I DO NOT SUPPLY
Generally speaking gramophones can be anything between 60 and 100+ years old but even the youngest of these will, if not properly maintained, be suffering some effect of the ravages of time. In addition to this, even with a maintained gramophone there are certain do's and don'ts that need to be taken into consideration if the machine is to function as it should. This page is intended to point out the main things to look for when obtaining a gramophone and what to do and not to do when using it.
First of all below I have listed a few of the main considerations when obtaining a gramophone but the most important advice of all is if in doubt buy from a reputable gramophone restorer or at the very least do your research and know what you are looking for and at. Ebay, whilst no doubt exposing the would be purchaser to the greatest supply of gramophones, contains expensive pitfalls for the newcomer. DO YOUR RESEARCH AND DO IT WELL. Note also that some faults noted below are not apparent in a photograph.
2. Avoid anything with the sound box opposite on
These horrible things are one of the trade marks of the "crapophone". Whilst having "His Master's Voice" on them they are just ugly, useless rubbish. Occasionally they may find themselves onto genuine machine which may otherwise be OK just take into consideration the cost of obtaining a decent soundbox when negotiating and be aware that other "surprises" may await you. Chances are sellers who have put these onto a machine know exactly what they have done and should be avoided.
* crapophone is a term used by gramophone enthusiasts for a range of replica gramophones produced in India. They usually bear the branding of HMV but are just cheap, nasty imposters. Whilst not affecting the portable machines, as they are usually horn models, their soundboxes can find their way onto portable gramophones
3. A grating sound when the machine is wound
It is highly likely that this will indicate damage to the winding gear. The gramophone should wind smoothly and almost noiselessy although some wear and therefore sound is to be expected but anything resembling a grating sound will indicate a problem that may need extra cost to fix.
5. Soundbox Problems
Before using a soundbox on a record give it a visual check. The front gasket if visible should be soft (give it a poke with a cocktail stick or similar). The rear insulator (the rubber part on the soundbox at the point it joins the tonearm) should be pliable (chances are it will not be but this is not the end of the world). Check the condition of the diaphragm, sometimes this means peeping through the cut outs in the cover where these are fitted. Check the pivots where the needle goes by brushing your finger over the end of the needle bar - you should hear an amplified "shushhing" sound. I usually also hold the end of the needlebar firmly and check for any sideways movement and also I check for the pivot is working by rocking the end of the needlebar as it would be when playing a record. You should be able to discern a slight movement in the diaphragm. If all is well play a record.....a good one but not a favourite. Any further faults will show themselves in the sound. I usually refurbish each soundbox as a matter of course then I am certain the box is in good working order which means not only is the sound as it should be but record damage is minimized.
6. Horn Problems
These affect Columbia portable models in particular. Two main problems are likely to be encountered. In order to maximise the length of the horn in their gramophones Columbia created a horn with a hinged inner horn and a complex lifting mechanism that, when the lid was opened, brought the tonearm into the playing position. Being made of pot metal alloy the horn is therefore fragile and prone to breaking around the hinge. Commonly available gramophones affected include the 112,112A and 202. Again associated with it's pot metal construction the joint where the tonearm fixes to the horn is also vulnerable. As a general rule even if undamaged this joint where the tonearm swivels will have become "sloppy" due to expansion of the pot metal over time. Attempts to adjust it by tightenening the joint to take up the expansion may well end in disaster as the pot metal horn disintegrates at this point. Popular models affected are the one's quoted plus the 100, 109, 109A and 201.
1. Do use a new needle every record (Click thumbnail on right to see why)
This seems excessive but needles were only designed to play one side of a record. Eventually some needles were produced for multiple plays but often manufacturers overstated their number of plays. Play safe and use one per record. There are a number of suppliers to choose from. I have put a link to the supplier I use in the Links section. Also be careful of trusting needles supplied with a machine unless they are specified to be new. Often worn needles can be found with purchased machines. As a rule, if in doubt don't use them.
2. Do not over wind the spring
A difficult one to assess for the newcomer who will feel no little degree of trepidation in winding for the first time. I'd like to be able to give a number of winds as a guide but this is difficult given not only the variety of machines but also the spring lengths used in machines of the same model. Note: some springs and motors particularly of early machines would only give the playing of one side. Generally unless there are problems with the spring noticable on winding I tend to give it an initial full wind which terminates when I feel the definite resistance of the fully coiled spring. I usually make a note of this number and in future windings give less turns. As long as this gives me the playing of a single 12" record I'm happy. As a guide HMV 102's HMV and Columbia portables are around 40 - 50. Later Decca's may go higher than this to 75. Some early gramophones will need considerable less e.g. Decca 1A 25 or so.
In addition some collectors prefer to wind their gramophones with the brake off so that the turntable rotates during the winding which, I'm assuming, reduces stress on the spring. To be honest I have never done this nor suffered the consequences of not doing it but I wouldn't disagree with it as it is an an action carried out by a number of collectors with more experience than myself.
3. Always play the record with the needle pointing in the direction the record rotates
Silly but I've seen it done! Occasionally for the benefit of clarity I photograph my machines with the soundbox positioned on the wrong side of the spindle. Records should never be played in this position. As a general rule the soundbox will have its back facing the spindle but there are some exceptions. However the rule that the needle will always point in the direction the record spins is always true.
4. Never turn the turntable by hand
This can damage the spring and can cause the spring to become unhooked from its fixing to the spring case.
5. Always allow the spring to run down at the end of a session.
Don't leave the spring under tension at the end of a playing session. Allow it to run down. I then usually apply the brake and give the gramophone a few turns of the handle to put a little bit of tension back on the spring but I don't think this is absolutely essential.
6 A note about lubrication
Usually there is a diagram that accompanies the machine and is stuck somewhere in the carcass under the motor board. This shows the points to be lubricated with oil and grease. Generally use oil on bearings and grease on gears. Also the brass governor plate requires oiling along with the pad that makes contact with it. DO NOT use 3 in 1 oil for this as over time it will go tacky and cause playback problems. Sewing machine oil should be used.
4. A "bumping" sound on playback
Although winding may be OK listen for a "bumping" sound during playback. This will indicate hardened grease in the spring case which is causing the coils of the spring to release suddenly. Or it maybe a spring case lid that fits too tightly. Whichever, it will require the motor and spring case to be dismantled to rectify. This latter task is not without its physical danger and should only be attempted by those who are mechanically competent.
Do's and Do not's
1. What type of records play on an acoustic gramophone?
Only shellac records that play at 78/80rpm can be played on acoustic gramophones. Later vinyl records eg 45's, lp's, ep's and even vinyl 78rpm records will be damaged if attempts are made to play them. Telling the diffence between vinyl and shellac is easy. Shellac is hard and will will not bend without breaking. Vinyl however will bend and has a softer feel. Although in theory all shellac records will play on acoustic gramophones there are still one or two things to watch. As recording techniques improved, and more information was reflected in the recording, soundbox design had to develop to accommodate the improvements. So an early soundbox would find it difficult to reproduce a later recording as it wouldn't allow for the required movement in the diaphragm caused by the increased information on the record. In addition as the playing weight of later electrical record players decreased so the slate dust used in the manufacturing process of earlier records, pre 1950, to harden the record surface and cut down on the wear caused by the heavy soundboxes, was reduced. This meant later 78's produced in the 1950's would be subject to greater wear when played on an ealier machine. As a rule of thumb approximately match the date of the record with the date of the machine but don't go overboard. It's generally only 1950's records I don't play on my machines, but that's only a general rule....sometimes I do!.....but expect greater wear.
Click thumbnail for larger image