The Famous Stax Lathe Of Ardent Studios Is Back In Action Thanks To Super 400

The band released Sweet Fist on double vinyl Tuesday, September 29. The record package features original cover art by Klaus Voormann, famed creator of The Beatles Revolver album art, only three tracks per side, cut deep into the vinyl for sound optimization, and a unique story in this day and age.

The record was cut on the original Stax Records lathe at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The machine had cut vinyl masters for legends ranging from Al Green and Isaac Hayes to Led Zeppelin and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Though the lathe hadn’t functioned in over 20 years, the kind people at Ardent became determined to refurbish it for Super 400 Sweet Fist before retiring it into the Stax Museum forever. Once word got out that the famous lathe was back in action, calls poured into Ardent, booking the machine for months in advance, re-establishing a physical piece of American musical history back into the fold of modern recording.

“During our time at ardent, we listened eagerly to John Fry and Larry Nix tell us the magical tales of the
1960s and 70s recording sessions and how tight the bands became with producers and engineers, and how the whole Memphis scene was one big family, all sharing an obsessive love and joy of music.

Larry still has the original card catalog from every album cut there – it’s a magical library of memories for those guys, one that I was honored to get a close look at. Every EQ setting for every album is meticulously recorded – names like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Isaac Hayes, Big Star, Al Green, what a sight it was to get an inside look at Memphis recording history.

The lathe is the machine that ‘cuts’ the sound to vinyl – this legendary piece of art lay inoperable in the Mastering room for years. It was a star feature in the many Ardent studio tours, drawing many oohs and ahs from the passers-by, but Larry hadn’t cut vinyl on it in quite some time. On many occasions during our sessions there, we hinted to John and Larry, not so subtly, that we’d be tickled pink to have the Sweet Fist record cut on the old Stax Lathe.

Larry told us it wasn’t possible, that he wasn’t sure if the lathe was fixable, maybe they didn’t make the parts anymore. We continued bugging him about it, enough so that he looked into the possibility of repair. He still was unconvinced. On the last day of the Super 400 sessions, we sadly packed our gear into our trailer, and prepared to leave this magical place. I knew I had to give it one last try. I went into Larry’s office and told him how much our experience at Ardent touched us, that the stories he and John told us about the old days made us want so badly to have our own family-style memory, especially since the entire record was done at Ardent this far. Recording, mixing and mastering. He must have been feeling it too, because the next thing we knew, we were flying back down to Ardent to witness the cutting of the Sweet Fist record to vinyl, by Larry’s own hands.

To say we are proud of this achievement is no way to describe it. It just feels so right. It was a great honor for us to make this record with the legends that became our friends. You can’t beat that,” says singer/bassist Lori Friday.

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