Saturday , July 20 2024

Jazz Record Restorer John R.T. Davies Dies

I had honestly never heard of this guy, but his work was certainly noble and worthwhile:

    John R.T. Davies, one of the world’s top restorers of old jazz records, has died, his family said. He was 77.

    Davies succumbed to cancer on May 25 at his home in Burnham, in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London, his wife Sue announced on Davies’ Web site.
    Davies, a musician who also gained fame as a member of the 1960s band the Temperance Seven, was one of the foremost experts on remastering classic jazz recordings, mostly from the 1920s to 1950s.

    He had an enormous record collection and was known for using temperamental old equipment for his careful, precise work. His goal, colleague Tony Russell wrote in The Guardian newspaper, was to get worn, damaged recordings sounding as much as possible like the musicians who made them had intended.

    Sometimes he could even improve upon deficiencies caused by poor recording equipment, Russell wrote. [AP]

Check out these fascinating FAQs from Davies’ site:

    Some items of Equipment used in the repair of Gramophone Records – by John RT Davies.

    An aluminum plate c. 13 ½” diameter, ½” thick machined flat (to tolerance of 0.001″) endowed with a removable center spindle. The spindle is drilled and tapped 2BA as is the plate in two circles at 5 ¼” and 6 ¼” radius as well as two groups at 4″ radius. The purpose of these tapped holes is the reception of screw held clamps, bridges etc. for the securing and manipulation of parts of records.

    Sundry simple clamps fashioned from aluminum angle, three thumb-screw-adjustable horizontal cramps, also a collection of strangely shaped “outrigger” clamps for applying vertical pressure from tapped holes. A 1 ½” diameter (1/4″ thick) piece which fits over the center spindle and is endowed with four tapped holes to receive screws holding aforementioned strangely shaped “outrigger” clamps.

    A couple of pairs of “Spencer-Wells” forceps. One will carry a used cutting stylus for creating pilot grooves to bridge erstwhile digs and gouges or even across a newly rebuilt bite – hold the tool, move the work; the other normally holds a soft-tone steel needle for gentle crut-removal and planishing upper reaches of newly cut grooves. In cases of loss of groove wall between two turns, such planishing can approximate the recorded information on the surviving groove wall onto the newly rebuilt wall… to some advantage.

    A block jig to hold a dental burr. Such will facilitate the removal of a little material along broken edges so that pieces may be rejoined with the adhesive being contained within the cavity so created thus avoiding to a large extent the displacement which would otherwise be caused by the thickness of the adhesive.

    A dissecting microscope – binocular – 20x and 40x. Greater magnification might seem desirable for microgrooves but tools for working on microgrooves are very difficult to create and even more difficult to wield.

    “Chinagraph” black and white. White is easier to work with because of contrasting visibility and lower fluidity temperature. Black- more difficult to see what you’re doing – can effect a repair invisible to the naked eye. Melted in with the tip of a heated darning needle, surplus can be planed off with a slicing motion of a razor blade; the new surface can then be buffed smooth before pilot grooves are cut. Hold the tool, move the work

    Edison amberol wax (more amenable than the two-minute material) will provide a fine, durable new surface for larger repairs, but (having poor adhesive property) needs to be bedded in chinagraph. The Edison wax needs to be cut lightly/repeatedly to prevent chipping; tendency to chip can be reduced by blending with black chinagraph (which seems to mix more readily/evenly than white).

    Odd bits of post-1932 EMI (post-1936 English Decca) records. This material has a relatively low melting point and will actually flow without its nature being changed.

    A miniature soldering iron with interchangeable bits. One bit is of the “spade” type with a groove cut along the width of the tip (this affords control and heat for insertion of pins (0.035″ diameter hard brass) to stabilize cracks and to create bridges for rebuilding bites); another is a slimly tapered point useful for adding material (as in bite reconstruction) also for non-contact leveling of new (Edison) – wax surfaces – this is also useful for “welding” wax cylinders from the inside!

    Razor blades. Useful for paring off surpluses, unsharpened edges will provide hard right-angled edges which perform very well in fining up of larger areas of new surfaces prior to grooving.

    Bolsters. Sundry pieces of flat metal with suitable arc to support the edges of records pressed in the manner of European Pathe or turn-of-the century pressings with raised rims during pinning and other operations inhibited by non-flat edge conformations.

    Jigging. The aluminum plate has, at the center of its underside a hole to receive a turntable spindle so that broken records may be assembled, adjusted and clamped .. and played in that condition; this is particularly useful in the case of glass-based discs. It is necessary, of course, to raise the pick-up arm mounting by half an inch.

    Horizontal cramps. When using horizontal cramps, the insertion between cramp and record edge of a sliver of lead will spread the point of pressure and so obviate chipping, flaking and cracking.

    Rebuilding a bite. Create and insert a wire bridge near rim. Fill in a base of new material with soldering iron to within about 0.015″ of intended surface. Run chinagraph to all parts of the surface to provide adhesion for Edison cylinder wax to be built up to/above surface level and then trimmed and smoothed to surface level. Finally cut pilot grooves. (NB. Amberol wax works better than 2-minute.)

    Record pressing materials. Certain record pressing materials – notably that of brown Perfects (14200 – 14900) resent insertion of pins, but the addition of post-1932 EMI pressing material will ameliorate.


    Not all “78”s are actually recorded at 78 revolutions per minute. While Edison’s “diamond discs” are remarkably consistent at 80 r.p.m., other companies have been less consistent – usually by reason of unreliable power source or of ill-controlled elements such as lubrication or even weather! In early days, differences in recording speeds could be attributed to compromise between duration of performance and space available – (Pathe).

    Variation in recording speeds were largely ignored in the days of “78” dubbed reissues when the pitch of the dubbing was directly related to that of the original. However, it has long been apparent that reproduction at correct pitch is essential to correct perception of the performance.

    Although, in the past, musical pitches have varied (Steinway specified C517 c/s, “Old” Philharmonic pitch called for A452 and a half c/s) but, although some English Brass Bands continued to use the Old Philharmonic pitch through the first half of the last century, generally the New Philharmonic pitch at C522 to C523 or A440 has been that accepted as the norm since before the advent of sound recording and reproduction.

    The most reliable clue to pitch is found in the vowel sounds of the human voice which remain a useful constant regardless of language. Even so, it is often difficult to discern exactitude within a semi-tone, and other yardsticks will be necessary to assist a closer approach.

    While the classic music fraternity may feel unhappy when trying to relate the pitches employed by earlier composers to a modern equivalent, the performances during the sound recording period present less of a problem.

    There is a period in “popular” music during which band leadership tended to dictate a change in keys employed. During the first quarter of the last century, leadership was dominated by the violin and consequent use of “sharp” keys whereas, with the ascendancy of leadership by brass or reed instruments after 1920, keys employed became predominantly “flat”.

    Comparison of apparent keys employed throughout a recording session during which recording speed seldom varied significantly will usually serve to show up unlikely keys and suggest an adjacent set. If doubt persists, this may be settled by making a judgement upon the feasibility of a given phrase being mechanically possible for the instrument concerned or, in the case of a reed instrument, the transition from one register to another.

    For the most part, therefore, in recordings of musical instruments and a voice, three areas of consideration will almost certainly establish the pitch of the performance. There will, of course, be recordings involving, for instance, voice and guitar only when no reference has been made to any standard pitch as the instrument was tuned: others involving voice and piano when the pianist may or may not have the ability to accompany in unexpected keys. A solo voice recording may have no relationship to any standard pitch and may even vary during the performance in which case reference to another recording of the same voice in known pitch may be the only clue to be followed.


    Wouldn’t it be NICE if surface noise were just surface noise – a mere interruption of listening pleasure, devoid of any informational significance? Certainly this viewpoint has been the basis for much experiment aimed at reduction of noise without consideration of the wealth of valuable peripheral information contained within it: minute detail which reveals the taking of a breath, the movement of a finger on a guitar string or the manner in which a brass player breaks from one harmonic to another or that in which a reed player uses his tongue; upper frequency reverberations which tell of environment … the size and shape of a room… which affect the manner in which a musician plays. Even more important are the upper harmonics which identify not only instruments of differing principle but also those of similar principle (such as trumpet and cornet)… very often, such very individual information will allow separation of a “section” of trumpets from a numerically indeterminate group into a group of separately recognisable voices. Thus it is important to preserve and make use of this information – and to take a closer look at how the ear hears surface noise and what it can do with it.

    Surface noise not only contains an indispensable abundance of peripheral information but can be shown to provide another extremely valuable asset in the form of an aural “anchor”. A constant undercurrent of noise will readily be converted by the ear into an ignored continuity-base for the listening process. The interruption of such constant undercurrent – whether by click or silence – will immediately restore the noise element to perception. A recent American CD devoted to the Boswell Sisters offers an example in which the engineer, believing that a pause in the performance contained no information, on several occasions briefly removed ALL sound – so destroying the continuity of the otherwise constant undercurrent – and requiring aural readjustment on each occasion. Had the engineer left just half of the apparently useless noise, the result would have been the same. It was important that he maintain all the continuity merely to assure the ease of listening which he intended. Automatic Level Control devices will similarly destroy the “anchor” by “pumping”.

    Assuming that it has been possible to smooth the aforementioned undercurrent, more can be achieved by positioning the noise by colouration. Just as a visual artist will establish or enhance perspectives and distances by colouration (primary colours in foreground being reduced toward blue in middle distance and purple in far distance), a sound engineer can apply a very similar system so that, of choice, a curtain of in eradicable noise can be transferred from a position in front of the programme to one preferably immediately behind the principal sounds or, in some cases, even futher back where its distraction can be minimized. There will be occasions when a shift of such position my seem appropriate during a performance… but, if in doubt, leave well alone: almost any such alteration my be perceived – in which event it will be well to remember that “if you can hear what has been done, then it has been overdone”.

    Colouration adjustment, largely made at the top of the principal recorded range and in the area immediately above may often seem to interfere with tonal adjustment for “reality” in the same area. Experiment will show that the establishment of a character will call for establishment also of a “horizon” upon which it is possible usefully to alter the perception of a part of the tonal landscape by altering – NOT – at the obvious frequency area – but in an area representing what might be called an anti-node at the other end of the horizon balance (imagine a see-saw). Thus it could be that the demand for colouration of a segment of tonal character at, say 4000c/s may be achieved by an opposite adjustment in an area perhaps around 450c/s. A tell-tale of upper frequency loss appears in sibilant (sss) sounds which, deprived of higher frequencies, will tend to sound more nearly “ssh”.

    Realising that the exclusion of surface noise must bring about immense loss of peripheral information, it is necessary to seek amelioration of such noise whilst causing least damage to that information. It will be appreciated that simple or spot filtering will not answer such a requirement. At the other end of the scale, a computerised sampling of noise applied variously across several frequency bands to weed out or otherwise reduce or nullify those noises appearing in a programme – while capable of delivering dramatic noise reduction – will, if it does not actually destroy much of the peripheral information contained among the unwanted debris, cause a continuing variation among the parameters applied so that the ears are denied a stable platform on which to function.

    Whether by mechanical or computer-screen methods, interferences of a benevolent nature covering no more than a couple of milliseconds will safely achieve the least destructive results in comparison with those engendered by any “blanket” system of processing. It has been shown all too often that over-driving of blanket systems can destroy peripheral information to the extent that notes played on an alto saxophone are indistinguishable from those played on a trumpet!

    Apparatus which serve to curtail or replace obviously unwanted transients bring with them hazard to other transients, notably those arising from onsets and harmonic breaks peculiar to brass instruments.

    Thus, any of these electronic solutions can readily destroy that which is intended to be preserved, and must be applied with extreme care on a moment-to-moment basis if a useful and seemingly non-destructive result is to be achieved. This, in turn, will demand the least processing rather than the most!

Here is an interview with Davies conducted by Joel Slotnikoff of Bluesworld:

    What kind of equipment do you yourself use both for transferring and for listening?

    It has long been suggested that I write a book. . . but the information still materialises at a speed which might be likened to that of computer technology which carries the proposition that: by the time you’ve got it home and plugged it in, it is already obsolete! Continuing investment in available new technology is no longer financially practicable with advancing years and largely my equipment is extremely basic and, in evolution, inexpensive. Much of my work is done in analogue form in which domain I have developed methods not applicable to the digital. . . rather than a case of old dog and new tricks. Turntable: Goldring-Lenco GL75 (mounted not as the manufacturer intended) which offers near-universal speed/pitch facilitating adjustment usually to “New Philharmonic” C=522/523 c/s or (for brass bands in earlier recordings) “Old Philharmonic” C=537 c/s. . . or, rarely, “Steinway” C=517 c/s. Pick-up arm: Linn Ittok 12″ (whose rigidity–pivot to stylus–allows opportunity of un-smeared upper frequency separation) with Cartridge: Shure M-44 (not, perhaps, the greatest tracing ability but an indestructible work-horse) and others for specialist purposes. Pre-amplifier of my own design (whose attributes could fill another chapter). Main (monitor) amplifier: Leak TL12 (outstanding at its time more than half a century ago and even more so with the introduction of some more modern components). Speakers: 10″ Golden Warfedale (advantage of single-source reproduction despite 70-year-old design and range short-comings. . . There are others which I would prefer but which require more space than available). Analogue tape: Telefunken M-24 (of which I have three). This machine, dating from c. 1960 and now needing considerable “nursing” is not only a fine recorder but is more importantly the greatest editing machine of its kind. More recently added are various digital items. Still an important adjunct is a gadget which I call “the decerealiser” which enables me to remove snap-crackle-and-pop as well as modifying unwanted noise in the analogue domain; its function, based on the principle of violin string and bow, would require another couple of chapters to extoll!

    Could you talk about your work as a sound engineer?

    Discussion of recording methods, equalisation, cross-overs could occupy an entire second book. To talk about my work as a sound engineer might be difficult; ask a centipede in which order it moves its legs and it will inevitably fall over!

    What recommendations do you have about styli?

    Some of your questions are perennials such as dimensions and shapes of styli appropriate to particular makes of record. There ARE NO useful RULES although there may be a few guiding generalities; experiment must be the order of each day and experience and perception will indicate direction. There seems to have been no standardisation in the creation of cutting styli until after WW2 and, even then, variables of accident as well as particle adhesion, material (of both cutter and matrix) and temperature will affect a finished groove to be encountered by the tracing stylus. So where do we start? Even two pressings of ostensibly the same recording may be needful of differing treatment. Discussion of the advantages of shapes and cants would require a whole chapter!

    What are your feelings on how 78s should be transferred?

    In transfer and reproduction of the modulation content of a gramophone record groove, the variable information must needs be tailored to the peculiarities of the subsequent processing. Choices must be made concerning not only the programme but also the character of the attendant noise. . . and their subsequent separation for clarification of the former and reduction of the latter whether by quantification or simple perception. All of this will give rise to style. . . and each engineer has his own. . . he may seek substantial noise reduction at the expense of (instrumental) separation and peripheral “air” or he may colour tonality to alter the perceived spatial position of noise at the expense of realism; he may ignore the noise element in favour of realism, separation and “life”. . . or any of these and others in combination. Just as you might read a scathing review of a current stage production while knowing that your own opinion is usually unlike that of the reviewer and see and enjoy the performance, so record-buyers will favour the style of a sound engineer over that of another. My own style is based in the presentation of maximum feasible information. . . and let the recipient have the choice. . . !

    What are some of your favorite methods of cleaning?
    Part and parcel of transfer must be preparatory work–whether simple (or not-so-simple) cleaning or physical repair. . . another three chapters! Generally, repairs should be durable but not irreversible. Generally, dry and clean is preferable to application of unguents and lubricants–many of which will change the nature of the original surface material and cause insidious and premature destruction.

    Do you have any proteges you’re grooming for after you retire?

    Although, a couple of years ago, my ears were routinely tested and found still to be able to hear to 14 Kc/s, I am acutely conscious of their deterioration and less-than-confident of my fitness to continue my engineering work. I console myself a little in that most of my listeners are in worse shape than am I–but I have always hoped that my transfers would be complete enough that they would serve as source material for future generations. “Shellac” (a bit of a misnomer actually) doesn’t last forever and I have a selfish (?) interest in preserving for future generations the sounds which have brought me a lifetime of pleasure. Yes, I do have a “protegé” upon whom I lavished some two and a half years of attention and to whom I passed as much of my information and experience as I was able. His name is Ted Kendall. . . and, while I had hoped that he might work with me, he is doing excellent work on his own. . . dammit!, he’s better at it than I am!. . . and I am much pleased.

    You used to own the Ristic label. Can you tell me about that?

    The first “Ristic” reissue appeared in 1949, the penultimate in 1972 in which year the onset of a particularly vicious variety of “migrainous neuralgia” caused me to abandon marketing in favour of engineering.

    How does working with a major label differ from working with a small or independent label?

    [I prefer to engineer] for small enthusiast-run labels/companies rather than for the larger companies who tend to alter my work to align it to their own style. Larger companies also seem desultory about paying their bills (I still await, despite reminders, payment from Sony in New York for a job delivered eight months ago). While I will happily work on compilations submitted by my various small-company clients, I do endeavour to persuade in the non-duplicative chronological or discographical approach and to encourage the inclusion of appropriate material which has hitherto not seen the light of day. Such companies enjoy, at no cost, the run of my not-inconsiderable collection; dissemination of the music I love being of paramount importance to me. My other label “Bateau Chinois” (double translation: “Junk”) largely served as a small-run ancillary.

    Currently, copyright laws in the UK and Europe permit reissue of material that can’t legally be done in the US. What are your feelings on that? Some [copyright laws] are sensible. . . others manifestly NOT. How often has an important patent been suppressed? There may lurk in the recesses of memory a material (more, actually, an additive) which could endow a vinyl disc with enviable properties of near-indestructible surface allied to a very flexible, stress-free, pressing completely devoid of any retainable static charge. In manufacture the reject rate was lower than that of conventional pressings. As I understand, the patent was acquired jointly by RCA and CBS who suppressed it on the grounds that it would render every dealer’s stock unsaleable over night! Among my collection of gramophone industry examples, I have a Polymax pressing onto which the content of an ash-tray may be emptied. . . and then blown off with a light exhalation to present a clean record on the turntable! The surface is miraculously quiet and suitable for reproduction of sounds which are thought to be possible in the digital domain alone. I’ve no axe to grind in the matter of reward to composers, lyricists, publishers and other instigators although I would question copyright or patent extending beyond a single lifetime. That Eubie Blake should live decently until the age of one hundred years on royalties from “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Memories Of You” is entirely just. However, I would challenge any right of suppression through legal control. I have never knowingly infringed a copyright but have on a few occasions informed owners of my wish to do so and, interestingly, have received blessing! I do contend, though, that the music which I have committed to reissue (78, microgroove, CD) belongs BY RIGHT to those who have the capacity to appreciate it. Whether or not such a viewpoint is actually LEGAL, it is certainly naturally LAWFUL….

We are never far away from copyright matters, are we?

Check out these beautiful restorations on the Jazz Oracle label.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

Check Also

Can You Be a ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ Fan? Indeed, You Can!

Can you be a 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' fan? Indeed, you can! There has been a debate about this question for decades now, and I can tell you that I have always been a fan of both!