As with most things to do with the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine, there’s a tale to tell attached to all this…
Summer 1976, one of the hottest on record across the UK. While everybody else was trying to keep themselves cool, I was busy trying to keep my fledgling collection of prized discs from melting.. and was also trying to get them clean. The good news: as someone in the family happened to be making what was back then the only Record Cleaning Machine on the entire planet, I was uniquely placed to do just that. The bad news: I couldn’t get any cleaning fluid to run it ! Government rules of supply meant only limited quantities could be bought and stored at the factory, and they needed every drop to test the hundreds of Machines flying out the door each year. And at the tender age of 15, I was not exactly in a position to go out and get my own.
At which point our school chemistry teacher enters the story. Here was a gentleman with whom I shared an inordinate amount of extra-curricular time, ostensibly for additional study but, in reality, for indulging our shared love of 70s rock… although I must say our relationship had by then come under some strain following my decision to broaden my horizons with (or, as he put it, “defect to”) the Ramones. Still, given the chance to combine both hobby and work in a single project (and spurred on perhaps by his professed belief that cleaning the latter might make ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement’ to his ears slightly more appetizing), he agreed and we put together a list of ingredients that might be worth trying.
The remit was simple: proprietary products only, preferably all natural so therefore nothing that a teenager (me) couldn’t go out and buy. And with that I went off and spent the summer holidays stuck indoors out of the baking sun perfecting my own DIY concoction.
Getting the balance of maximum cleaning ability with minimum active ingredients proved a little elusive, and I will confess to having quite a few attempts - and some spectacular failures - before settling on a final recipe.
Having completely ruined quite a number of old flea market discs, I was by then well used to approaching new chemistries with caution. First up was that old sentimental favourite, an MFP Geoff Love LP entitled “Top TV Themes”, a budget release of MOR’d-up cover versions of British TV title music, with “Z Cars” and “Crossroads” among the notable highlights (when asked I usually claim Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” was my first LP, but the somewhat less quotable reality is it was in fact this one !)
Was my latest chemistry about to burn a hole in Geoff? Onto the Monks Machine he went and the usual clean cycle - wash and dry only, no rinse - and then I put it on. Love’s particularly Geoff-like take on the theme from “The Persuaders” leapt out of the speakers (Keith Monks Elf Minors, of course) with a vigour that might have made even John Barry blink. In fact, this modest LP still has pride of place in my collection as the first success of my experiments (and one I play now and again mostly to make sure that, decades later, it still will !)
Spurred on by Mr Love’s invigoration, I then took the plunge and subjected my two then-favourites - Steely Dan’s “The Royal Scam” and the first Ramones (apparently still no sign of musical conformity even back then) - to my new ‘invention’. Johnny Ramone’s trademark visceral buzzsaw guitar blasted out into the room, cutting through the air like … (oh what the hey, go ahead) a Summer’76 knife through butter (frustrated journalist !) Then on to The Dan, and Larry Carlton’s blistering solo on “Kid Charlemagne” became literally transported from simply superb to utterly sublime. This was the first time I realised the true value of the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine: not simply a noise reducer, this was actually a sound enhancer. It made the music itself sound even better !
I was amazed. Dad thought I was mad. He knew about the sound benefits of the RCM of course, but major customers had already approved the alcohol mix. And so, commercially at least, it went no further, and I went on my way… and that’s what I’ve been using ever since and to this day. My records sound clean and vital and, to me, as perfect as I can imagine.
Fast forward to the present. When I came back to the Machine again in 2005, it became rapidly clear that the controversy surrounding the wisdom of using even diluted alcohol on vinyl records had become a hot topic for debate. Not IPA (isopropyl) of course – its tendency to leave at best an audible residue and at worst leaching effects on vinyl meant we never recommended that - but the purer, less potentially-harmful and less audible ‘industrial methylated spirits’ - or, as Brussels now prefers we call it, ‘industrial denatured alcohol’ (‘IMS’/’IDA’). Yet even this purer product was starting to attract unwelcome attention. Meanwhile, new restrictions around the world were making it increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain. In addition there has been a widespread and, I believe, welcome move in recent times away from using artificial chemicals in general and towards more natural ingredients.
Almost immediately I realised a different approach was needed - so why not the one I had been doing already all along (although I’ll admit my original motives were rather more for making life simple - helping save the planet proved to be more of a bonus). I made the decision: after nearly 40 years, the time had finally come for the Keith Monks brand to have its very own Record Cleaning Fluid.
Of course, although I myself had over three decades of experience with this treatment, these had been nothing more than my own personal experiences and were, as such purely anecdotal. What was needed was scientific evidence to back it up. So we have teamed up with the School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Southampton, England, an authority on 3D laser scan technology and (by some especially fortunate coincidence) its applications for mapping and archiving recorded media.
Accelerated ageing tests using a variety of chemistries on various vinyl and shellac discs from different eras yielded a recommendation to slightly adjust my original proportions of the ingredients for the various versions of discOvery™ you now see before you. We had already replaced my earlier proprietary wetting agent with a new, completely natural version during the pre-test development work but, in every other respect, this is exactly the same fluid as the original recipe from way back in ‘76.
And now it is available to buy.
This has been a really interesting (and rather long) project, and one I have looked forward to being able to share for quite some time. I hope you get as much success and enjoyment out of discOvery™ with your treasured record collection as I have with mine.
Jonathan Monks, August 2008
(PS - note to English purists: yes I know it ‘should’ be “mould”, but it’s a product geared for export appeal and more countries spell it the other way. Apologies !)
Keith Monks. “Making records sound better since 1969.”