custom 12 vinyl record, What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

The 12-inch vinyl record format is the standard, most popular choice when it comes to vinyl records. When we think or talk about vinyl records, the one that pops in our head is most likely the 12-inch vinyl.

Yes, some release mid-length in 10 inch vinyl and singles in 7 inch vinyl but they’re much fewer compared to the 12 inch LP.  

custom 12 vinyl record, What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

Now that vinyl records have officially made their presence felt again (vinyl surpassed CD sales this year), it’s about time we pay attention to the format again and look back on how the custom 12 inch vinyl record format came to be. But before we go straight to the 12-incher, let’s just go a little bit before that.

PRE- 12-inch vinyl

Let’s take a trip back all the way to 1948 and get to know the phonograph. Before we had the standard 12-inch vinyl LP record format that plays in 33½ rpm (revolution per minute), we first had the phonograph record or the 78rpm record.

This format was introduced almost at the same time as LP records. However, at that time it was not in 12 inch but in 7 inch records. This format was the middle ground between the fast revolutions of the phonograph record and the slow revolutions of the LP record. 

custom 12 vinyl record, What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

Thomas Edison invented a wax cylinder phonograph, which had a metal cylinder with grooves on the surface played by a sound-vibrated stylus. With the introduction of the wax cylinder phonograph or phonograph cylinder, came the introduction of the phonograph record a few years later.

This was patented by Emile Berliner and called his system as gramophone. Berliner experimented with records in different sizes, from 3 inches to 5 inches until he chose to have the 7-inched one.

At that time wax cylinders gave a better quality of sound compared to the phonograph records, and this was due to the varying speed of the gramophone which was 70 rpm to 80 rpm. This was eventually resolved by Elridge R. Johnson, who was Berliner’s manufacturing associate. He settled with 78 rpm which gave an optimum sound quality.

The earliest phonograph records in the 1889-1894 were made of various materials including rubber. In 1995 a shellac-based material, where the mixture differed depending on the manufacturer, was introduced. This became the standard material for about 55 years until in the 1960’s when vinyl (a less noisier material than shellac) was introduced.

The first album released for this audio format was made by the German record company Odeon in 1909 with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite put on 4 double-sided records. Most music recorded into these 12-inch records were classical music and operatic selections.

There were also medleys that spotlighted Broadway show scores released by Victor Talking Machine Company, Columbia Records, Brunswick Records.

After these phonograph records, the LP (long playing) records came.

The 12-inch vinyl record (LP)

custom 12 vinyl record, What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

This format was introduced in 1948 by Columbia and soon replaced the phonograph records.

It was experimented in 1941, led by CBS Laboratories head research scientist Peter Goldmark, but was halted due to World War II. It resumed in 1945 and was introduced to the world in 1948 with 2 formats: 10-inch and 12-inch records.

LP records were named as such due to the fact that they do play longer, much longer, than the phonograph records. While 12-inch phonograph records can play for 4-5 minutes per side, 12-inch vinyl records can play for 23 minutes max per side. This audio format was very much accepted by the people due to its long play time which allows the continuous recording and playing of lengthy classical music. I mean…who doesn’t want more, right?!

Another difference these two records have is that phonograph records were played starting from the periphery toward the center. On the other hand, 12 inch vinyl records were played from the center then out towards the edges.

LP records/ 12 inch vinyl records were also known for their microgroove (a very narrow groove on a long-playing record) groove specification. It makes the music sound quieter.

custom 12 vinyl record, What is the history of the 12-inch vinyl record format?

The 12 inch vinyl record (SINGLE)

The twelve-inch SINGLE was originally from the 7-inch 45 rpm single which was released by RCA Victor in 1949. Generally cut at 45 RPM, they feature wider groove spacing and shorter playing time compared to LPs. This makes for a more dynamic sound, with louder volume, and with less chance of being warpy. Basically, a 12-inch vinyl single has more superior sound compared to the 12 inch vinyl LP which is more compact.

It was used mainly by DJ’s in discos as it can be played longer than 7-inch 45 rpm records and better quality. In addition, there is also a wider gap between grooves which is very advantageous to DJ’s as there will be lesser cross-talk.

In present, the widely used and bought format among the three is the 12 inch vinyl record (LP) format. This may be due to the fact that they can store more songs in one record compared to the two.

That’s the quick history of the 12 inch vinyl record, folks.

Imagine if vinyl records were not invented and music was not consumed in a way that gives freedom to the consumer, I wonder how it affects music at that time until today. Hail to the vinyl for making music accessible to every household.

Do you like listening to music on vinyl records? If you’re a musician, do you consider selling music in custom 12 vinyl records? If you do, you may get an instant quote on our custom 12 vinyl record pressing and 12 inch vinyl record sleeves.


James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD/vinyl and merch company in LA.

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