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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge Frequently Asked Questions (part 3)
 1.0	Oct. 20, 94	First version.   This material was supplied by
 George Conklin (   
 1.1	Dec. 12, 94	Revisions by George Conklin.  
 2.0     Second Version May 3,1995 This material was supplied by
 	George Conklin (   
 3.0    March 12, 1996.  Third Version.  This material was
        supplied by George Conklin (

 Part 3 - Frequently-asked questions about phonographs
 FAQ editor: Hank van Cleef.  Please E-mail comments about comment of
 this section to George Conklin (
     This is a regular posting of frequently-asked questions (FAQ) about 
 antique radios and phonographs.  It is intended to summarize some common
 questions on old home entertainment audio equipment and provide answers
 to these questions.  
          Part B: Technical Information 
    Common Questions about Acoustic Phonographs
    The most frequently asked question continues
 to be from the very first day of the group: "Where can I buy
 steel needles for my Victrola?"  Answer: Contact the Antique
 Phonograph Supply Company, Route 23, Box 123, Davenport
 Center, NY 13751.  Phone 607-278-6218.  Remember to change your
 needles after every play.  The engineering concept was simple:
 the needles are softer than the record, and will wear without
 stressing the record.  Some records had grit in the mix to
 wear the steel needle.  
 Question: My phonograph does not work.  What can I do?
 Answer: There is one excellent book which explains how old
 phonographs, gramophones and cylinder players work.  
 "The Compleat Talking Machine" by Eric Reiss.  It is
 also available from APSCO listed above.  It explains how
 to work on a phonograph to get it running again.  It contains
 detailed photographs.  
    Question:  I have just found this wonderful windup phonograph.
 How can I tell if it works?  I don't have time to read a book.
 What can I do?
 Answer:  Phonographs are found which look new.  Others look as if
 they have been sitting in a wet basement for 70 years.  But there are
 a few quick tests:
   1.  Does the dealer demonstrate the unit?  If it plays and sounds
 fine, it probably is in good shape.  It is relatively hard to hide
 problems with spring motors.
   2.  Is the spring broken?  This means that your turn the crank and
 nothing happens.  Usually the spring is broken near the center, so the
 phonograph does not play.   New springs can be found for most
 phonographs from the Antique Phonograph Supply Company.  Cost: about
 $50 if you send in the barrel.  If a new spring is not
 available, you can patch the old one by following instructions in
 the Reiss book listed above.  But please note that you may not
 want to do this without some experience since you can cut your
 fingers off.  
   3.  If the turntable rotates (or the cylinder turns), but you hear
 a loud bump while the record is playing, then the spring needs grease.
    a.  This is not an easy task.  Purists will say to take the spring out 
 of the barrel, clean it and the reload the barrel.  Warning: if you try
 to do this, you can cut your fingers off.  The barrel is a cylinder into
 which the spring is wound.  Some cheaper units simply have an open
 spring.  Greasing such a spring is much more easy.
    b.  Shortcut: You can add grease to the spring without first taking
 it out of the barrel.  Most barrels had an opening called a graphite
 hole.  Wind up the unit all the way.  Take the plug out of the graphite
 hole and force in grease.  The original Edison formula, which I have
 used, contains 10 parts vasoline to 1 part graphite.  Put the screw
 back in the hole.  Let the unit run down, dispersing the grease.
   4.  Listen to see if the governor is in good shape.  When you play the
 unit, is there a high speed vibration.  If so, you may need work on the
 governor.  This is difficult.
   5.  If the turntable works (or the cylinder turns), then play a
 record.  What does it sound like?  If you hear a lot of vibrations,
 or if the sound is bad, you probably need to rebuild the reproducer.
   a. Rebuilding an Edison reproducer for a cylinder phonograph is
 ususally an easy job.  Kits cost $6.00.  A new sapphire is $30.00
 and is likely to outlast you.
   b. Rebuilding a Victor #2 (the most common) is not difficult either.
   c. Rebuilding a Diamond Disc reproducer is more difficult.  The old
 diaphragms take effort to remove without damage.  It can be done.  Kits
 are available.  New diamond needles: $60.00.  But the old diamond may be
 in good shape.  
   d. Rebuilding the Victor Orthophonic is very difficult and few people
 will touch this one.  Such reproducers (heads) cost about $100 in
 auctions.  Many were made of pot metal, and they are gradually falling
   e. Rebuilding other heads requires buying generic parts and doing
 the best you can.  
   6.  Ok, I don't know much about mechanical things.  What can I do?
 You can send the entire works off for repair and cleaning.  This costs
 about $150 for an Edison unit.
   7.  What about parts?  What if something wears out?
 If you buy an Edison or a Victor, most motor parts are still
 available.  As for the other units around, if something other than
 the spring is broken, you might want to look for a different unit
 unless you are handy around a machine shop, or are willing to pay to
 send the entire motor out for repair.
 Question:  I just found some 'thick' records.  How can I play them?
  Answer:  Many people think that the standard
 78 record is 'thick.'  However, the really thick records
 were made by Thomas Edison and are called Diamond Discs.  
 They were made from 1912 until Edison closed his phonograph
 business in 1929, one day before the stock market crashed.
  In their time, these were the premium records.  Do NOT
 try to play a diamond disc record with a Victrola steel
 needle machine.  It will ruin the record and it will not
 play.  The DDs were recorded vertically, using the hill and
 dale method.  They were played with a special diamond needle.
 You can play such records today at 78 rpm on with a stereo
 catridge using either the LP needle or a 78 (3 mil) needle.
 Or, better yet, such records still work fine with an
 Edison machine.
 Question:  I just found a "Victrola."  What is it worth?
 Answer:  Most people use the word 'Victrola' as a generic
 term, like Frigidaire is used to mean all types of ice box.
 Most likely such a term means an upright machine made during
 the 1920s and housed in a 'brown box.'  Since millions were
 made, it is impossible to give a specific value.  However,
 most upright Victors go for about $400 right now.  
 Question:  Where can I read about my Victrola?  Answer:
 Buy the book "Look for the Dog" by Robert Baumbach.  It
 lists all Victor models, starting with the open horn machines.
 Some were quite rare; most very common.  Production
 figures are given.  Buy the book from Allen Koenigsberg,
 502 E. 17th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11226.  Phone 718-941-6835.
 Question: Where can I find out about record auctions?  Parts?
 Supplies for old phonographs?  Answer: Join MAPS, the Michigan
 Antique Phonograph Society, 2609 Devonshire, Lansing, MI
 48910.  Phone John Whitacre at 517-482-7996.  After you join,
 purchase the Resource Directory.  It lists hundreds of 
 dealers and places to buy records and get your phonograph 
 serviced.  It also lists other clubs.
 Question:  I want to buy an Edison Standard.  Can you name
 some dealers in my area?
 Generally the answer to this question is unfortunately 'no.'
 The market for used phonographs remains fragmented.  In certain 
 areas there are well-known dealers.  But you are not going to
 find one listed in every city.  Antique malls often sell machines
 that are offered to them.  Prices can be high.
 Question: I just found a phonograph.  I can't remember the name.
 Who made old phonographs anyway?  Answer: The phonograph was
 invented by Thomas Edison.  He let it sit on the shelf for 10 
 years.  His patents covered cylinder records, the original format.
 Later Berliner obtained a patent for what we call today the 78.
 Its virtue was that  the 78 could be mass produced easily.
 Victor took up the Berliner patent.  Edison stayed with
 cylinder records.  By 1920 it seems as if every furniture
 store would put together a case and generic works and a new
 brand was born.  Sometimes Edison would sell spare cases so
 conversion companies would put together parts from different
 sources even in well-known cases.  Some common brands:
 Edison, Victor, Sonora, Brunswick, Silvertone, Zonophone, 
 Aeolian, Pathe, Granby, Columbia, Vocalian, Harmonola,
 Heinman and others.  
 Question: Where can I learn about the history of the
 phonograph?  Answer: write to Allen Koenigsberg, 502 E. 17th 
 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11226.  Request a collectors check list.
 Most important books can be purchased through him.  The
 most scholarly is "From Tinfoil to Stereo, 1877-1929" by
 Welch and Burt.   Unfortunately, the authors concentrate on
 the legal fights faced by early phonograph producers, and not
 the technological problems the had to overcome to bring talking
 machines to market successfully.  
   Koenigsberg also publishes the "Antique
 Phonograph Monthly."  It contains interesting articles about
 phonographs.  Be warned: it comes out every year or so, not
 monthly.  Since the history of phonographs is a hobby not
 a scholarly undertaking, people do this sort of thing in
 their spare time.  Note:  the Monthly has not come out for two
 years now, so it may be finished.  Check with Allen.
 Question: What is a gramophone?  Answer:  The British refer
 to a phonograph which plays flat records  as a gramophone.  In
 British usage, a phonograph plays cylinders only.  
 Question:  I just found an Edison cylinder player.  
 Where can I find out about how it works?  Answer:
 There is one authority on Edison players, both cylinder
 and the Diamond Disc (DD) type.  His name is George
 Frow.  He wrote two books which define the field.  
 The book on cylinder phonographs is just about to be
 republished in a new edition called "Edison Cylinder
 Phonograph Companion, 1877-1929."  Available from 
 several sources, but I have a listing from Koenigsberg
 listed above.   The book is very complete, but its pictures
 are very dark and detract from the excellent material.
    The second book covers Edison Diamond Disc machines.
 "Edison Diamond Disc Phonographs, 1912-1929."  Frow 
 covers all models, including some which may have never
 been made!  His research comes from the Edison historical
 site in Orange, NJ.  Source: write Frow himself at
 George Frow, "Salterns" Seal Hollow Road, Sevenoaks, Kent,
 TN13 3SH England.  He airmails the book, with no delay.
 Check for current price.  He took my personal check.
 Also available from Koenigsberg listed above.
 Question: Where can I find a list of cylinders which were
 made?  Answer: Wax cylinders made up until by Edison 1912 are covered
 in a book written by Alan Koenigsberg, 502 E.
 17th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11226.  Celluloid cylinders
 made by  Edison are listed in a publication sold by
 The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS),
 Mr. Chris Hamilton, "Ardlarich," 2 Kirklands Park, Cupar,
 Fife KY15 4EP, Scotland.  Phone: 44 334 543 90.
 Question:  Are there any magazines which discuss old 
 phonographs?  Yes:  Personally, the most interesting
 is Hillandale News published by CLPGS listed above.
 It is a glossy magazine well produced.  It contains
 about 40 pages per issue.  Also, the Michigan Antique
 Phonograph Society has a monthy newsletter which answers
 questions from readers.  
 Question: What are the most common old phonographs?
 Answer:  The phonographs which have survived today  
 are Edison, Victor and Columbia.  Of the three, Edison
 was the most sturdy, although Victor was often well made
 also.  The Columbia units used more pot metal, which
 decays with age.  
 Question:  Are all phonograph cyliders the same?  Answer: Not all
 phonograph cylinders are the same.  The cylinder was the
 original format for recording.  The most commonly found
 ones today are Edison's black wax (Gold Moulded) cylinders.
 These play for 2 minutes.  Columbia made 2-minute cylinders
 wax cylinders until 1902, then switched to making their
 cylinders out of celluloid.  The celluloid cylinders are often
 found today in excellent condition compared to their wax
 Later everyone switched to 4-minute cylinders.   Edison
 always offered kits to upgrade his players.  The
 4-minute cylinders turned at 160RPM (as did most 2-minute
 cylinders) and had 200 grooves per inch.  
 Edison produced 4-minute wax cylinders and later 4-minute
 blue celluloid cylinders.  The blue cylinders (called Blue
 Amberols) were launched in 1912 and were made until 1929,
 long after everyone else quit making them.
  I have just found a phonograph in a brown case.  When
 as it made?
    If the phonograph has a large external horn, it was made
 before about 1912.  After that, the ladies wanted horns inside
 a case, hidden from view.  If the unit you are looking at has
 an enclosed soundbox in a pice of furniture, it was made
 from 1910 or so up until the end of the wind up era about
 1930.  Not many phonographs were made from 1929-1945.  The
 depression caused a collapse of sales, with one authority
 claiming that record sales declined by 90% during the 1930s.
 Question:  What  is the difference between Victor and
 Victrola?  Answer:  The Victor Talking Mahince Company
 made external horn phonographs.  When they switched to
 horns inside of the case, the name -ola was added.  Victrola
 technically means an internal horn machine.  Edison did the
 same thing.  He called his internal horn cylinder machines
  Question:  I have some 78s I got from my family.  I am afraid of
 hurting them with a diamond needle.  How can I play such records?
    You can play 78s with a modern phonograph using a diamond needle.
 If you have only a stereo stylus, you can still use it to play your
 78s without hurting them.  Of course, it is best to use about a 3 mil
 needle made for the purpose.  Modern equipment, tracking at 2 grams, is
 quite gentle on records compared to the old Victors, tracking at
 several ounces.  

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