An acetate is a cut that is one step before the Master disc is produced. Acetates are not actually made of acetate but rather an aluminum center with a nitro-cellulose lacquer coat. It is the first audio sample of music that is transferred from a CD or DAT tape. Engineers reference the acetate to determine the quality of the transferred music. Things the engineer will look for is skips, pops, levels and track breaks. Acetates are heavier and more fragile than vinyl discs. They almost always lack a disc label and sometimes are only one sided. The flip side to a one sided acetate contains a smooth matt finish. This is the most scarce version of a record since master discs are generally a one shot deal once the engineer(s), producer(s), and artists give the album the green light. There are generally only one or two copies tops of an album’s acetate and master, but based on the errors found on them, and factoring human and mechanical error, there could be a few more.
A test pressing comes after the master disc is run. It’s an initial pressing generally cut in small quantities (5 discs on average but up to a dozen or two when problems occur). These are “take-home” copies generally for the producer and artists to test on different equipment to critique the different sounds. Sometimes if you get lucky, you can find an alternate mix of an album or an album that never made it to the next step which is official pressings.
Blank label promos began in the hip hop battle world. DJs who didn’t want competing DJs to know the tracks they were spinning would actually rip the white labels off. Eventually record labels caught on and began releasing blank label promos, which were basically plain light colored labels. These can be produced in quantities ranging from 50-500 and sometimes a little more or less. They were used to send out early buzz copies to DJs, stores, and radio stations. Some record labels also caught on that collectors got into test pressings and actually produced records with the words “Test Pressing” on their labels. These are mostly found with hip hop, club, and dance records and should not be confused with the real thing.
Blank labels with or with covers and one sheets. Sometimes blank labels come with original artwork and a full cover and sometimes they can include a one sheet. A one sheet includes the name of the band and the label, a brief bio and write-up on the album and the track listing with track times.
White label promos are earlier copies of an official album that generally contain all the same information on their labels but in black and white. They usually contain the word “Promotional” or “promotional copy” or “promo only”. They can also include a “promo stamp” which is a gold or silver leaf stamp usually found on the back in a top corner on the album’s official cover. They generally claim to be property of the label and threaten legal action if the record is sold.
Cut Corner (cc) and Saw Marks (sm) are two other types of promotional records. Cut corners literally have about an inch cut diagonally out of a corner. Saw Marks are actually cut about ½ an inch into the record sleeves with a saw, leaving a rectangular bite mark from the record. These can be found on promos that were sent out early as promos and/or released as liquidated or free stock. The markings would prevent retailers from attempting to return to distributors for credit.
Hole Punches. are smaller or larger holes found in corners of records or on barcodes of records. They serve the same purpose as CCs and SMs
Official pressings are just as they sound. Official pressings that end up in stores and online. These can range from a few copies to millions of copies. These are obviously the most common versions of records.
Represses are anything produced after official pressings. The albums could look exactly the same. They could have small markings or dates that indicate a repress. The vinyl might be a different color and sometimes the artwork changes. Represses can be both official and unofficial, also known as bootlegs or “boots” for short.Here are a few of the items I have in my personal collection:
This is a Catherine Wheel 7” test pressing for the song “Eat my dust you insensitive fuck”. It came exactly as you see it, post-it note and all. I love these guys and have never come across another one like it to this day.
This next one is a mystery 7” test pressing. All I know is that it sounds like early 90’s rock, has a catalog number of SOL-95A and according to an employee at Rainbo Records, the record was released by Dutch East India Trading Records. If anyone can help me out on this, please contact me!
This is another mystery 7” test pressing. It has writing on one side that reads: “CAS-108AX and CAS-108A and the word “SWAY”. This can also be found in the etching in the record’s deadwax. The song is a fun psych-ish rock song with a crowd of people talking and laughing in the background (definitely a canned track) and a song with lyrics that start: “Lick me Lick me, I’m a lollipop”. I found this for a dollar at a local record shop. If anyone can help on this, contact me!
Above is a copy of SST’s NO AGE instrumental double LP comp. I found this for 15 bucks at WFMU record fair last fall. It’s especially interesting because I never really come across any test pressings on SST so I had to grab this one up.
Here is an example of a blank label DJ copy of an Ol’ Dirty Bastard song. As you can see, the only markings on the record were made by the owner. It reads simply “ODB”.
Another example of a blank label record. This one is for The Stone Roses “Fool’s Gold”.The center label has a slightly blue hue, which tells me that it was not a test pressing. A little over a year ago I scored a blank label promo of a 12” single by The Smiths. If it was a test pressing the value could have been upwards of a few thousand dollars. Since it is a blank label promo, and many more copies were pressed than the test, the value is significantly lower but still a very serious rarity.
This is a one sided 12” by the band “The Fall”. I bought this from the collection of the band’s photographer. He passed away from a drug overdose awhile back but his records made it into good hands. Some of the other stuff in that guy’s collection just blew my mind.
Here is a copy of a Brian Brain 12” that actually has their drummer’s name written on it.
Martin Atkins is the infamous drummer and studio/session player who played in bands such as Public Image Limited, Ministry, Pigface, Killing Joke, and Brian Brain. He also drummed with Nine inch nails for awhile. Martin, if you read this, I got it here.
I also have a mystery acetate and test pressing of an amazing band that I cannot identify. All I know is that it sounds like mid 80’s new wave rock. One song has lyrics that say something like “Little children in hallways falling down”. If this rings a bell, give me a shout please. In the meantime I’ll try to get my tech up and throw up an mp3 sample soon.
ALSO. If you have any test pressings or acetates you are interested in selling or trading, contact me. I can also help you solve your test pressing mysteries if you have any unknown copies in your possession. Get in touch!