Grant Himmler, the operator of Old Faithful Records in Austin, makes lathe cut records – using 80-year-old machines and technology to scratch a playable record groove onto clear flat plastic.
The machines “were actually originally designed for radio stations, more or less for transcription,” he said. “So when radio was really starting to pop off in the 40s and 50s and they wanted to be able to extend their hours, but they didn’t necessarily have the manpower to do all that and run late-night broadcast, or early morning, whatever – so they would use machines like this and have somebody make a three- or five- or 10-minute like prerecorded broadcast. And they dropped on the turntable later at its appropriate hour.”
Every copy has to be made in real time, Himmler said: “There is no fast forward. There’s no getting away from that.”
Himmler has recorded live performances, people singing karaoke, and even “this weird Valentine’s Day thing where I watched people write poetry to their loved ones and then record them – essentially them performing that poetry piece straight to disk.” But he also does short runs for bands.
“I mean, that’s kind of why I got into it, because that was the world I was living in, and I couldn’t afford vinyl at the time,” he said. “And I realized that a friend of mine had one of these machines, and it seemed like that was something interesting and wild and wacky to learn how to use. And maybe it could replace my need for purchasing a seven-inch pressed single from some press plant somewhere.”
Himmler said he cautions a lot of people who talk to him about the service – maybe to his detriment – that it’s not a direct replacement for pressed vinyl.
“It’s a different thing,” he said. “I’ve actually done some work like this for friends of mine who own studios here in town, too – like because of the character of these machines, they’re essentially one of the coolest studio plug-ins you can get.”
And you can make as many adjustments as you think you need to before you make the cut, he said – but then you just have to wait until playback.
“It’s really exciting when you make, I don’t know, like a so-called hot press,” Himmler said. “Whatever it was, whatever you did, ends up being a real banger, you know?”