Acoustic Sounds
Neumann AM32b
By: Michael Fremer

October 12th, 2023


Industry News

Well Made Music Adds Third Lathe—And It Has a History Dating Back to 1957

the Neumann AM32b once cut lacquers at SUMA studios where Pere Ubu and more recently in 2008 The Black Keys recorded albums

(photo by Clint Holley)

Clint J. Holley III's Well Made Music mastering studio opened in Cleveland, Ohio in 2010 and began cutting lacquers. In 2021 the company moved from the birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll and home of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to Bristol, Virginia, known as "the Birthplace of Country Music". The studio currently cuts on two restored Neumann VMS-70 lathes (the number refers to the year of manufacture). Both have been in service since the early 1970s. One was obtained in 2009 from somewhere in New Jersey. The second was shipped over in 2013 from The Netherlands.

VMS-70 Well Made MusicPhoto by Billie Wheeler

This new acquisition was initially introduced in 1957 and was one of the first to include variable pitch, which everyone reading this knows optimizes groove spacing to allow for longer running times per side along with higher volume levels when required.

AM-32b Gotham AudioThe lathe originally resided at Cleveland Recording Company, the area's first professional recording studio founded in 1934 by Frederic C. Wolf (1902-1972), a well-known local radio pioneer who emigrated from Prague, Czechoslovakia. The studio was used mostly for radio spots, auditions and ethnic music recordings. Wolf also ran several radio stations out of the studio.

In 1950 Wolf hired a fellow named Ken Hamann fresh out of the Navy as head tech. He was also charged with procuring gear for the studio and during a trip to Germany and impressed by European engineering he purchased several Neumann microphones, and in the late 1950s bought the Neumann AM32b.

Hamann was also a recording engineer and gets credit for albums by Grand Funk Railroad, and the James Gang, among others. Hamann and another engineer, John Hansen bought the studio in 1970. The late Michael Bishop—a name familiar to many readers for his work at Cleveland based Telarc — went to work at CRC in 1972 as a disc mastering engineer.

In 1977 Cleveland State University purchased the property forcing the studio to move. Hansen and Hamann parted ways, with Hansen retaining the CRC name, while Hamann started SUMA Recording in the Cleveland suburb of Painesville, Ohio. Hamann retained a great deal of the CRCs gear including the Neumann AM32b lathe.

Photo by Clint Holley

Hamann, Michael Bishop and Ken's son Paul hand-built a state of the art recording console Ken had designed for SUMA that was used for most sessions from 1977 until Paul's death in 2017.

“That studio's quite magical. One of the most incredible studios in the world,” says Dan Auerbach, guitarist and songwriter for the band The Black Keys. The group's 2008 album, Attack & Release, was recorded at SUMA with noted producer Danger Mouse and Paul Hamann on board.

The AM32b located in SUMA's basement began cutting lacquers in 1977, a few years later incorporating Ken Hamann's hand built "pitch and depth" computer. Ken passed away in 2003, leaving the gear to son Paul, who engineered most SUMA session and cut lacquers on the AM32b until his death in 2017. In 2018 Cleveland-based producer Michael Seifert purchased SUMA, renovated the space and updated the tech, including installing an SSL Recording console to replace the Hamann hand built one in use since 1977.

In 2018 Clint Holley was asked to decommission the late so it could be safely stored during the renovations. It sat at SUMA in that state for five years until August of 2023 when Holley and senior mastering engineer Dave Polster drove up to Painesville to move the lathe out of SUMA for the first time in forty five years.

Clint HolleyClint Holley III next to "on the air' sign" from legendary Cleveland station WMMS (Photo by Billie Wheeler)

"The late definitely needs a lot of work, but we are up for the challenge and confident about a successful outcome", said Holley, whose background includes mechanical repair and maintenance.

Dave Polster, senior mastering engineer, moving the lathe (Photo by Clint Holley)

Dave Polster, senior mastering engineer, moving the lathe (Photo by Clint Holley)

The AM32b lathe is currently being restored by Holley, Polster, and a stable of Neumann lathe experts, with the intention of making it one of the finest disc cutting lathes in the world. Well Made Music will post public social media updates online of restoration efforts as work progresses. 70 years after its manufacturing in Berlin, it appears this Neumann AM32b has finally found its new home.