LP Record Terminology-What We Call Things

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To the novice vinyl record collector the LP record terminology can be confusing. What is an album, an LP or a EP? How about 45’s and 78’s? What are they? Ringwear? Sounds kind of scary, is it like ringworm? Well if you are new to vinyl record collection don’t worry as I’ll try to summarize some terminology used by audiophiles and just regular collectors as well.

LP, EP, and 45 Explained/Getting Better All The Time

The term LP stands for Long Play, EP means Extended Play and 45 is a 7inch record that spins at 45 revolutions per minute. The LP and the 45 were two different approaches to recorded music that began in the 1940s by two different companies. Since the invention of the 78rpm record in the early 1890s the school of thought had always been that a record should only contain one song so most records had a playing time of around 3 minutes. These original phonographs were 10 inches in diameter and were 2-3 minutes in length. Sometimes the record companies would issue longer recordings by pressing them on a 12-inch disk.

In the 1940s record companies began producing records on a new material (78s were made of shellac) called vinylite. They were still convinced that a record did not need to hold more than one song and RCA began to produce the 7inch 45rpm record. In order to fit a song into the smaller format they had to reduce the size of the grooves to fit more groves onto the smaller record. This resulted in a “quieter” sound reproduction of better quality than the 78. Just for those interested, on today s 12inch LP the groove is about 1500 feet long!

Within a few years most record companies had adopted both the LP and the 45rpm format. New record players were made that accommodated both types of disks and the older 78 rpm singles.

In order to put a Broadway play or movie soundtrack on records the record companies had to release multiple records of all the songs and they were packaged in boxed sets called “albums”. These show and movie soundtracks were helping the sale of records so they were soon converted to the 12inch LP where the entire soundtrack could be put on one record. These albums were so popular that they began releasing more and more popular music on the LP rather than release them as singles. IN 1958 the 10 inch and 78 disk were phased out around 1958 as the record companies heavily promoted the LP and 45.

The EP was a 7 inch 45 rpm with smaller groves and they could hold 2 songs per side.

Record Vs Vinyl/Why The Change?

Now days you hear many people (mostly new collectors) refer to a record as a vinyl. And more than one record as vinyls. This drives older record enthusiasts crazy. Back when I was a kid we went to the record store and bought records. They were also called albums. Around 1983 CDs made the scene and gradually replaces the vinyl record as the favored way to record and listen to music and the sale of records dwindled.

No one can say for sure how the term Vinyl actually became the new popular way to refer to a record. My theory is this. When CDs came along they were sold in record stores. An artist would release an album on both vinyl and CD format. So a “record” would mean “vinyl, “Disc” would mean “CD” and “Album” could mean either “record” or “CD”

Moving towards the 90s CD became the favored format that most people were buying and gradually the record stores quit selling vinyl records all together. In the mid 2000s vinyl records started to show a renewed interest and a few years ago the term “vinyl or vinyls” became the popular term used for a record. I think that was a way to differentiate between a record and a CD album. So, one say I have 200 vinyls in my collection to tell the difference between his music collection which contained both CDs and Vinyl records. But, that’s just my opinion and there are many others out there. I do know that calling records “vinyls” drives old time record listeners bonkers

A More Common Terms

“Gatefold” is a sleeve for two or more records that can be folded open. On the inside of these the artist can display additional artwork, song lyrics or photo montages of the band.

“Bootleg” is an illegal release of a record sometimes made by copying a complete record or other portions of the record to create a new version. If you record songs off of a record to make a favorites CD or tape that is considered a bootleg. Some people will record at concerts and make copies of that recording as well.

“Picture Disc” is a clear transparent record with a picture of the same size inside the vinyl. The picture is usually of the artist or group. These are quite popular but much of the time the sound quality is lower, but some collectors pay a premium price for these. Difficult to find in the wild as in thrift stores etc.

“Promo/DJ Copy” These are advance releases used for promotional purposes and are usually very limited numbers of these produced. Many have white labels so you will see the term “White Label Promo” used often. Before the age of digital radio stations when the stations had actual DJ’s playing the records (50s thru 70s) record companies and usually had promotion agents who would drive their district with promo copies of new releases to drop off at the stations in hopes of getting “air time” for the artist or company they were representing.


That in a nutshell is LP record terminology. It is a very limited nutshell but in another post I will delve deeper into more obscure terminology when we get into the finer points of selling records. If you have any questions or run across a term you are not sure of the meaning drop a comment below and I’ll try to help you out.




  1. Hi Craig, I am always amazed at the amount of information you give in your articles! And you make them so completely readable and interesting! Great job. Thank you.

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