Interview with Rare Blues Collector John Tefteller, who bought a $37,100 record

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What’s the song on the other side though?!


Just to contradict him on one point. A cheap modern record player won’t hurt a 78. That’s ridiculous. But they won’t sound good. The reason is the grooves on a 78 are wider than a 33rpm record. So the needle skids along the bottom of the groove picking up all the surface noise and less of the waveforms on the walls of the groove. This is probably why a lot of people think 78s have horrible fidelity. They’ve probably never played them right. You can get specialty styluses made for 78s in a variety of sizes (The stylus I have that seems to work best is a 3.5 ) but they can run upwards of 100 bucks just for the stylus. Altogether, if you wanna get into 78s, you can actually get a setup for around 350 to 400 bucks for like an audio technica turntable and specialty stylus. Not cheap but it makes a world of difference and of course you can play 33 and 45 on it too if you switch the stylus back.


I would highly recommend NOT getting into collecting 78’s unless you are into swing or 40’s pop-- you’re probably not going to find a Robert Johnson or Tommy Johnson or Skip James 78 ever, particularly if you live above the Mason-Dixon line. You will find lots of Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore and occasionally polka music and if you’re lucky Les Paul/Mary Ford. A friend of mine who has a collection of around 100,000 LPs, has spent decades looking for records and has only found a rare blues 78 a couple times.

78’s are brittle, they aren’t vinyl, they’re closer to clay than plastic. Nearly every time I’ve found a cool 78 (Bix Beiderbecke, original Sun Records Carl Perkins, Django) there is a crack or a chunk missing, like someone took a bite out of a big cookie. People like R. Crumb, John Fahey and Joe Bussard began collecting 78’s in the early 60’s when they were still common.

Articles about “rare $37,000 records” are the scourge of record dealers and used record stores: everyone thinks grandma’s old records are valuable, and will argue with you and be disappointed and angry that nobody wants to pay $$$ for Mantovani or Roger Whittaker records or beat up classical LPs with no inner sleeves.


yeah it’s not for everyone. The broken records are heartbreaking and way too common. I was about to buy a hank williams jambalaya 78 at Euclid records in New Orleans only to have to tell the store owner it was broken before i picked it up. And I’ve never seen a cool old blues record “in the wild”. That’s absolutely true. The really good records were skimmed off years and years ago. The best records I have I got on ebay (which of course you gotta be careful with breaking in the mail but good sellers know how to do it). I personally enjoy some genres that you can find sometimes: 20s swing and popular music, western swing, early 1900s billy murray type records. My personal favorite is Hawaiian records, and you can find some of those in junk stores and antique shops, but again the best ones I had to get off ebay or maybe a specialty record fair.

I wouldn’t say don’t get into 78s. Except as a collector not wanting the competition. Haha. I personally love holding history in my hands that comes to life the way an old record does. But yeah, it’s not an easy hobby.


I had a few Hawaiian 78’s, some oddball world music things, early country, a handful of nice old jass records, and an ‘album’ of Les Paul/ Mary Ford sides . . . I finally gave them away to a friend who was suddenly excited about 78’s. Within a year he wasn’t excited anymore.

They are cool objects, but I never played them. As much as I love Hawaiian music it’s just easier to listen to cd or LP collections taken from the best available copies. I will still look through boxes of 78’s when I find them in the wild, but my patience wanes if it’s all crap by halfway through the box.


This all day. Swap Beatles records with 78s and you have that thought process in a nutshell. I run a record store, and I agree this happens all the time, either because of articles like this or “but I looked it up on eBay!”. Next best thing to collecting 78s would be out of print but not impossible to find blues compilations on vinyl ( A lot pressed in the 70s on the Yazoo label ). They’ll be a lot easier to find and sound way better on your average turntable .
I always take a look at my local garage sales if I happen to be driving by, and you never know what’s going to turn up. My neighbor just had a bunch of weirdo New Age And disco 12 inch singles that I was more than happy to take off their hands. Music, It’s all good :+1:


Hi there – I believe the other song on the record is “Ridin’ Horse”
Hope that helps!


Can you recommend where to shop for different sized carts/styluses online, preferably in the U.S.?

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There may be others out there. (I know sure makes a standard 78 stylus thats cheaper but narrower than I like) but this is where I got mine.

here’s a good page with some audio samples to show the difference in styluses.
The annoying thing is different ones may work better for different record labels or time periods. a bit of a crapshoot. I went with a Rek-O-Kut 3.5 Mil that seems to be pretty good all around. Even there, sometimes like the weight of the tonearm can change the noise level. It gets tricky!


Here’s a page of my own personal experiments in playback methods! (Not totally scientific)

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I use the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Turntable

It’s sold as a USB turntable but also comes with regular phone outputs. It’s actually a pretty decent turntable all round. Very solid and a great price. If you want something more you should invest in a Technics SL1200 that has been modified to play at 78RPM

On top of that you should buy Audio-Technica Universal Headshell (AT-HS1)

and one of these:

Shure M78S Wide Groove Monophonic Cartridge

You’ll have to wire the cartridge into the head (just press the connectors in, no soldering required) but then you’ll have a special 78 RPM head that’s easy to switch over.

therecordcollector [dot] org has a good article for playing and caring for 78s.

Also the bible for 78 collectors is the American Premium Record Guide, 1900-1965: Identification & Value Guide to 78s, 45s, & LPs by Les Docks although since eBay the prices have come down a lot. You should also read Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich. It’s a quick but entertaining read.

Happy collecting!


Graveyard Blues?

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If you want to see a one of a kind, real deal 78 collector up close check out this documentary on Joe Bussard, he is a truly wonderful human:


Thanks very much! I have a 2.7mil - it was the largest I could find on Amazon at the time, but I have wanted to see what sort of difference other/larger sizes would make. I have a few records that are sooo noisy and I’m guessing it’s a matter of the stylus dragging/not fitting the groove properly -the records themselves seem to be in good shape.

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You might want to get a stylus that is smaller as well. For playing 78s bigger isn’t always better depending on the manufacturer of the record, the amount of damage to the grooves etc. Sometimes a smaller stylus can give you better results. Also putting a small weight on the tone arm can help a lot (some people use coins, I use small pebbles). In addition Esoteric Sound sells a de-hisser that helps to eliminate some noise.


I’ve found some decent 78s up north in New England, r&b, Western swing, old rock n roll, lots of Western and country. i can’t resist a $2 78 with an interesting song title either.


When I was working at a Salvation Army store, I ran across a 78 that was so old, there was no B side to it. It was simply smooth. I turned it over and found it was an Enrico Caruso recording I really wish I could have toddled off with that one. Looked to be in decent shape, too. Also, back in my day, almost all record player had FOUR speeds; 78, 33 1/3, 45 and 16. I’ve only seen one 16rpm record in my life, but it was a fun speed to play with.

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I think there’s a ton of Caruso records floating around. He was a big seller. But if you have an old working wind up acoustic phonograph, you kinda need a couple Caruso’s to really show it off.


Thanks! I’ll take you up on the book recommendations! I’m mostly a thrift store shopper and I don’t expect much when I see 78s, but it would be nice to know more about what I’m looking at when I run across them!