The 78 Project

A diagram of the Presto...part troubleshooting, part more troubleshooting
A diagram of the Presto


The 78 Project records musicians as they perform early American songs  – exactly as they were originally recorded, instantaneously onto 78rpm lacquer discs.  With one microphone, one 1930’s Presto direct-to-acetate disk recorder, and one blank 78 record, artists have a chance to make a recording anywhere they choose.  It’s a haunting, magical time travel experience when we play back our freshly cut acetate – we’re hearing a sound almost a century old, but recorded only moments earlier.

Like Alan Lomax, the great field recordist and our inspiration (more about Lomax below), we’re out to discover what it means to be American today and to explore the deep historical significance of American songs – from Blues, Bluegrass, Cowboy songs and Murder Ballads to Folk, Gospel, Country and Roots.

We’ll visit modern musicians and local legends in their homes and hometown haunts, and we’ll tour the collections that hold our national musical treasures like the Alan Lomax Archives, the Library of Congress, the Southern Folklife Center, and the Smithsonian.

The 78 Project film will be filled with beautiful one-take performances and it will take you behind the scenes, deep into the surprising – and sometimes terrifying – process of recording them on vintage equipment. And speaking of vintage equipment, have you met our Presto?? Our Presto direct-to-disc machine is a genuine, wild and magical piece of 1930’s history. Many of the most iconic field recordings from the 1930’s and ‘40’s were recorded on a Presto just like ours, including recordings of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie and Jelly Roll Morton. It uses one microphone to provide the signal to a ruby stylus (or needle), which physically carves a groove into a blank nitrocellulose lacquer disc.

The Presto records at 78 rpm, which means we get just over 3 minutes of song per side of the record.  It’s a mad dash to get the whole song onto the surface of that platter as the needle races from edge to center, throwing up a kinky, out-of-control chip in its wake!

A little goes a long way at The 78 Project.  That is because we are a small, efficient, professional operation, and we conserve resources well.  We are just asking for the money we need to shoot The 78 Project feature film, to cover the cost of crew, equipment, insurance and transporting the production to the planned locations. Each dollar we raise beyond our goal will contribute to post-production.  It will pay for the editing, mixing and finishing of the film.

Donations can be made here.

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