing the parking lot and all the band went outside and stood in the parking lot and we had channel A. So how'd we get channel B? Well, we got a bunch a cars with AM radios and opened the doors and tuned them all to the AM WQXR and heard our first stereo broadcast of ourselves. It was kinda cool!
Dave: That's great. So your love of cars mixed up with your love of audio goes way back.
Stan: Oh yeah, yeah. Have you ever experienced the thing about going into a drive-in theater when nobody's there, and they've got twenty-five hundred of these little loudspeakers standing up on their poles and somebody's playing some music on it good and loud? Have you ever experienced that? It's really ethereal because you have all this multi-layered delay because of the distance you are from each of these rows of loudspeakers. It's really something. It's like you're in an aircraft hangar but there's no building around you. It's really amazing and nobody can experience it now because there aren't any drive-in theaters anymore.
I got out of the Navy and went to Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas for two years (Sept. 1958 - Aug. 1960) as a business major, of all things. That was a mistake.
Dave: Hopefully some of what you learned there will stand you in good stead in your new business.
Stan: Well, what I learned is that there were people who really got their jollies from balancing a ledger book (laughs), and I said to myself, "Self, there's got to be more to life than getting your jollies balancing a ledger." I enjoyed music and I had done some teaching while I was in the Navy. (This was between the time of leaving the Naval Academy and reporting to Brooklyn.) I taught Chemistry to some folks while I was in the Navy; some enlisted folks who were trying to pass the Naval Academy entrance exam. That part of the test flunked more of them than anything else. I had done well in chemistry, so the Navy had me teaching other people how to pass the exam. So when I went to Ottawa University, I thought, "Well, man, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy music, so why don't I get out of this stupid business major and go into music education?" So I did and I then transferred to the University of Kansas in 1960 and graduated in the summer of '62 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. It's just been ongoing music and hi-fi and old cars since then.
Stan's First Honking-Big Turntable
Dave: When you were at the University of Kansas you made a pretty interesting turntable.
Stan: Well, I had started that project when I was at the Naval Academy, then put it on hold for a while, and when I was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Band I worked more on it. I really didn't get it all together until I got out of the Navy and went to Ottawa University. It worked amazingly well. People would hear rumble and say, "Well, are you sure that wasn't just rumble from your string motor?" Hell no, I'd just take the string off, ya know, and turn the turntable by hand. Well, you could tell real easily, just take a 33 1/3 record on the turntable and spin it up to about 78 or 90 rpm and you could hear hmmmmhmmmmhmmm. You could hear all kinds of recorded low-end disturbances on the recording, you see. You knew it was nothing except what was on that particular record. Every record you put on had a different rumble signature. That's a real easy way of finding out what low frequency disturbances are really on the record and what's related to the playback turntable. It doesn't work well with a high-mass arm, of course, or a warped record, but if you have a flat record....
So I was pleasantly surprised when I found that because I thought that was really cool that I could actually make a turntable that had less rumble than whatever equipment it was being recorded on. Now, some lathes were obviously much better than others. But the records cut on the old mono Scully lathes appeared to have the most random phase rumble, especially vertical rumble. If you put the playback preamps in mono, combined left/right channel to mono, then most of that stuff would go away, but as soon as you went stereo there was all kinds of garbage. That's another reason why, if you're playing a mono record on a stereo system, you should, in fact, have a mono switch. Otherwise there are a lot of random arm resonances. You look at the oscilloscope and you see it real easily. Certain bass notes will excite arm resonances that are more in one plane than another. It will depend entirely on the frequency. Do you have a J-shaped arm, just straight with a hook on the end, or is it an S-shaped arm? They are going to vibrate differently in a lateral mode than they do in a vertical mode because there are different moduli of stiffness in the two planes. And if its a straight arm, it would have basically the same resonances, laterally as well as vertically, but we almost don't have any of those purely straight arms. That Grace arm in there on the lathe is fairly close to that. It's kinda like an SME, thoughit's got a "J" down near the end.
Dave: Your turntable was made with a sixty-pound flywheel from a diesel engine. Tell our readers about the string. You found an interesting way to handle that.
Stan: That's the string drive. The motor was a quarter horsepower EAD (Eastern Air Devices) synchronous motor from an old external rim drive Rek-O-Kut 16-G2 transcription turntable. It had a big fat phenolic drum on it to achieve the proper speed of this sixteen-inch turntable, so it was pretty close to being the right diameter for driving this sixteen-inch flywheel. I really only had to just cut a little beveled groove into this pulley to put the thing right on speed. But you didn't want to pull the motor up very tight against the string. Originally I had used ten-pound monofilament fishing line. The only way I could figure out how to tie the ends was to literally tie a square knot. Of course, every time the knot passed around the small end, the motor end, if you had it very tight you'd get a bump. Later on, I learned how to hold the two ends over a flame and melt them together. 'Course, sixty pounds was pretty good mass loading, so you didn't get too much of a bump. I could run the string loose and I'd soak it in a mixture of alcohol that I had dissolved some bass fiddle rosin shavings in. The alcohol would dissolve the rosin and then you could pull the string through it and then let it dry. It would be just kind of tacky. Nowadays you can find this stuff in auto parts stores in spray cans and it's called non-slip belt dressing. Its for fan belts that slip, you can just spray this stuff on and it's basically the same stuff. The smell will give it away. You smell the alcohol and the rosin and all that stuff. But anyway, that was how I drove it, and the motor sat on a mounting plate, a metal mounting plate that was maybe 5-by-7, and the motor hung in rubber bushings on the plate, and I had the plate suspended on two stacks of bricks on the floor. It just turned out to be the right height. The only time I ever got feedback out of this system was when I cranked the whole thing up loud enough that it got into the floor because it was wooden. So I had the turntable in the corner where it would be most firmly supported by the edge of the house and whatever, ya know. That was then and this is now and now I have the use of a marvelous lathe to play records on (laughs.
Stan Teaches K-12 and Lives to Tell the Tale
Dave: So at Kansas University you started getting into what you really loved and have stuck with it ever since. Your next step was teaching music in Kansas public schools, right?
Stan: Well, I like doing that very much. In the back of my mind is that famous quote from, I don't know, Confucius, or Shakespeare, or somebody, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." And those who can't teach, teach teachers. Been there, done that. If I had stuck with playing my bass after I got out of the Navy, I probably woulda just gone on and been a pro bass player for the rest of my natural life, or unnatural life, as it may be (laughs), but I had promised my mother especially that I would go in the Navy for four years only. Then I would get out, go to college, and make something useful of myself. I really wanted to stay in the Navy 'cause I really enjoyed the Navy music program. I enjoyed it very much. A lot of the guys around that time, especially between 1956 and 1958, were getting out of the Navy music program and signing on with the Air Force band program. The Air Force was new at this time. In 1956 they first established the Air Force Band and the Air Force Academy out in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They had to staff a fifty- or sixty-piece Air Force band, so there were vacancies up the ying-yang at all the other Air Force bands around the country and around the world. It was a really great time to change services and become an Air Force band musician. Nowadays the Air Force Band has more visibility than any other military band organization. They just keep it right on going.
Dave: So you didn't do that. You taught instrumental and vocal music in Kansas public schools for six years (1962-68), I believe. Kindergarten through twelve, which sounds like a real challenge.
Stan: Mmm hmmm. It's a real challenge to come from a high school concert band to go and do first grade music. Actually, kindergarten music was the most interesting. I can remember going to the kindergarten class after high school girls' triple trio. Triple trios were a fun thing in the Midwest. You had a pretty high level of musicianship there. Then the bell would ring and everybody would pack up and go, and I'd pack up my stuff, go down the hall to kindergarten and go in there and I'd say, "Okay, let's sing 'My Jet Black Pony'." "Well, Mr. Ricker, what page is that on?" I'd say, "Well, that's on page twenty-six and that's a two and a six, and the two comes first." (laughs). You had to be ready, just like that, shift gears and work on the level the kids were at so that you could help 'em go farther. But you had to go to where they were in order to bring 'em along. You can't stand up and say, "Well, you know, if you don't know what a twenty-six is, come on, kid, get outta my class." (laughs). You just can't do that, because it isn't fair to the kids. You have to get to where their learning level is, their intelligence level.
So, I could remember enough of these youngster tunes on the piano, just enough so that I could play accompaniment, boom-chicka-boom-chick, boom-chicka-boom-chick. Just enough, couldn't play any melody, just play the chords. It was like strumming a guitar except I was strumming a piano, you see. And we had a fine time singing these songs and whatnot. The kids always seemed to get a lot out of it.
I can remember teaching beginning band. Beginning bands usually start in the fifth grade. I remember when I was teaching in Hope, Kansas, which is just fifteen miles south of where Chad Kassem has his Acoustic Sounds in Salina. So I remember I had one young lady, Kayla Gantenbein. Kayla wanted to play the alto sax, and she eventually became extremely good at it. But in the beginning she sounded like an unmuffled chain saw, and her dad would not let her practice in the house. Even in the dead of winter she had to go out in the barn to practice. I felt so very sorry for her, yet I was amazed at the level of determination of all these Kansas kids. This was a small farming community. Basically, they were saying, "By God, I want to do this, no matter what it takes." And I thought that was neat. Those students taught me a lot about perseverance.
Dave: Yeah, it's great to be in a classroom full of people who want to be there.
Stan: Oh, they wanted to be there. They really dug it, and they'd say, "Oh, man, what're we gonna do today?" That was the excitement of teaching.
Dave: That's a wonderful feeling. I've done my share of teaching and I've usually been fortunate enough to be teaching people who really wanted to be there and usually were paying to be there.
Stan: Yeah, yeah, that's a double duty.
Dave: Yeah, that's awfully enjoyable when you can find students like that.
Stan: These kids would go home and just practice their brains out. It was every day. We had band every day. We had beginning band every day. We had intermediate band every day, and we had high school band every day. They were fifty-five-minute classes, so you could get a lot done. So I really enjoyed teaching very much. But all the time I was playing bass fiddle in a band out of Emporia, Kansas, called "The Counts." The no-accounts and the charge accounts, whatever (laughs). It was led by a nice gentleman, Bob Lenigan. Anyway, that was when I could play my bass fiddle, play a gig every weekend, make forty bucks, which would buy all my lunch and all my gas money and all my expenses on the car. So for years and years I never had to take any of that kind of expense out of my paycheck, so to speak.
So I enjoyed teaching a whole lot but I wanted to do more with my life. I was perfectly willing to do more with my life just through teaching, but then I thought, "I need to expand my horizons past the small towns of Kansas," even though it was as great an experience for me, I'm sure, as it was for the kids. I mean we won superior ratings at state music contests. You had to have prepared music, sight-reading and marching band. The only way to do marching band accurately was to memorize everything. You have to really internalize the music you're playing. You have to know it by heart, thoroughly, so that you don't have to worry about reading notes, you're just playin' your horn, but you're paying attention to where you're going. And you're using your peripheral vision to keep your ranks and files straight. You see these bands marching down the street and they've got these folders of music in front of 'em. God bless 'em, but they're not gonna get anywhere because they're having to concentrate too much. I mean they're focused right here, eight inches from their face, on that sheet of music. How can they concentrate on what's going on around them? How can they stay straight? It's not really possible to do it that well, at least in my opinion. But I wanted to do more, and the pay in Kansas was abysmal. I took a job in Kansas City at an inner city junior high (1966-68). I did one year there and that ended it because I didn't want to be that much of a policeman. Gangs were not yet happening, just mucho civil disobedience between the students and teachers.
The Experience of Live Music (Up Close and Personal)
Dave: Maybe you can tell our readers what you were saying earlier about reviewers (laughs).
Stan: Well, I don't see how they can evaluate the sonics of something like a loudspeaker system. Obviously, that's what you have to evaluate, cause that's where the sound comes out, other than headphones. But what I really don't know is how they can evaluate things to such tiny detail if they don't have the experience of listening to live music, first hand and often. Because you have to refresh your memory. It's easy to say, "Oh, man, this sounds just like I was there." But when was the last time you were there? Live is so much better than even the best microphone feed. That's what I was saying earlier about some people who have not really experienced, for instance, a symphony orchestra, or a chorus, an organ, a concert band, a string quartet, any of these things not only first hand, but up close and intimate. Not back there in the hall somewhere but up where it's happening, where the music making is occurring. Youll find out how dynamic it is! I mean, it's so exciting that you could put a rock up there it would come to life with a good orchestra. Music making like that is an exciting event. I mean, I'm assuming we're talking about good music making, which doesnt mean "good music vs. rock 'n roll." I mean the goodness as in the level of expertise of interpretation and performance.
Dave: I've heard times when a full choir lets loose that things kind of sound aharmonic or distorted in real life. You want to know that it can sound that way and not confuse that with system distortion.
Stan: Yes it does. And it comes out and sounds rough. You get all these high-level voices, high level in strength of output. Stand in front of something like the Los Angeles Master Chorale or the Robert Shaw Chorale and you get all kinds of intermodulation noise in your ears and say, "Man, isn't this music great?" But if you listen and pay attention to what you're hearing, you can hear a lot of these "beat frequency" things going on that are just, wow, they're just random, sometimes they add up to tremendously powerful stuff. Peaks. You know, the peak-to-average ratio in some kinds of music is higher than others. Choral music doesn't have a real wide peak-to-average ratio. It is, by its nature, bandwidth limited, but within that bandwidth it's very intense, whereas with a symphony orchestra, a ten-octave pipe organ, or a well-adjusted concert band, you've got quite a bit more bandwidth to deal with.
Dave: As a conductor and a musician you've been right up there, close up, in your face.
Stan: Yeah, and it's really exciting to be there. I've always had this great distaste, this kind of gut wrenching, when people talk about "concert hall realism." I say, "Who the hell wants to be in the concert hall? I want to be on the stage where the music's happening." I mean this was happening to me in fifth and sixth grades and things like that, man. I want to be up there where it's goin' on. How do you do that? What's happening? How do you make this thing work? Why do up bows sound different from down bows on the strings? We get into the absolute polarity of the sound of instruments.
Dave: You were saying that this experience is what makes you so good at mastering.
Stan: Maybe it's not. What makes me think I'm good? Or what fakes out others?
Dave: But that's inconsistent with the title of this article (laughs).
Stan: I don't see how, I know a lot of people have done it, but I do not, for the life of me, understand how a recording engineer can produce a really top flight recording if he doesn't have some really first hand experience about music LIVE, in your face, so to speak. What is good balance between bass, midrange, and treble, which covers a large area? For instance, a concert band has a very weird energy distribution. A concert band, no matter how good, doesn't have much low end. It doesn't even have much tenor or baritone. The octave above the basses, octave and a half. And it's got a lot of energy clustered around trombone, trumpets, and clarinets. It's all very much clustered around the central part of a piano keyboard. (Frequency and loudness)
Now if the bass drum is tuned intelligently, it has to be tuned lower than the lowest note of whatever tubas and string basses you may have, so that it doesn't muddy the bass line. That's really important. In speaker systems you wouldn't have a subwoofer whose frequency response at the top end was crowding over an octave into what the low end of your main array was doing. Your subwoofer better stay in the sub-basement, see. Each instrument has its own well-defined bandwidth. As soon as you start crossing these things up, that's the art of orchestration. That's the difference between really intelligent composing and orchestration. Composers are a whole different breed from orchestrators. For instance, take Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I mean, Mussorgsky composed it for piano, and a lot of people don't realize that it's damn near impossible to play. The work really didn't come into its forte until Ravel orchestrated the damn thing, and all the tonal colors of the orchestra made it really what it is today.
Dave: Definitely. So, one thing that makes you so good at what you do is your background as a musician and conductor. And another is obviously that you absolutely love what you're doing.
Stan: Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I really dig it!
Dave: Stan, I certainly share your love of low frequencies. During the night before Easter this year, I was at Saint Eustache in Paris listening to their organ, which is quite amazing. That was a really incredible experience.
Stan: There are so many neat instruments in France and I really dig some of the Pierre Cochereau or Marcel Dupree recordings at the organ of Notre Dame Cathedral. One of the things that's characteristic of those instruments, and part of the tonality, is the fact that the damn things are out of tune. They're difficult to get to, hard to tune, and expensive to service. So oftentimes, you listen to some of the recordings of those instruments and you'll notice the basses go plummrouw like a whole squadron of B29s whose props aren't quite synchronized (laughs). You know that sound. Well, that's a real characteristic sound of some of those instruments, and it's because they've drifted out of tune, so if it's a low D, it's close enough to D. It hasn't gone to D flat. It hasn't crept up to E flat yet, so we've got D kinda-flat-sharp, and that's a really neat sound on the pedal. Frankly, I love it. I love it more than when all the basses are thoroughly in tune. But, believe it or not, if we have a concert band up at the college and we've got three tubas, or in the orchestra, if I've got three string basses, they will acoustically couple together, just like loudspeaker systems will. They will couple together to produce an in-tune bass, and you have to work at getting them out of tune. You have to be quite out of tune before the phase-lock loop breaks. With the pipe organs (French or otherwise), the random large linear dimensions, usually in excess of many meters, between different families of pipes, one of each producing the same frequency, just about guarantees that these pipes wont couple.
You can take three tubas and seat them together with the bells quite close together, and somebody plays a G, and the other two guys will have an awful time playing anything other than the same G (laughs). There's a lot of acoustic coupling between instruments. A lot of people don't realize it's happening, and it's part of what happens in the excitement, especially in live performances, with amateur orchestras where people get really excited during the performance. Everybody, somehow or another, gets the message that the total was more than the sum of its parts, and where did this come from? What's going on here? And there's this elevated excitement that comes up and the instruments couple together and suddenly, "Wow, we're a really working unit." "Yeah, man, this is what happens when you've got a working unit. It's fun, isn't it?"
Dave: When you're playing that must be exciting, and when you're conducting that must be overwhelming.
Stan: It is. And the thing about conducting, I love conducting. And I love playing, too. When Decca Records recorded Star Wars with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I was invited by the Decca recording team to go there and participate in that recording session. I had the good pleasure and privilege of meeting Zubin Mehta and of meeting John Williams, the composer of the Star Wars music. And it turns out that we're all the same age, within just a couple months of one another. I asked Zubin, 'cause he's a bass player, did he ever miss playing bass, and he said, "Well, once you've played the big instrument (by which, of course, he meant directing the whole shebang), you really don't like to go back to the section anymore." (laughs). I found that to be true.
Dave: But you're still doing both.
Stan: I still do both, but I do mostly playing. Yeah, we've had a situation up at college where the staff got together and said they wanted their people who are teaching, even part time instructors, to have Master's degrees. The administration up there was trying to grandfather me in and you had to do three semesters consecutively to be grandfathered in. And I'd done two semesters and took a break, two semesters and took a break, and two semesters and took a break. So I didn't have three consecutive semesters, so they couldn't do it, but occasionally the band director or the orchestra director, when they're sick or out of town or whatever, call me up, "Would you mind conducting a rehearsal?" Hell no, I'd love to do it!
Dave: Which college is this?
Stan: Oh, it's Cerro Coso Community College, here in Ridgecrest.
Dave: You like Dixieland and Big Band and all other kinds of music.
Stan: Yeah, we have a Dixieland band here in town. We also have a big band, a 21-piece jazz/dance band called BBX (Big Band Xpress). The Dixieland band has been around for a quite a number of years, about forty years, and the big band's been around, we just celebrated our tenth year. This was a direct outgrowth of theChange of Command band that I had over at the Navy base. Everything's downsized so much now that we can't do that anymore, but we used to do it. I had a roster of sixty-three people in that band, totally volunteer, and a lot of us wanted to keep it going, so what'd we do? We branched into the Big Band, and we branched out into a concert band, which is now the Cerro Coso Community College Band. We got it included into the curriculum!
Dave: And you play in both of those?
Stan: Oh, yeah.
Dave: Your conducting experience allows you to hear the ensemble balance and the timbral balance of the instruments, which is so important in mastering.
Stan: Consider the sound of a trumpet. There are times in orchestral music, especially like opera, when you'll get an instruction to have a trumpet played off stage somewhere. And this is for a very particular reason. I mean, the trumpet player could say, "Well, geez, I don't wanna pick up my horn and my music and go back there. You know, how the hell am I gonna see ya, ya know, peek through a crack in the back curtain?" And, "I'll just play soft." Well, no, that isn't the point, because when you play softly, you alter the ratio of the fundamental to the harmonics. This is what mutes do on strings, and this is what wind pressure does and mutes do to brass instruments. So it's not the same just to say, "Okay, John, just play soft." No, that's not the point. Go back stage. Go behind three curtains and blow your ass off! That's what we want. We want to hear you signaling, "DaDa Dat DaDa," from far away. Like, "Hey man, you're off, way up there, you're the sentry, and you're blowin' us a signal, and God, the enemy's comin'," you know, but it's from far away. The harmonics-to-fundamental all sound different.
This is what I appreciate about that record I was playing for you when we first came into the cutting room, that Opus 3, of that jazz band. There's a trumpet player standing right in front, with his music, he's not playing hard, he's just mezzo forte. In music that means, "Hey man, just play. Just enjoy. Just play. Let it swing." And he's got a good balance between the fundamental of the instrument and the harmonics, and the recording engineer's done a marvelous job of getting that balance, and not only getting it, but getting it to the final product, which in this case was the CD. Even though it went through convolutions of being an analog and then being a CD and so forth.
Dave: We're looking at the Opus 3, Test Record 4...
Stan: ... Jan-Eric Persson, Producer and Recording Engineer. I have just discovered his recording technique, and his is a personification of how I hear my music. I mean, from the same perspective. I stand here, we've got this equilateral triangle with these loudspeaker systems, and that whole damn band is spread right out from wall to wall, and you can tell where everybody is. You can close your eyes and you can see 'em. I find that very exciting to be able to pull off, on a recording.
Stan Starts Down the Slippery Slope to Becoming a Mastering Maven
Stan: At the same time I was looking for other opportunities and I ran into Gerald Riegle at radio station KXTR. It was in Independence, Missouri. I used to keep my FM tuner on all night on KXTR, and when it came on at six o'clock in the morning it'd wake me up. One time the station came on in the middle of the night and, believe it or not, it was going from stereo to mono and stereo and back and forth. They had some stereo that was out of phase and so I called up the radio station and asked what's going on. I got hold of the chief engineer at the radio station. His name was Gerald Riegle. He asked me what I was hearing, what was I listening on, and so forth. I told him, and we talked. He said, "Well, you might be just the person I've been looking for quite a while." And I said, "Why's that?" He said, "Well, I have this Century Recording franchise in Independence, Missouri. And I know all this technical stuff, but I couldn't tell an oboe from a bass drum if either one or both of 'em hit me over the head." (laughs). I said, "Yes, I've been involved in music, more or less, most of my life."
So I started working for Gerry full time and I stopped teaching. It was from there that I did my own Century Records franchise in Lawrence, Kansas (1968-69). Somewhere around here I still have a little clipboard that says, "Century Records of Kansas, 1322 Brook Street, Lawrence. Call Stan Ricker for a good time." or something like that (laughs). So Century Records and Gerald Riegle soon outfitted me with a 354-2 Ampex stereo recorder, theoretically called "portable." Like the Navy, anything they put handles on is, by definition, portable. We'd just bolt handles on this house, you know, and call it portable. Anyway, it was heavy, heavy, heavy. I had two MX10 tube mixers and a mix of M251s, U47s, and U67s. They made nice sound, did real nice work. Gerry Riegle also had some of the original RF-powered Sennheiser mics, I think they're MKH404s or 405s, one set that were omni and a set that were cardioid. I sure enjoyed the omni pair.
They had smaller diaphragms than the Neumanns, which have large diaphragms. Gerry was in charge of recording the five-manual Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ that was located in a building called the Auditorium. It's the world headquarters of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints. You have LDS, which are Mormons, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Then there is a part that broke off called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the reorganized home is in Independence, Missouri, in a large oval-shaped building, seats 3000 or 3500, had this 109-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ at one end of it. So Gerry put me in charge of recording this thing, which was, "Yeah, whoopee!" (laughs). There's a picture of it in the house. Let me get it, I'll bring it out. It's just hanging on the wall.
The interesting thing was that the church had a lot of acoustical work done by (name deleted through fear of legal eagles), everybody knows of them, right?
Dave: My best friend in high school used to work for them.
Stan: Yeah, well, they were as famous for screwing things up as they were for making good things. They were famous for putting these large wire-lath-and-plaster acoustical clouds in places. In this building, I mean, there are thirty-two-foot pipes. So it gives you an idea of the size. There's the chairs (pointing at the picture), so it gives you an idea of the size of the instrument. This is the choir seating. The choir couldn't hear themselves because the organ blew them away. So (deleted) came and hung seven of these concrete clouds over the choir so they could hear one another, and it did help. They were hung by a bunch of cables, and you could walk around up there on top of the clouds, so we hung microphones down. I soon found that of all the Neumann mics, I liked the KM56 the best. It had a 5/8" diaphragm, a nickel diaphragm. It was real clean and clear on the top end, you could really hear the articulation, the chiff of the pipe, each pipe when it first speaks. You didn't hear that with the likes of the U67s and things like that. The U67 is designed as an announcer's mic, to be used about one foot away from the talker, so they're being misused when they're used as distance mics. They have no top end to speak of in that application.
So I worked with Gerry Riegle recording that instrument for more than a year. The organist, his name was John Obetz, and I believe he's still there. I think this group of folks, this RLDS gang, I think they have built a new building. And they put in a new Casavant organ, which I didn't know about until I heard a broadcast on NPR called "Pipe Dreams." I heard an interview with John Obetz, and he was demo-ing some of the new voices on the new Casavant organ and I thought, I've gotta go see him and see if I couldn't make a recording of him. I don't know if he's done a recording for anybody yet, but I'd have to think he has. Anyway, that was quite a fantastic instrument to work with, and I really enjoyed it. What was interesting was the low-frequency pipes here (pointing to the 32-foot pipes in the photo). If you're standing here, you're approximately half way between this end and that end, and there's some real interesting phasing anomalies that go on between either if you're standing half way along the length of an open pipe. They speak like this, you see. The compression and rarefaction happens mostly in the middle, so you've got output. In other words, it's like two woofers in phase. Both go out positive and they both come in negative. So you get some really good acoustic humps right there in the middle.
Dave: You're standing right at a node, but this thing looks like it could blow the choir right through the back wall of the auditorium if you really let loose.
Stan: Well, at the other end of the auditorium, on the second level, up here (pointing to photo), this large wall goes all the way around. At the back it was cut out, and there was another, smaller organ console back there, with some ranks of what they call trumpet en chamade, otherwise known as state trumpets. They're long pipes that look like the kind of trumpets that the guy plays at the racetrack, which is just an unwound bugle. But these state trumpets are very bright and piercing, and they work on a very high wind pressure. When we were doing recordings we never could use that part of the organ because the wind supply for it was so noisy. So I went back there with Gerry one day and we opened the door and walked into the wind supply room. There was this big turbine on the floor and the output of the turbine just went up; see you're in a small room. Here's the turbine sitting on the floor, and sitting above this is a ceiling, which is the floor of the room above, and that's where the wind chests are for the state trumpets. So what would happen is all the noise from the turbine would go right up there into the wind chest and out into the auditorium. You'd hear thisWheeee, ya know, just like some turbine jet engines. You'd hear this high-pitched squealing and it was really terrible.
And I said, "Well, have you contacted the Aeolian-Skinner guy, find out what they'd charge to build a baffle box to cut out that noise?" And he said, "Yeah, we had them out here last year and they wanted something like $9000 to build a baffle box." I said, "I think it can be done cheaper than that." He said, "For how much?" I said, "Maybe about a hundred bucks." (laughs). He was a very, very proper fellow, Gerry Riegle, he never cursed, but as close as he ever got to cursing was then and he said something to the polite effect of, "You gotta be shittin' me!" He just couldn't believe it. "How would you do this?" I mean, his eyes were as big as saucers. I said, "Well, okay, we take the output from this turbine, and what we're gonna do is have it go up into a box about yay so big by yay so big (hand gesturing), and then well cut some two-inch holes in this box and then we're gonna go to the auto parts store and buy nine Walker glass-pack mufflers. So we've got three holes by three holes and we have these nine mufflers and we're gonna put 'em in there and then we'll build another collection box at the other end for the muffler output and then the wind can go on up into the wind chest."
Anyway, we did it and got something like a 38dB reduction of the high frequency noise coming out the other end. And it didn't impede the air flow at all, cause they were straight through, just glass-pack mufflers in parallel. Somewhere around here I have a picture of that, except I think we wound up using six mufflers instead of nine. They were very happy with it. That's one of my first experiences in the actual application of what the military now calls off-the-shelf technology. And that's exactly what that is. I love to solve problems by cross-multiplying technologies that already exist. You see, you don't have to go out and invent something. There's a lot of stuff thats already been invented, but it's finding new uses for things that already exist that to me is the great challenge.
Dave: That's yet another example of cross-fertilization between love of automobiles, love of music, and sound effect. I'm surprised there's not a Recaro seat hooked up to your lathe (laughs).
Stan: That was an interesting time in my life, working in that RLDS auditorium. They had a whole recording department because they sent tapes around the world for radio broadcasts. They were simply called "Music and the Spoken Word." I learned about making tape duplications. I also learned a lot from Gerry about the care and feeding of analog tape recorders. I learned that by making tape duplications backwards, they came out cleaner because of the improvement in recorded transient response. When you strike a cymbal or something like that, it's easier to build it up and then cut it off than it is to start from max and come down. So we duplicated all our tapes at one-to-one speed backwards, on Ampex AG-350s. And they came out very well, indeed. It turns out later that quality-oriented people in the know did this.
Dave: I'm surprised you didn't do the Beatles box backward (both laugh).
Stan: Something I've always wanted to do is take something like Ravel's Bolero, which starts so quietly and then just builds into this orchestral orgasm at the end, I've always wanted to do an inside-out twelve-inch 45 rpm of that. As the dynamics increase, so does the scanning velocity, so that by the time you got to the end you were scanning it about forty inches a second. You could deal with all these crashing frequencies and dynamics and, you know, all the stuff that happens. That's the typically perfect example of a record to do an inside-out recording on. Now I've gotta figure out some way to run this lathe backwards. The interesting thing is that it would theoretically be possible on this lathe because the Compudisk motor is a servo motor that drives the feed screw. And it's a Gilmer belt, which is what we use in automobiles for timing belts, where it's got to be belt drive but you can't have any slippage between rotating parts. It's a toothed belt, so the motor that drives the feed screw is coupled to the feed screw by a belt and a little gear on the motor and a large cogwheel on the center line of the feed screw. If I can figure a way of twisting the belt half a twist I could, in fact, run this thing backwards. Now (laughs) what are audiophiles gonna say?
Dave: A standard that records at two-thirds speed, half speed, minus half speed, minus two thirds speed, the complete spectrum.
Stan: Yeah, start from the inside out. That's a challenge.
A Light Bulb Beams Brightly in Stan's Head
Dave: So at some point right here in your life you came to join the Audio Engineering Society.
Stan: Well, I was still working with Gerry Riegle in 1967, and he said, "Hey, there's an AES convention in New York. I'm goin', do you wanna go?" And I said, "Yeah, yeah. I'd love to." I had long ago reached the point in my life where if it (any record) was mastered by George Piros, I bought it. I didn't care what the music was, I just bought it, 'cause George did the best sounding stuff I'd heard. And of course, if it said "recorded by C. Robert Fine and mastered by George Piros" that was two reasons to buy it. Yeah, I wanted to go, and besides, Gerry had told me, "Yeah, they're gonna have some computerized lathes there." I said to myself, "What's to computerize about a lathe?" I didn't know. I remember going to the Gotham booth. Of course, Gotham was the importer of the Neumann lathe and all the Neumann gear like the VMS66, which this lathe is (at Stan Ricker Mastering). The whole system was something like $227,000, and that was in 1967. It was one expensive Mother J, I kid you not. Only the rich and famous could afford such a thing. Anyway, I saw one of those things and salivated. And yes, I had to go meet George and find his lathe, which was on the top floor of the North American Hotel. That was where Bob Fine had his studios. Big old ballrooms were his recording rooms. He did things for Tempo Records, like Erbie Green and Twenty-One Trombones. He did all the Command Records recordings there (other than the on-location jobs like the Brahms symphonies with William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). All that stuff was done in these big, spacious recording rooms. You just walked in and talked and they just had great sound. "This is a great room, let's do something in it." Marble pillars around here and there. Then when I met George I spent two days hanging out at his mastering room, just soakin' up everything I could get. What he used for monitors, and people will laugh nowadays, but I still have a pair of these out here in a box, a pair of Altec 604C coaxials.
Dave: I know people who would not laugh at that.
Stan: I learned my mastering with those things. I never had something that good when I was actually doing live recording. But when I got into mastering, most everybody had 604s. George had a pair of 604s sitting on top of a pair of Rudy Bozak Concert Grands for the bottom, that's where he got the bottom half to listen to, you see. It made quite a satisfactory playback system. It didn't surprise me at all. He said, "You probably think this is quite a kludge?" I said, "Not at all. Bottom line is that it sounds great." A lot of people tend to forget, or maybe some of today's audiophiles don't even know, that virtually all this stuff was used for the classic RCA Red Seals, the Mercury Living Presence, they were all monitored on these Altec 604s. Almost without exception it was the standard gizmo to listen to. I mean, it was an efficient loudspeaker, it had a gross distortion that everybody was totally used to and just kinda tuned out, and you had to drive it hard over 10K. In order to make it talk much over 10K, you just had to really know there was something there on the tape because it wasn't gonna manufacture any false tizzy top end at all.
Dave: You want standardization among those monitors, because as recording engineers go from to location to location, if they're using the monitors they're accustomed to, and their ears know how to compensate for the deficiencies of those monitors, then everything's okay. But if every studio is using something different, then it's trouble.
Stan: If you have a migrating engineer, he's just bound to be in trouble over things like that unless, as smart engineers do, and as we do at CES, we have records we take around from place to place because we know what they sound like. Having listened to them on a lot of systems over the years, you get a fairly good hang of what's really on the record or CD, or whatever. But the 604s, in their standard gray hammertone utility enclosures, were just everywhere, and most of the time they were driven by two amplifiers, often Altec tube amplifiers. The guys wanting the really good- sounding stuff, they used the sixty-watt McIntosh tube amplifiers. That made a really good combination with the Altec. The Altec was a 16-ohm system. It's got a three-inch voice coil (woofer), and it can't take a lot of power because the voice coil and voice coil former are old technology, they're paper. You can't drive 'em very hard or you're gonna have a fire. They're hellaciously efficient, and the Westrex cutterhead came from that same concept, in that it has a very, very efficient high-conversion efficiency. It's got big magnets on it. I mean, the magnets on a Westrex cutterhead would do justice to a good ten- or twelve-inch woofer, to say nothing of a high-powered tweeter. So the tube amplifiers that were in use then, the 70-watt tube amplifiers, were quite good enough for those Westrex cutterheads. But you can't take a 70- or 100-watt tube amplifier and drive a low efficiency Neumann cutterhead and get satisfactory results. It just must be solid state to get the current up and get the damping, the low frequency damping that's so important to today's accurate cutting.
Dave: So Stan, here's the big question. When did the light turn on for you? When did you decide to become a mastering engineer?
Stan: Well, I'd always loved it, loved seeing pictures of what George was doing with his specially modified (every good hi-fi piece of gear was "Specially Modified") Scully Lathe and then meeting him and seeing that first Neumann computerized lathe, just drooling. Oh God, I thought, I'd love to have one of those things. But when it really hit me was when I went to work with my own franchise in Lawrence, Kansas, the Century franchise. I used to go out and make what I think were pretty damn good basically amateur tapes of amateur bands, and I was using the three-mic technique, three omnis in the same plane, same height. And boy, when we'd have tape playbacks, they'd sound great, but when you got the disk back they sounded just horrible. I never really tied the two together until I was dealing especially with a recording of this organ (pointing to the RLDS organ) here. And it had sounded so good on tape and the test pressing I got back from Keysor-Century was just phenomenally, for lack of a better word, ugly, or not satisfactory.
The cutter systems at Keysor-Century were Neumann lathes, but they used the Westrex cutterheads with fixed depth. Therefore, they used a low-frequency combining network, usually referred to in the industry as a crossover, almost permanently set around, well, the lowest I ever saw almost anybody set it was 250 cycles, which is middle C on the keyboard. Most of the time it was set at 500 cycles, so that there was very little vertical modulation in the disk. The vertical modulation is that part of the signal that's responsible for stereo, being phase and amplitude difference between the inboard groove wall and the outboard groove wall, which are, respectively the left channel and the right channel. So I got especially frustrated on this recording, and I called up George Piros and talked to him and he said, "Hey, send me the tape. I'll cut your disk." So I did and he did, and, of course, I was just blown away, "My God, this sounds just like the real thing, ya know." I had a good turntable. I had this belt drive or string drive kludge of a turntable that worked very well. And I had a Paul Weathers FM Capacitance Mono cartridge and a Paul Weathers strain gauge, his first strain gauge stereo cartridge. They worked phenomenally well and really tracked well. It was really neat to be able to play this lacquer back and feel, "Hey man, this thing's just like the tape." Which is what you want. You want the record to sound like the tape as much as possible. So I sent it off to Century. They played it and they were duly amazed, but they could not cut the tape that way because of their fixed depth thing. I think what they finally did was to send the tape down to Capitol Records and get it cut there. Then we finally got a decent recording of it.
Then I was in contact with Keysor-Century so much about the quality, or lack of quality, of the recorded sound, between this compressed sound, which was musically unrewarding, and warped records and records with ticks and pops in 'em, and things like this. I'd just call up and bitch and moan about all this stuff, and they weren't unreceptive. They didn't say, "Well, what the hell ya want for the price you're paying?" They never said that. They sounded generally concerned. They just really didn't seem to know what to do. The upshot of it was that they had a QC position open up because the lady who had been the QC person had died. And Keysor had the government contract for Armed Forces Radio and Television Service worldwide distribution of radio programs on phonograph records. They had to be done every week, and you had to get these things recorded, pressed, put in sleeves and shipped out. Every week they went to Korea and all these places. Remember that movie with Robin Williams, what is it, Good Morning, Vietnam, or something? He's playin' this damned A-farts stuff, that's what we used to call it. A F R T S. That's Armed Forces Radio and Television Service records that we made at Keysor-Century. They needed somebody in the QC supervisor slot to fulfill their contract obligations, so they offered me a job at about four times the salary I was making recording with Gerry and trying to run my own little thingie in Lawrence, Kansas. And I said, "Oh yes, oh gee, how long do I have to make up my mind, like can I make it up now? (laughs). When's the next bus, ya know?"
Dave: Plus you got to move from Kansas to California. This was in Saugus, right?
Stan: Yeah. I drove from Lawrence, Kansas, and I remember filling up at the gas station. I had a '61 Chevy with a 348 stick overdrive. That's another car that had been automatic and I converted it to stick overdrive and drove out to California in June or July of 1969, to go to work for Keysor-Century Corporation. The job as QC there was really quite something. That was a University of Hands-On Experience because you had a recording department, you had electroplating, matrix stampers, mothers, all that kinda stuff. You had a print shop that printed album covers, fabricated jackets. You had mastering and record processing, as they call it. And just in record processing alone there's like fifty-four steps, any one of which can just sabotage the whole process, sabotage the final product. So you have record pressing, and the print shop as I mentioned, with printing labels and album slicks on four-color Heidelberg presses, drying labels, making sure you get paper that's heavy enough that it doesn't split when you're pressing the record. Ninety-pound chrome coat paper works real well. I learned that from Doug Sax when we first pressed the first Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues. I was head of QC when we did his very first direct-to-disk, other than he had a limited production one with, I think, Jim Keltner, just doin' his drum set all by himself.
So the Quality Control procedures for label paper and the four color presses for album covers and back liners, fabricating jackets, shrink-wrapping... I was the one who came up with the idea to not shrink-wrap those damn bags so tight because they pull up the corners of the albums and warp the pressings when we later got into, not so much at Keysor, but later on with other record companies, got into audiophile stuff. That's when I said "Let's loose-bag it. Don't put it through the heat tunnel at all." Then you had record collating, how to handle the records without contaminating them with your fingers when you put 'em in the jackets. Now RTI and everybody uses white gloves, but then they didn't. They just got their fingers on them and hell, when the roach coach came along and everybody went out and bought a burrito, well, you got burritos on the records after the break, you see. So, just workin' out things like that with people at a higher level of caring about what they did was important.
Dave: I hope we're not scaring our readership too much with all this sordid detail (laughs).
Stan: They have a right to know!
Dave: That's true.
Stan: It's what they don't know that can hurt them. One of the most interesting things about Keysor-Century is that they manufactured the vinyl. They would constantly experiment with vinyl compounds. Remember when we had quadraphonic records? And we had SQ and QS and CD 4 and God knows what else? See, all this was before I went to JVC. Keysor came out with one vinyl that if they had been able to continue with it, they would have made a killing. It was such high quality, glass-hard stuff. The model number was Q540, and it was introduced right around the time when the quadraphonic stuff was goin' big. Man, it was hard. It was like playin' a metal mother back. Our audiophile friends ought to go to a record pressing plant like RTI sometime and let Gary play a metal mother for 'em, because you have zero groove deformation when you play this thing back, and you'd be surprised about the high frequency response of phonograph records. It can really be quite good.
Dave: I don't know if I want to run my Benz Micro through a metal mother!
Stan: I remember one time at JVC, I attempted to play a metal mother with a Denon moving magnet cartridge. Denon's got one helluva magnet inside and that ole' cartridge just went Bammm, right down on this mother. I didn't realize that nickel was magnetic! Boy, I mean that cartridge just stuck to that mother really vigorously.
Dave: Talk about a collapsed cantilever. If you sent that back to Denon for repair they must have wondered what the hell happened to it.
Stan: Yeah. They probably thought, "Who ran over this?" Yeah, that was quite a surprise indeed, because it stalled the motor, the turntable motor. Just locked the whole thing up. Anyway, the experience at Keysor-Century was so very, very valuable. There were so many things that were being done wrong, but in spite of that they could, from time to time, produce a really good product. When everybody focused their minds on what they were doing, I mean these pressings that we made for Doug on that Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues, well, you know, they're highly sought after now.
Dave: So, did Doug cut that and then you plated and pressed it?
Stan: No, we didn't plate it and press it. We pressed it. It was plated at James G. Lee Record Processing. Those were the days when you could chrome plate stampers and that really gave a smooth surface to the record. Nowadays you can't chrome plate stuff anymore because of the EPA. Chrome plating is a really dirty, messy operation. Nickel is very porous and granular when you look at it under a microscope. It looks like you're looking at a bowl full of Rice Chex or Wheat Chex, and the chrome plating would fill in a lot of that. Look at the earliest of Doug's pressings that were made there with the chrome stampers. I got to where I could look at a record and right off the bat know if it was pressed with a chrome stamper. You could just tell, with a glass smooth, shiny black surface. The matrix facility at Keysor at that time wasn't all that swift, although they got better as time went on.
Dave: I'm surprised you don't have some custom-made hubcaps for your Ranchero made out of these things (laughs).
Stan: Well, I didn't have the (1959) Ranchero then.
Stan Ricker would like to express his most heartfelt thanks to George Cardas for underwriting the mastering lathe and its electronics at Stan Ricker Mastering. George has made it possible for Stan to continue doing the work that he loves. Serious inquiries about this article can be sent to Stan Ricker via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone to Stan Ricker Mastering at 760-375-3829. The interview continues in Part Two.
The entire contents of this article are Copyright © 2000 by David L. Glackin, all rights reserved. No parts of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.