Markings on DECCA "dead vinyl" area
The off groove or dead vinyl markings on old Decca LP’s gives a lot of interesting information and by investigating and understanding these number, You can improve your knowledge of the LP. The identification of these numbers and letters will tell you the age and version of the LP’s in your collection. The markings are directly related to the manufacturing process.
A big thank you goes to Mr L aka George Bettyes who has kindly given me lots of information. He worked as a Disc Mastering Engineer at DECCA Studios from 1957 to 1972
The Matrix Numbers
DECCA records from the 60’s and 70’s has three different markings directly linked to the manufacturing process
Matrix number / Mother number / Stamper letter.
The sales tax code used at the time of pressing the LP was also added to the grooves
This number can be found at 6 a clock on the vinyl. A typical number can look like this:
XARL-6791-2A, this number is on a LK4725 Out Of Our Heads export version.
The number can then be broken up in a few pieces that carry different information like this:
XARL - This stands for a Mono recording. If you have a Stereo recording, then the numbers would be XZAL. Some Stones albums are missing the X letter. In that case an ARL is a mono album and ZAL is a Stereo album
6791 - This is a Decca file number for the master tape used for this side on the record. Usually side 2 has one number higher. LK4725 has 6792 on side 2.
For some reason they did not change the master file number even though the contents was change. An example of this is that both short Tell Me and long Tell Me on the second side of the first Stones album has the same number, 6272
2 - This is the running number of the Master Lacquer made in the lathe machine from the Master Tape. The higher number, the later Master Lacquer is used.
A - This is the letter identifying the engineer who created the Master Lacquer and supervised the whole process up to the stampers. I have been able to get a confirmation on the names behind all letters used by Decca. The confirmation is done by one of the men who actually did the job, Mr L aka George Bettyes:
A = Guy Fletcher
B = Ron Mason
C = Trevor Fletcher
D = Jack Law
E = Stan Goodall
F = Cyril Windebank
G = Ted Burkett
K = Tony Hawkins
L = George Bettyes
W = Harry Fisher
In general we can say that the lower Matrix number you have, the earlier pressing is in your hand. This is not always 100% correct. For LP’s with huge quantity sold it may be like this, but for LP sold in small numbers there can be a number of years during which the same matrix numbers were used in production. I have for example a copy of the Out Of Our Heads LK4725 export version with a non grooved label that still has a -1A matrix number. The original issue was on a grooved label in September of 1965 and the non grooved labels were produced during end of 1968 and 1969. So almost four years after the first pressings they still used a stamper originated from the first Matrix.
“Matrix numbers on LP’s: As you already know the matrix numbers on LP s were engraved ARL 1234 1A or 2A etc. If the record needs to be remastered it was usually recut by the original engineer. The person who had cut the record may not be available so someone else may have to recut. Then he would put his identity letter on the lacquer. The matrix number would then read ARL 1234 1L because this would be the first time this engineer had cut this record. If it was recut again the identity letter would either be 2L or 3A depending who cuts it.”
The engineers had their “own” LP’s to take care of. It was usually the same cutting engineer who did a new cut if a new Master Lacquer was needed. Decca had also dedicated Mono cutters who only took care of Mono records. Guy Fletcher has done almost all Rolling Stones mono LP’s. Stereo records were cut by several engineers.
The albums were mainly cut by the following persons:
LK4605 The Rolling Stones No1 / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
LK4661 The Rolling Stones No2 / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
LK4725 Out Of Our Heads Export / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL4725 Out Of Our Heads Export / Matrix letter L = George Bettyes
LK4733 Out Of Our Heads / Matrix letter B = Ron Mason
SKL4733 Out Of Our Heads / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
LK4786 Aftermath / Matrix letter B = Ron Mason
SKL4786 Aftermath / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
TXL101 Big Hits / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
TXS101 Big Hits / Matrix letter W and D = Harry Fisher and Jack Law
LK4838 Have You Seen Your Mother Live / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL4838 Have You Seen Your Mother Live / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
LK4852 Between The buttons / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL4852 Between The Buttons / Matrix letter K = Tony Hawkins
LK4888 Flowers / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL4888 Flowers / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
TXL103 Satanic Majesties Request / Matrix letter K = Tony Hawkins
TXS103 Satanic Majesties Request / Matrix letter K = Tony Hawkins
LK4955 Beggars Banquet / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL4955 Beggars Banquet / Matrix letter K = Tony Hawkins
LK5019 Through The Past Darkly / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL5019 Through The Past Darkly / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
RSM.1 Rolling Stones Promotional Album / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
LK5025 Let It Bleed / Matrix letter A = Guy Fletcher
SKL5025 Let It Bleed / Matrix letter W = Harry Fisher
T2 on Satanic Majesties Request
Decca used to identify a new mix by adding the code T2 and Satanic is the only LP that has been cut and pressed from two different mixes and where it is possible to confirm this through the matrix numbers. This way of working was common on 7” single records, they had T1 indicated that it was Take 1 of the title. If the producer rejected the take he would remix the track and then it becomes Take 2.
A LP that do not have the T2 in the full matrix numbers is a true mono mix. If the LP has the T2 code, then it is basically a stereo mix that has been folded down to one channel for mono sound. You can actually hear the difference in between a “non T2” true mono pressing and a T2 stereo fold down to mono pressing. Take the song “The Lantern” for example, there is a bell tolling in the beginning of the song:
A true mono record has the bell tolling three times before the music starts (matrix ARL-8127-##)
A fold down from stereo to mono AND a real stereo LP has the bell tolling two times before the music starts.
(matrix ARL or ZAL-8127-T2-##)
This number can be found approximately at 9 a clock on the vinyl. The number is sometimes difficult to se, but it is there. This is the number of the Metal Mother used to make the Stamper. The highest number I have found to date is 5. Most of all LP's has either 1 or 2. You may also sometimes find combinations of two numbers. The reason for double numbers is not known to me. Some of the mother numbers do also include letters, usually B. The reason for this is not either known. In general it can be said that the lower number you find, the earlier Mother is used.
The number in this picture is 1
The letter identifying the Stamper can be found at 3 a clock on the vinyl. The letter is sometimes difficult to se, but it is there. Decca used the word BUCKINGHAM for numbering of the Stamper. The first Stamper to be made from the Mother has the letter B, the next one has U and so on. You may also sometimes find combinations of two or even three letters. Numbering logic goes like this:
B = 1, being the first stamper taken from the mother
G = 7, being the seventh stamper taken from the mother
UK = 24, being the twenty fourth stamper taken from the mother
Most of the Decca records has also a tax code around 12 a clock on the vinyl. This tax code is not any specific Decca code but the official code used in UK before 1973 to determinate the sales tax %.
MT code was the official tax code in UK from January 1st to June 30th 1963.
KT code was used in between July 1st 1963 and November 22nd 1968
JT code was used from November 23rd 1968 and up to April 1st 1973 when UK government took the VAT tax system into use.
If the tax code is missing, then the LP is pressed after April 1st 1973
The dates mentioned are the official dates when the codes changed. There may be a slight overlap as it is not known how fast Decca did change the stampers to have the correct tax code. Some LP’s do have a double coding, both JT and KT on the same vinyl. These LP’s may have been pressed just about the time when the code change took place, November 1968
Tax code KT, used 1.7.1963 to 22.11.1968
Tax code JT, used 23.11.1968 to 31.3.1973
Double tax code JT and KT on the same vinyl. This is a nonboxed stereo Flowers
What to look for
If you are looking for pressings made as early as possible:
Then you should look for a Matrix number as low as possible, at least for the high sales volume records. As earlier explained, low sales volume records can be pressed during a long period with stampers originated from the same Mother and Matrix. Then you should more rely on other indications on the label and on the sleeve for confirming an early press. But in general, the one to look for would have this number combination:
XARL-6791-1A 1 B
If you are looking for a pressing with the perfect sound:
Then you cannot rely on the markings in the off groove area. You have to play the record and yourself determinate if it has a good sound or not. The best way to get good sounding LP is to buy a record in mint condition.
Even though you have a record with mother number 1 and stamper letter B, it may be that the sound is not any good. It all has to do with the fact that Decca used to press approximately 2000 LP’s from each stamper and if your record is in the very beginning of the press run, then you may have a LP with excellent sound but if your record is among the last pressed before a change of stamper, then the sound quality may have deteriated by now.