SALINA, Kan., March 2, 2015 -- The dusty discovery of 13 vintage record presses used to manufacture vinyl albums has Chad Kassem, the owner of Quality Record Presses (QRP), singing a new tune.
He had been combing the country for months in search of the equipment to help reduce a troubling backlog of orders for vinyl LPs, whose popularity continues to soar. The problem is, there simply aren’t many of the machines around.
But recently, Kassem discovered 13 of the presses lying dormant in a Chicago warehouse. They were last used in the mid-1990s for unauthorized or “bootleg” 78 RPM albums for export to the Indian market. They were then sold in 2003 to Joell Hays, who had always intended to renovate them to start his own pressing plant. Financing blocked his efforts.
Kassem found out about the machines from his network of vinyl enthusiasts and quickly completed the recent purchase of 10 Hamiltons, two SMTs, and one Lened presses from Hays. The deal went down in one of Chicago’s famous pizzerias. With the addition of the 13 presses, QRP will have a capacity of up to 27 presses, making them one of the country’s largest manufacturers of vinyl LPs when they are restored.
“Finding these presses is like opening Al Capone’s vault and actually finding something,” said Kassem, who opened QRP in 2011 as a record manufacturing arm of Acoustic Sounds, a leading online retailer of audiophile recordings. “It was getting aggravating because everyone all over the world is looking for presses and I knew that without them, we simply couldn’t deal with all the orders for vinyl we had on the books.”
According to Nielsen Music, sales of vinyl albums increased 51.8 percent in 2014 compared to 2013 with more than 9 million units sold. The problem for Kassem—along with all the record manufacturers around the world—is that demand far outweighs supply.
Kassem estimates he has three or four months’ worth of backorders because even after adding a second and third shift of employees, his current presses can’t handle the load. That’s what sparked the search for additional machines.
“These machines we just got may look dirty, old and useless, but they’re not,” said Kassem, who estimates that the recently discovered presses were manufactured between 1968-72. “We’re going to get them all up and running and once we do, we’ll more than double our manufacturing capacity.”
Currently, Kassem estimates that QRP presses approximately 1 million vinyl LPs a year for his own Analogue Productions reissue label, all of the major labels and a number of independents. The quality of the records coming out of the Salina plant is directly attributable to the innovations QRP introduced to record pressing upon restoration of the machines they have running now. The same alterations, including the addition of computer programmable logic controls to dictate cycle time, will be made for this next batch of presses.
It was QRP’s stellar reputation that sealed the deal with Hays, who for the past 10 years had rebuffed all offers on his presses.
“Even though it breaks my heart to see them go,” Hays said, “it's good to see them going to the right place and to someone who could do what I just could never get done.”