It's hard to tell given the limited fidelity of the RJ recordings, but his voice and guitar sound
like they are in their natural register. Compare how Johnson sounds to something like mid-era Led
Zep recordings, where they'd slow down the tape for Robert Plant to lay down vocals. When played at
normal speed, Plant's vocals on these tracks don't sound natural. Meanwhile, RJ's range and pitch
seem like something a human male voice can naturally do, and the guitar sounds like the wood is
I don't think you have anything like train whistles on the RJ recordings, but Lomax's Son House
recordings include a train going by the general store in the background. That's relatively easy to
pitch-match with modern software.
All that said, Doug is correct that spring-driven mechanisms were not anything near quartz-reference
reliable about speed.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Doug Pomeroy" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 6:45 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Robert Johnson RPM debate
> Vocalion probably used a spring driven cutter, and they were
> less reliable than the weight driven ones (according to Ralph
> Peer). If we knew Johnson tuned his guitar perfectly (re:
> 'A' 440), it would be a piece of cake. He probably didn't,
> but still it was probably not too far off, especially if he
> played with other musicians (e.g., harmonicas).
>> Date: Mon, 25 May 2009 11:18:13 -1000
>> From: Malcolm Rockwell <[log in to unmask]>
>> Subject: Re: Robert Johnson RPM debate
>> James -
>> I've read the arguments and heard the pitch shifted samples and say it's
>> possible the recordings are pitched high. This would mean one of three
>> things: 1) Robert really sang that way; 2) the material was recorded too
>> slow; and/or 3) the final pitch was modified by dubbing prior to
>> I tend to go with #1, mostly because I've always heard him the way he
>> has been presented on LPs and CDs and my ear is used to that. The
>> samples are interesting food for thought, though!
>> #2 is possible mostly because machines do run slow (there's very little
>> homogenity of 78rpm recording speeds company to company, and session to
>> session within the same company. Add that to playback speed variations
>> and, well...). What was the power source in Dallas? 110 VAC? 120 VAC? Or
>> was it DC voltage? If AC, was the frequency (usually 60 Hz) solid, or
>> did it wander? What kind of motor did the portable recording lathe
>> use... AC, DC or counter-weighted (mechanical)? There are just too many
>> variables here.
>> #3 requires forethought and since there was seemingly so little of it in
>> #2, I doubt this scenario. Producers are not going to agonize about this
>> kind of thing; to them Robert was just another blues picker. But who
>> knew what he'd become 60 years later or that any of this would matter?
>> Good luck with your research!
>> Mal Rockwell
>> james mendenhall wrote:
>>> Hi, Arsclist
>>> I am doing research about the rpm debate of the Robert Johnson
>>> Does anyone have any information for me?
>>> And, is this all speculation or has there been proof found that they
>>> are indeed too fast?