Furnace Mfg. Finds and Buys Ten Toolex Alpha Record Presses!

(analogplanet.com exclusive, August 25th, 2015): Do you remember years ago when Apple was on the ropes? The press loved to predict “struggling Apple”’s demise. Then a funny thing happened: Apple became wildly successful.

But the press couldn’t let go so “struggling Apple” became “once struggling Apple”. The same dynamic is playing out with vinyl. For years we were barraged with “vinyl is dead”. Then it became a “slight uptick”. Then it became a “resurgence” but still a tiny niche.

Finally, when the popularity of vinyl and the sales increases could no longer be denied, the cynics began with “Vinyl’s success will be its demise as overtaxed pressing capacity will produce long delays and then an upper growth ceiling”.

Even after GZ Media announced it had built new presses and had put them online, the negative stories about pressing capacity continued. More recently analogplanet reported on new pressing plants in Oregon and Brooklyn.

Fairfax, Virginia-based Furnace Manufacturing has since 1996 been involved in vinyl production but as a packager of records pressed at Pallas Group of Diepolz Germany. By pressing in Germany and packaging in America, Furnace has been able to save labels money while offering the highest quality pressings and state-of-the-art packaging.

Furnace has thrived with this business model, but today it announced it is taking the big plunge, headlong into domestic vinyl production with the acquisition of ten, fully automated Toolex Alpha presses similar to the ones Pallas uses in Germany.

As is always the case with record press acquisitions, there’s a back-story worth telling. Furnace, which has been looking for record presses for the better part of a decade, hit a “motherload” of sorts, finding in Mexico City, ten Toolex-Alpha presses, seven of which, I believe are for 12” LPs, while three are for pressing 45s.

Furnace staffers traveled to Mexico City to oversee record press loading and shipping and had quite an adventure that included machetes, protesters and a “genuine kidnapping scare” not to mention a logistical nightmare.

Even presidential candidate Donald Trump chimed in: “I thought Mexico was already sending the ‘worst of the worst’ and now comes record presses? My first act upon taking office…will be to send these “boat anchor babies” back to Mexico” (joke).

The Furnace crew arrived in Mexico City to find that neither forklifts nor pallet jacks were available to maneuver the one-ton machines onto the trucks. The team managed moving the presses out of the ramshackle storage facility and onto small metal dollies using grit and sheer determination.

Once out in the open, the presses, strapped to pallets, were hoisted by a small crane onto two fifty-three foot long tractor-trailers that in order to reach the neighborhood where the presses were stored had to navigate through gridlocked Mexico City traffic and through massive protest marches (unrelated to the press removal!). Fortunately the local police cooperated by shutting down the streets so the large tractor-trailers could reach the loading area.

Presses 'out on the street"

A press being gently lowered onto a pallet

A press safely loaded onto a tractor-trailer

On day two, Furnace staffers heard that questions were being asked about the value of the equipment and told to not speak English in order to avoid drawing attention to their activities.

Said Production Coordinator Alex Reimer, “The loading of the machines was difficult. We had to navigate through neighborhoods and streets not meant for tractor-trailers and load heavy equipment with unconventional tools and manpower. In our short time in Mexico City we met late night fire breathers, a wine angel, a jacked up guy on a Harley asking a lot of questions about our presses and a lot of awesome new friends who helped us get all ten presses loaded and secured against all odds. It was a lot of work, but it’s a great story and I’m excited to have been a part of it.”

The crew that muscled the presses out of storage and onto the tractor-trailers

Later that evening the trucks headed down bumpy roads towards the Laredo, Texas border crossing. After clearing customs the machines were offloaded and re-loaded onto American trucks for the trip to Furnace’s Fairfax, VA headquarters.

The presses arrive at Furnace's Fairfax, Virginia headquarters

Packaging Manager Mark Reiter added, “The experience of tracking down and bringing these record presses home has been amazing. We had some tense moments. Hiding from (rumors of) kidnappers was one, unexpected late night taxi detours through Mexico City back alleyways was another. We had an unforgettable time and met some amazing people. Rolling up the back of the trailer when they arrived here at Furnace MFG and seeing our presses safe and sound on our home turf was a great feeling.”

However, now comes the difficult part: Furnace must first find the perfect location in which to build the pressing plant—both geographically and physically. It won’t be leasing the space you can be sure, nor is it likely to be located in the expensive Washington, D.C. metro area where Furnace is now located.

Once the location is set, the presses will move again and the serious work of installing the considerable support infrastructure required to operate a pressing plant will begin. That includes huge boilers, a roof-mounted temperature exchange cooling tower and of course a great deal of electric power. The presses will need to be completely overhauled and refurbished as well.

About the press acquisition, Furnace President, Eric Astor said “It’s almost impossible to find record presses out there in the wild. To find late era, automated machines is unheard of. We’re excited to build a world-class record pressing facility in the USA to help “feed the beast”. The industry needs additional vinyl capacity, shorter lead times and a laser focus on quality. I’m certain that we’ll achieve these goals once we breathe life back into these machines.”

mraudioguru's picture

...it's like opening up Al Capone's vault and actually finding something.

labjr's picture

I'm curious as to why they don't relocate from Fairfax VA to a more reasonable place to live, work etc than a $$$ DC suburb. Chad Kassem had the right idea.

swansong123's picture

Great news

Michael Fremer's picture
I guess you missed this paragraph:

However, now comes the difficult part: Furnace must first find the perfect location in which to build the pressing plant—both geographically and physically. It won’t be leasing the space you can be sure, nor is it likely to be located in the expensive Washington, D.C. metro area where Furnace is now located.

labjr's picture

You're probably right. However, we aren't able to edit like you.

Michael Fremer's picture
It was there from the start!
swansong123's picture

So far QRP has been the most consistent in the quality department. I hope Furnace can follow suit.
Best of luck to them.

recordhead's picture

I'm going to go buy me some more records.

Michael Fremer's picture
Me too!
isaacrivera's picture

You know, I was thinking about that argument the other day. "The vinyl comeback is just a fad."

It occurred to me that consumer music formats have been driven by fads since forever. People have bought vinyl and cassettes and reel-to-reels and 8-tracks and CDs and mp3s and hirez PCM and DSD. However vinyl has had the longest run.

So yes, perhaps the comeback has been just a fad, but now it's not just the early adopters. More and more businesses, such as Furnace, are starting to put invest seriously where the trend is. And if there is a healthy supply of high quality vinyl, the "fad" will stick simply because it sounds better.

vinyl_lady's picture

I hope they keep the emphasis on quality once they find the right location and overhaul the presses.

Steelhead's picture

Enjoyed the article and wish Furnace much success.

What about Gloversville NY? I know the housing in the area is very affordable. Mike I think you can confirm but there is an empty building that used to produce records there (and made and distributed them for decades). It would be close to major metropolitan areas for distribution. The area could use the business and tax credits may be available. It certainly should be on short list and the owners/investors should check the area out.

In any event I wish Furnace all the best.

Michael Fremer's picture
I wonder if that building is still vacant?
Steelhead's picture

I believe so Mike, I drove by it when visiting NY last summer. Still vacant and I do not know how many presses they operated but it is large and the principals should certainly investigate the area based on past success. Plus Sundazed records still operates out of Coxsackie which is not too awfully far away. In fact I was in NY last month and saw a special on channel 9 about the record plant when it was operating. They had a lot of past employee's reminicsing about producing records. I could not find a link but bet you can run it down if your interested.

I know the housing costs are low and the area is (was)? eligible for tax credits in an effort to get business into the area. I believe this is still good info but needs checking out.

A beautiful area in the Adirondacks and stll close to distribution channels. I would invite Furnace to the area for a look see and offer to guide them around except I am a very long ways from New York.

Perhaps you can make it happen super Fremer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Michael Fremer's picture
I believe is now operating out of Nashville...
Zardoz's picture

It's in the same state, has great technical facilities and low RE prices, easy access to Interstate, and a great climate. Not to mention that I would be next door.
This is excellent news.

bent river music's picture

I'm a fan of any Trump joke!

rakalm's picture

How about Winchester, VA? A lot of history, beautiful area. Affordable, and a history of pressing records. Is the old building where Capitol Records pressed vinyl still there? And it's close to where they are now. Maybe some of the skilled employees are there to help with the project?

furnacemfg's picture

Thanks for the write up Michael.

Just a minor correction: the DC area is our home and we are doing our best to stay put - but thanks for all of your relocation suggestions.

You'd think we'd be in a great location to find some skilled vinyl-heads: the old Capitol Records pressing facility was located an hour west of us in Winchester, VA.  We've been trying to find and lure some of the folks that worked there for years but it seems most have retired or know better than to get back into the vinyl game ;)

Viva Vinyl,

Eric Astor

Rudy's picture

Don't know anyone personally, but that would make an interesting career change for me (especially with my industrial/mechanical background). ;) Best of luck with the new presses!

Mile High Audio's picture

Thanks for all the "behind the scenes" and "you are there" details. A fun read. Me gusto mucho!

Speaking of Furnace and its current "repackaging" set up I fortunately just bought from a LA record store a test pressing of Eric Clapton's 2 LP "Clapton". Per the labels this was pressed by Pallas and Furnace asks "Please email test press approval to a Furnace email address. It sounds great!

I wish all at Furnace much success riding the "fad".

michaelwcole's picture

Sundazed is still in Coxsackie, NY. Most of the vinyl I have purchased from them has been pressed at QRP.

rakalm's picture

When I met Rumer in Virginia recently. I had her sign my copy of Boy's Don't Cry. She said, "this isn't right" after looking at the sleeve to the US version of the LP. The sleeve should have been a gatefold she informed me. An insert had replaced part of the gatefold. In their defense, Furnace did a nice job on the sleeve but it doesn't compare to the UK version I bought after her comments. Somehow, the Pallas pressing with a different track selection sounds better on the UK version. May seem like a diversion but it's a shame Rumer was shortcut with the US release (I could tell it was the 1st time she had actually seen the US release on vinyl). Hopefully, Furnace will achieve and maintain the high standards set by Pallas. So many American artists (Wilco for ex.) have their records pressed in Germany. Bring It On Home. I think Winchester is the way to go. Fairfax County is just so damn expensive. Go west Furnace. How about a Patsy Cline box set to celebrate the move? She lived there (Winchester) and the surrounding area (at around 14 different places). Her next scheduled show was to be in Baltimore (my home)
before the flight which took her life. I think this is great acquisition for Furnace and look forward to their pressings with these newly acquired presses. I am sure Michael will keep us all informed.

Rudy's picture

I am not as fond of her two latest LPs musically as I am of her debut, but there was such a bad quality issue with Into Colour that she actually reached out through social media to let those with the vinyl pressings know to contact her so they could replace them. I went through two UK copies and both were terribly pressed--noisy, and warped. It took months, but the replacement finally came and it is much better. I don't know who pressed either one, but the quality of that first pressing is absolutely shameful. (Reminds me of that garbage GZ Vinyl puts out, complete with scratches and scuffs in the vinyl.)

rakalm's picture

When I got to meet her after the sound check, she walked down to greet me and asked me "who I was with?" I introduced myself and she sat with me and signed all of my LP's. When she saw "Into Colour" (I had ordered it from the UK), she said "how it that one?" I let her know it was off center, noisy, and warped (I was a bit diplomatic of course because she didn't press the LP and she showed GENUINE concern for her product.) She immediately wrote down her email address so I could get a new copy, she signed my defective copy and said "you can keep the cover from this one when you get the new one.". How many artists care that much about their product? I was impressed. It took 2 months but it was mailed free of charge from Scotland. It has GEMA/MCPS printed across the label. I am guessing PS is Pallas. At least they made good on this one. I only disagree with you on 1 point. I love Seasons AND Boy's Don't Cry. Into Colour is an LP which takes a different course but understandable with her changes. I think the intro song is really not the best song to set the tone for the rest of the LP. It's her PLASTIC ONO BAND done with a much different flair. Her illnesses (PTSD and Bipolar 2)and the recent miscarriage had an impact on that project. It takes a more concerted effort on the part of the listener. It has some great tunes.

Rudy's picture

Rumer does care a lot about packaging. If I am not mistaken, all of her LP releases had unique art and packaging designs. I am actually using one of my Into Colour rejects in an LP frame for my music room.

My one regret is that Seasons was released in the UK on vinyl, then later released here with an extra track or two. And on Boys Don't Cry, the one song I like the most, "Sara Smile," is not on my UK vinyl either. If they would get the releases in sync, it would end a lot of confusion on our end of things. Then again, the way the US label treats her, we're lucky that she even gets any US releases at all.

You may have something about "Into Colour" there. I don't care for that arrangement of "Dangerous," as it reminds me of a bad mashup of MOR and disco. Starting off an album with a track I don't care for doesn't bode well for the rest. (Imagine it redone acoustic, maybe with just piano, acoustic guitar and bass, at a slow tempo.)

rakalm's picture

Yes, the US version actually has 12 songs and the UK only 10. 1st time ever (?), we got more. But hey Soulsville (sorry Issac, is a waste). We also got Welcome Back (the real song) not the TV version. You can (or at could have) downloaded that free from her website. But you got Andre Johray, but not Flying Shoes (Townes Van Zandt) which was the real loss. Try to dig that one up. It's one of the better songs on the LP. It's a great covers LP in my opinion, I am glad I got both versions. Maybe Furnace will press some of her LP's for the US audience. That leftovers CD(outtakes, EP songs, ect,.) would be great to have on vinyl. I am sorry I didn't buy it at the show (I skipped it because no vinyl version).

Michael Fremer's picture
I find GZ records to be excellent. They pressed both Stones boxes and they were 100% perfect. You've had some bad luck there or I've had exceptionally good..
rakalm's picture

I too have had good luck with GZ vinyl. Elton John (Diving Board), McCartney (Kisses and New, I believe?). I have many others I can't recall. I believe Pallas pressed all 3 of the Rumer solo releases, there is a P USA on the American "Boy's Don't Cry" (and CB inscribed in the deadwax, but not on the UK version). They have that GEMA/MCPS on the labels. Michael you may know, I don't, what that stands for. StereoVenus (Close to the Sun) has MPO inscribed in the deadwax(French pressing plant?) and LaHonda I am not sure, that was issued in small quantities. I have to say all are excellent pressings except that glitch with Into Colour.

Rudy's picture

Yes, terrible job by GZ. I have two sets of the Dire Straits "On Every Street" that are noisy. Close examination shows mishandling--there are physical scratches and scuffs on each disc. (Been meaning to get photos of the damage.) They shipped fine and arrived intact, so it wasn't the shipping. It's a shame, too, as I really like the job Chris Bellman did on this one. I've seen a few complaints over the past few years about GZ, so I'm not the only one. (Unless they hand-pick good copies to send to the press, which also wouldn't surprise me.)