Gramophone player repair/restoration
June 30, 2020
At first glance it looks like an authentic gramophone player, but there is more to the device... Before we get into that, let's take a look at the different parts.
Let me first put a cloth over it, the room where I stay attracts quite a lot of dust, only a day after dusting there is already a new fresh layer on it...
The player has a speed control, in the middle is a lever that you can slide in both directions, left is slower, right is faster. Under the lever (in the middle) is the number 78, which is an indication of the speed. The player can only play (old) shellac records which usually spin at 78 rpm. In theory you can't play vinyl on this, the needles you use are too thick and the right speed for vinyl is not feasible on this player (it is simply not made for it).
Of course you can try it but don't expect your vinyl to last long if you do this...
To the left of the speed control is the brake, it holds the platter (turntable) with a piece of rubber.
At the end of the horn is the 'sound reproducer' (translated quite literally). this contains a metal membrane. that vibrates to the vibrations of the needle. a metal conductor runs from the needle to the center of the diaphragm. the reproducer (which I will call soundbox from now on). sends the vibrations through the opening in the middle to the horn which amplifies the sound.
The amplification of the sound therefore happens at the horn itself, this amplification is due to the shape itself. the sound waves (and vibrations in the metal itself) are expanded, increasing the volume.
There is therefore no volume control unless you would put a narrow/shorter or wider/longer horn on it.
In the other case, you just put an old sock in the hole which can dampen the sound considerably. The sound of this horn is quite loud so this is definitely recommended if you want to keep the peace with your neighbors (in my case even roommates).
Of course the player still needs a voltage source...
I can't help but fool you here, a gramophone player works without electricity, the voltage source here is mechanical power in the form of a leaf spring which is incorporated in a drum, to tension it, there is a crank on the side.
So in fact you are the one who provides tension, by turning the crank you put the leaf spring on tension, as soon as you release the brake, the tension from the spring is released and the 'turn' table starts to rotate.
Gramophone players are one of the earliest forms of sound reproduction. Even from the time when electricity was a great luxury. An electric record player simply did not exist!
By the way, here's a cardboard card that I cut from a cover of a record, I stuck it on the front of the player because the 'original' sticker was not really interesting.
We have now had a good tour around the device, it looks quite neat and is a nice eye-catcher for the room. Before we take a critical look at it, let's take a look at a video of the operation of the device.
The speed is far from stable. I try to set the correct speed while filming but I am not successful with it, the sound is also very shrill, I will have to come up with something on this.
Here's a selection from the internet, we see almost the same models here several times.
Often advertised as 'antique' with a matching price tag of at least €100 or more!
In reality, these players are certainly not worth that, my estimate is somewhere around €50.
Unfortunately I have to mention that these are all fake models!
Probably from somewhere in the 1970s or later and therefore far from antique or real...
My suspicion is that these were made somewhere in India and spread all over the world. Let's take a look at the striking dots that reveal that these are not official and certainly not from the RCA (or better known: His Masters Voice) brand.
The most striking part is this metal arm on which the horn rests, it is clearly too new in appearance and probably processed with a grinding tool/sanding belt (see the scratches). Moreover, this stainless steel (stainless steel) is something that was certainly not common on these machines in that period.
The part that rests on the arm shown above, hinges with a simple bolt/nut connection, not exactly something from the past and a fairly simplistic approach.
Also where the arm is attached to the cabinet, the holes are drilled skewed and the bolts that are in it are quite modern. The inside is secured with butterfly nuts.
The sound box is also not original, the finish speaks for itself, it looks too neat to be true, the text stamped on it is barely legible because it is not printed deep enough. I also see the exact same sound box on every model shown above.
The best part is that these counterfeit players have a simple sticker or print on the front. You will never see this on real original gramophone players...
That's why I stuck another card on mine.
But what are real antique or original gramophone players?
Below is a selection from the internet:
There is still quite a bit of difference between the original players and the fake models.
The reason that I suspect that these come from India is that there are still differences in the 'fake' players, different screws/bolts, different horns and other small details that do not always match. They are made with the parts that are available, only a few parts are almost exact copies such as the cabinet, the stainless steel arm and the sound box. A typical characteristic of Indian industry (which I certainly do not disapprove of).
The most important thing to know is that the prices are often the same, a fake often costs almost as much as a real one! So which is not right. So look carefully before you buy and remember that the seller is not always aware and does not know whether he is selling a real or fake.
And despite everything, the counterfeit models are now quite a few years old. And can certainly be called nostalgic. Moreover, they do work, but the playback quality is far from good compared to a real gramophone player.
If you only want one for decoration, it certainly wouldn't hurt, but if you want to play records on it frequently, I advise you to look for an original player.
Again, pay attention to the price, they are really not worth the requested amounts! Do not bid more than €50. Should you be addressed on the low offer, you can now refer to this website, a quick search by the search engine also provides enough information about these counterfeit models.
Finally, this absolute topper! Indistinguishable from the real thing. I recently saw these in an electronics wholesaler for an astronomical amount of €150 (so you can get a real one for less money).
The plastic horn from which the sound normally comes is just for decoration, the speakers are at the front of the device....
Well, I think I have given enough information about the differences and my displeasure has also been clearly expressed. Now let's take a look at the piece of equipment I'm going to fix here.
First, I take out the crank by turning it counterclockwise. This is threaded on the inside so it comes loose after a few turns.
The horn is stuck with friction (and has fallen off a few times for me). You can take this one off.
The tuutje of the horn and the sound box are also attached with friction, these also come off without difficulty.
The arm on which the sound box sits can be removed from the stainless steel arm by lifting it briefly and holding it at an angle.
The top of the player is also the lid of the cabinet, this can in fact already be opened when the crank is off, inside is the mechanical part and the nuts with which the stainless steel arm is attached. When the nuts are loosened, the arm will come loose on the outside.
The lid does not stay open by itself, and closes again when I let go of it. Because I also have to work on the mechanical part, I unscrew the rusty hinges, which takes some effort because the screws are no longer fresh.
With the lid off, I can place it upside down on the cabinet itself, because I can't get the turntable itself off, so I can't think of a better work table.
The mechanical heart of the player, he is not in the best shape. There is a lot of rust on it but fortunately only superficially, a little sanding would do it a lot of good.
On the side we see the 'regulator' (a kind of flywheel) which determines the speed of the device. By means of the speed controller on the turntable you determine how fast the regulator can turn. This also does not work very well anymore, because of rust there is a lot of friction on it, so that the speed is no longer stable. You can also hear this clearly in the video shown earlier. Below a video of the operation of the mechanical part.
It works, but with flaws. It is not easy to see, but the playback speed is not completely stable, the different parts do not look fresh anymore. I'll have to take the whole mechanical part apart and rebuild it.
Before I remove the top plate, this plate must first be removed. Underneath is a ball bearing, which provides support to the turntable (it is the other end of the central shaft).
I remove the bullet with tweezers and pat it dry with a tissue.
When I have the other four bolts loose, the top plate can be removed, sanded and it looks a lot fresher again. (This is the inside of the plate by the way).
Important to mention, when removing the plate, the residual tension of the leaf springs is released (these are in the drum). Pay attention to this because you can injure yourself badly!
Some gears are now loose and can be removed.
I do not open the drum that contains the leaf springs, not only because I am afraid to damage it beyond repair but more for my own safety, the leaf springs are often razor sharp and although the mechanical tension is now gone, they could cause serious injury shoot it under tension!
The regulator is not in good condition and needs to be removed for service. This is clamped between the bars of the housing with brass pins. The bolt that protrudes is there for securing. Loosen it a turn or two, after this the pin that runs through the bar can be slid away, the regulator will then come off by itself.
I have now removed all necessary parts from the housing and can start the repair work.
The regulator comes first. This is secured over the shaft with a locking screw, loosen it one turn to free the regulator from the shaft.
I sand the shaft lightly, the aim is to only remove the superficial rust, the thickness of the shaft is important so try to make sure it doesn't change otherwise there would be too much play on the regulator and shaft and will never play stable again.
I also polish the gear that ensures the transmission from the drum to the turntable. The teeth are also brushed equally well.
After this it is the drum's turn, again brushing and brushing the teeth. I have to pay attention to the drum that the teeth are shaped differently at the top and bottom, you can clearly see this when you enlarge the photos.
Again, I leave the inside of the drum alone, there is a chance of irreparable damage as well as danger to myself if there is still residual tension on the springs.
Now that the parts have been polished I can start putting it back together.
I now grease the shaft of the turntable (which rests on the ball bearing). Previously there was oil here but I suspect this is the correct lubricant. I also checked the ball itself for roundness, it still looks good and can be returned to its place. Finally, I screw the plate back on.
A little more about replacing the regulator, it is clamped with two brass pins, the pins have a small eccentric hole (not in the middle). This is where the axis of the regulator rests. Below is a step-by-step explanation of how I put it back, after all, it can be done in several ways, including wrong...
The pins therefore go into the two openings of the housing, indicated here with green arrows.
First I slide the right pin into the hole, then I secure it with the screw, I point the eccentric hole to the inside. I also dip the hole with grease.
I now slide the regulator into the left hole (still without the pin)
I click the other end on the right into the eccentric hole of the pen, if this does not work, unscrew the pen to make more space so that the regulator fits properly. Then secure it again with the screw.
Now slide the left pin in, here you can see in the first photo that the hole of the pin is facing away from the gear where the regulator hooks into. Only when the regulator is properly secured between the pins do I turn the left pin half a turn so that it presses the regulator against the sprocket, only then do you also secure it with the screw. Turn the regulator briefly to see if it can move smoothly.
I'm not done with it yet, because soon the speed control will have to be adjusted, luckily this is not much work. I will come back to this shortly.
With the mechanical part back together, the whole can be put back on the cabinet, with difficulty I get the screws back in. (I also reuse the previously shown image here).
Before I test run it, I grease the gears with grease.
And so it plays like new again, at least I hope so. I don't see much difference with the first video myself, but I trust that the operation has improved compared to before.
In the meantime, I've also been working on the appearance...
Now time to reassemble the gramophone player.
By the way, you can turn the crank back in like this by turning it clockwise until it starts to run heavy (that's when it starts to wind the mechanical part).
Now only the speed control needs to be readjusted, it would be best that your records play at the correct speed when the slide is in the middle. here I have placed it on the side to make the inscriptions more visible
(preferably don't do this yourself).
The speed is a lot more stable now that the mechanical part has been taken care of. In the video you can already see that I am trying to solve the following problem. The sound is not only very shrill but also quite unclear to hear. The angle at which the needle rests in the groove is not correct. actually it should be as straight as possible on it.
I already see a possible solution to tackle the problem of shrill music. The wooden cabinet resonates to specific tones, which causes this problem. A possible solution for this is to fill the inside of the cabinet with foam or another type of absorbent material. On the other hand, it also doesn't hurt to place new felt pads on the bottom, I only now notice that some have disappeared, although it seems to be stable like this.
february 2, 2022
A little over a year and a half later, I have to close this repair page with the message that the gramophone player is no longer in my possession. I eventually managed to remedy the resonance by filling the hollow space with foam, but I did not take any more photos or videos of this.
I ended up selling it at a local flea market for $45 (along with a bag of Lego).
As far as I know, the new owner had no plans to use it, which I had also advised against. It's a nice object to put down somewhere, but that's about it.