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Rec.antiques.radio+phono Frequently Asked Questions (part 3) 1.0 Oct. 20, 94 First version. This material was supplied by George Conklin (email@example.com). 1.1 Dec. 12, 94 Revisions by George Conklin. 2.0 Second Version May 3,1995 This material was supplied by George Conklin (firstname.lastname@example.org). 3.0 March 12, 1996. Third Version. This material was supplied by George Conklin (email@example.com). Part 3 - Frequently-asked questions about phonographs ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ FAQ editor: Hank van Cleef. Please E-mail comments about comment of this section to George Conklin (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 apart. 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 counterparts. 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 Amberolas. 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.