Once upon a time, recordings were made right onto records.
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In 1947, just after the release of his first LP album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, Ol’ Blue Eyes began building his first home in Palm Springs, an estate that soon became known as Twin Palms. Once a year, the home is opened to the public as part of Palm Springs Modernism Week, celebrating the city’s cornucopia of Mid-century design and architecture. Of course, we signed up.
But here's something we didn't expect to see: the home's living room recording studio... still intact.
While the custom system—assembled by Valentino Electronics in Los Angeles—is probably inoperable today, the vintage equipment is quite rare, and a delight to audio geeks. Some of the components were made by Cinema Engineering Co. of Burbank, CA, a company founded by Arthur Davis, who later went on to work at Altec Lansing.
But the star piece in the system is perhaps the original Rek-O-Kut recording device, a professional two-speed (78 or 33-1/3 RPM) turntable with microphone inputs that could transfer mono recordings onto acetate discs. The devices were common in radio stations of the era, and the Rek-O-Kut brand was revered for its precision engineering.
Before the advent of magnetic tape in the 1950s, Sinatra's earliest recordings were etched direct-to-disc. But it's unlikely that any significant recordings were made at the home. The acoustics of the room are somewhat harsh, and Sinatra was a perfectionist. Also, these instantaneous records were unstable—only a few playbacks would be possible before they started to wear. Still, wouldn't you like to hear some of the recordings made here?
Making music may have been the one situation where Sinatra was happiest. The singer once said, "You can never do anything in life quite on your own... Making a record is as near as you can get to it."
Today there's a discordant flat screen TV where shelves for vinyl once lived, but otherwise the system appears to be relatively intact.
Check out Sinatra's home recording studio at Twin Palms in the gallery below. And tour more of the home in our story found here.