Until recently, I had not owned a gramophone for thirty years. But the old ‘collecting bug’ will come out of the wall when you least expect it! So about a year ago I obtained one. It was just an ordinary cheap hornless table-top model from the mid or later 1920s. This is it:
It plays OK, and although the sound-box really needs an overhaul, I didn’t bother. Occasionally a 78 was played on it, and everything seemed perfectly all right. This Sterno gramophone was also pressed into use to illustrate the mounting of early electric pick-ups on an acoustic machine, as can be seen on another page of this website. But all of a sudden, another machine was purchased; a later 1920s HMV model 109, a ‘table grand’ (i.e. a table-top with a lid) albeit a German version. So it is an Electrola. This was regarded as a temporary aberration, but soon afterwards, a late 1920s Columbia model 117a suddenly made an appearance. But still: the 109 and the 117a are very common and not really expensive, so it seemed OK to have one of each. Happily, things then quietened down and I thought the craze was over. 9 or 10 months passed quietly – but then disaster struck. I returned home one day with three new machines! The situation was therefore as shown below:
You will note that three of them are ‘hornless table-top’ machines. These are very much the ‘Cinderellas’ of the gramophone world, and no wonder, because they were the budget models of the time, and were almost always ‘made down to a price’. There isn’t space inside them for much of a horn, and often this modest horn doesn’t have a top because the motor is in the way. So the sound that comes from them is not usually very good. Yet for some reason they are my favourite type of gramophone. As a child I had been given a Columbia of this sort, so I suppose that is why? From left to right then, we have the original Sterno; the Electrola 109, and the Columbia 117a. Then follow the three new ones: a Zonophone of circa 1920; an anonymous machine of the mid/late 1920s, and a rather large ‘black portable’ gramophone, also anonymous, but which is unusual in having an electric motor, and so must be plugged into the mains. So in one sense, it shouldn’t really be here, as it is not a spring-driven machine… But ‘improbable hybrids’ are usually fascinating, aren’t they? 8^)
Moreover, it was decided to look these machines over, and do some minor conservation on them. The first three machines had merely been cleaned up a bit, and no mechanical work done on them. The No.4 sound-box of the Electrola 109 desperately needs a new gasket and probably a new diaphragm: the former has shrunk with age and the latter seems suspiciously thin… the sound is weak and ‘whiny’. But we didn’t bother, because the Columbia sounds really good, even though the turntable mat is shredded round the edges. Shabby genteel (I think they call it) is fine with me.
As it had been many years since I tinkered around inside gramophones, it was decided to start on the simplest machine first: the black portable. (Comment added with hindsight: it was actually quite complicated!)
So if you wish to be bored to distraction, read on. How I can possibly have written nearly 5,000 words just on this first machine, I have no idea!
A ‘PORTABLE’ GRAMOPHONE OF UNKOWN MAKE.
The whole point of the old sort of ‘Portable Gramophone’ is of course, that you can take it anywhere with you, and play it without an electricity supply: at the sea-side, on a picnic in the country &c. Indeed, these machines are often described as ‘picnic gramophones’. They were powered by spring-driven motors, which you wound up with a handle, and worked on entirely acoustic (or ‘mechanical’) principles. Our American cousins describe them as ‘hand-crank portable phonographs’, while we usually call them ‘wind-up portable gramophones’. They were made for many decades – roughly the 1910s to the 1960s – and I scarcely need to say any more, because you all know what they are. Millions of them were manufactured, and hundreds of thousands still survive. They have served as the introduction for many of us 78 rpm record fans, when, as kids, we were given one by an aunt or grandparent, along with the ‘old records’ that went with it.
I don’t actually collect gramophones; although there has been an alarming tendency over the last 2 or 3 years to begin doing so. Over the last weekend, I attended the annual ‘get-together’ of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society in Warwick. It is centred on the Annual General Meeting of the Society, which is celebrating its 90th Anniversary in 2009. But for several years now, this event has been extended into a whole residential and very enjoyable weekend of Celebration of the Phonograph and Gramophone, their records, their artistes, and the machines on which they were played. Besides record recitals and talks on various artists, types of record and many other things, one very popular feature of this annual event is an Auction. Members may enter into it unwanted books, records, machines, spare parts, memorabilia &c. Yesterday I won, for quite a nominal sum, the machine you see above. It has the general appearance of an ‘ordinary’ sort of portable gramophone: a wooden case covered in black fabric; a sound box, a tone arm, a receptacle for used needles, &c. And as usual the leather cladding of the carrying handle has disintegrated, leaving just its metal core.
But what arrested my attention is that this machine had an electric motor! So it was really a ‘portable gramophone’ that you could just carry around from room to room in your house, and then plug it into a wall socket so that it would work. As the auctioneer remarked, there just had to be a portable gramophone of this sort, since in most things there is a ‘Fundamental Drive’ to fill every available evolutionary niche. Besides which, when this machine was made, probably in the late 1920s or early 1930s, relatively few households in this country possessed a mains power supply. I believe that in a survey of European countries done around that time period, the United Kingdom rated 13th – equal with Hungary – as to the percentage of dwellings equipped with mains electricity!
But no matter; it is no longer 1930: it is 2009 and we have an electric portable gramophone. Will it work? Well, the first step was to examine the motor to see if it was still in good condition. It is extremely dangerous of course, just to plug in some antique piece of electrical equipment that has possibly lain unused for many years or even decades. After dismantling the thing, and finding it promising inside, it belatedly occurred to me to make a photographic record. This I then did, though it only depicts putting it back together. Still, this is usually harder than taking anything apart, so…
Here are the parts of the motor. It was made by the exalted firm of Garrard, and bears no model number: the base plate merely states that it is the Garrard ‘Electric Motor’ and so must be quite an early venture on their part? Of course, I had cleaned all the components after dismantling them – before that they were rather dowdy. Observe the bright nickel plating on the base plate (centre foreground), which would normally never be seen! So why plate it? Possibly to impress manufacturers of gramophones at Trade Shows, who might then incorporate Garrard motors into their products? I believe that the great Columbia company used Garrard motors in some of their machines, so this emphasis on first-rate engineering and quality appearance must have paid dividends. And the engineering of this motor is truly excellent, as you will see. At bottom right is the main frame of the motor, which we examine next.
The motor is upside down in this shot. One excellent design feature is that the motor can be dismantled for overhaul without having to dismount the governor. The governor is the shaft on the upper right which has the worm gear and the three balls screwed to springs. It is suspended between (phosphor bronze?) bearings bushes that have their holes slightly offset from their centres. This means that you can adjust the degree of ‘mesh’ between the worm gear and the gear on the main drive spindle (which is not present in the picture), for optimum performance. Too close a mesh puts excessive load on the motor, while too little mesh might cause the worm to occasionally skip a tooth on the main gear, which will soon result in catastrophic wear on the worm, main gear, or even both. This governor was perfectly adjusted already, and so was left well alone, apart from cleaning the rather ‘gooky’ oil from the ends and the sliding flange & then re-oiling them.
Here is the motor. You will see from its plate that it runs on either AC or DC and requires 40 to 50 volts. If the voltage is AC, the frequency may be between 25 and 60 Hz, or ‘Cycles per Second’, as they were known at the time. Actually, ‘Cycles per Second’, or ‘cps’ is an absolute measure (unlike Volts, Amps, Ohms, Watts, Farads, Henrys &c.) and so did not really need to be named after a physicist, however distinguished: but the term Hertz came into use for this quite a long time ago, presumably in Germany, and has since been adopted universally. A mile is a fixed distance, and an hour is a fixed period of time; so it would be curious if ‘Miles per hour’ were to be termed say ‘Stirlings’, after Sir Stirling Moss. But we’re stuck with Hertz, and I admit I am quibbling here, if not actually baying at the moon. 8^) But more to the point: observe the thick paint or enamel of the top section of this motor! Marvel at the luxuriant nickel plating of the lower housing – which shows up better in later shots. This is no doubt a quality product. The large lug on the left is for the flexible suspension of the motor.
Here are the few remaining components, which we will now quickly put back together. Incidentally, this motor must have first been assembled by a man (or a woman of course) called S…… because they had written their name in pencil on the (unplated) top of the base plate. I now wish I had written it down, because it wore away during the cleaning process, and I can’t exactly remember it… it would be agreeable to preserve their name for posterity. About 35 years ago I opened up a very early Grundig tape recorder, a 500-L or a 700-L, I forget which, and found the name Glöckner inscribed under the top plate, and so record that totally irrelevant fact here. Still, it is rather disquieting that I can remember the name of a person who assembled a tape recorder 35 years afterwards after I saw it, but not that of the person who built up this motor and which I read only a few hours ago! Memo: Can this be the onset of some sort of chronic mental decline? Whoever they were, they certainly did a superb job is setting up the governor.
The first assembly to be replaced is that which controls the tension of the belt. As you see, it consists of a pivoted L-shaped arm, with a round rubber buffer at the far end. This bears on a projection on the top housing of the motor. The other end, via a spring, connects with a threaded rod. A nut on the far side of the lug which is part of the main bearing boss allows the tension of the belt to be adjusted. The required tension turned out to be very low.
Next, the main shaft is inserted. This meshes with the worm. It is of course driven from the top pulley, which is underneath the turntable, and so rotates the governor assembly. Note the ball bearing embedded in the bottom of the shaft. This rests in the housing which can be seen in the bottom plate of the motor in the next shot.
The bottom plate is now replaced. The assembly seen at the upper left of this image is the lever which limits the travel of the sliding flange of the governor. The screw and lock-nut at its upper extremity engages with a lever on the top plate of the record deck (which you haven’t seen yet); and this has a lever for controlling the speed of rotation. It does this by adjusting the spring-loaded arm, which terminates at its lower end, with a felt pad which limits the travel of the governor flange. It is important to keep this pad flexible and oiled, so that the least possible friction occurs between it, and the governor flange.
Before re-attaching the motor to the main assembly, we checked out the bearings. The bottom one was the easiest to get at, so we carefully unscrewed the three screws that held it in place. Previous experience prepared us for the fall of many tiny ball bearings! However, the bearing proved to be rather simple. It was a plain bearing, with one ball at the bottom of the shaft resting on a small phosphor bronze disc. A felt pad, seen here, was obviously meant to be soaked in grease or some similar lubricant – but no vestige of it remained…
So we simply removed the felt pad, cleaned up the bearing, and replaced the pad, well soaking it in oil – which would do ‘for the time being’. We have a very short attention span, and any project which occupies more than a few hours tends to get abandoned, I’m sorry to say! We could not do the same for the top bearing, which presumably was the same, as the grub screw in the pulley was reluctant to turn more than half a revolution even after being soaked in oil for a couple of hours. So we contended ourselves with dribbling oil into it, which was eagerly taken up; eventually a thin film of oil came out of the bottom of the bearing housing. Honour thus being satisfied, we concluded that both motor bearings were sufficiently lubricated. We did not remove the brushes from the motor in order to tinker with them: we assumed they were probably OK, which proved to be the case.
The motor was now attached to its vertical shaft. There are three spacing washers at the top of it. Then there is the suspension lug which is part of the upper motor casing. The ‘bearings’ in this lug are two flanged bushes, probably of ebonite, inserted at each end of the motor lug. No attempt was made to remove these in order to clean them. It was suspected they might break while being extracted, so they were cleaned in situ. Below the motor lug can be seen a large nickel plated bush. These three components are mounted on a removable shaft which is held in place by a clip secured by a screw, as seen below.
In this shot, the whole device has been turned upside down. Below the knurled end of the motor mounting shaft, a groove has been machined, and the clip, secured by the screw, engages in this groove. This excellent design feature means that the motor – should it require replacement – can easily be detached from the main assembly. Also of course, it allows the motor lateral movement to allow for any stiffness or irregularity in the belt.
It’s now time to connect up the motor to the power supply. These shots were made during trials before final assembly. The bakelite moulding you see here was originally a switch, operated by a lever on the motor board (which you haven’t seen yet!) I decided not to use this switch, as the contact points on it were very corroded and really not acceptable today. The forked brass strip and the screw to its left constituted the switch. However, the bakelite moulding still served admirably as a ‘connecting block’, and I had no hesitation in using it as such.
Here then, is the now-redundant switch in use as a connecting block. The bakelite screw terminals cover up all the bare metal, so the thing is really not very dangerous at all. The wires of this venerable piece of equipment were in very good condition even after nearly 80 years, so did not need replacing. The wires from the motor are self-evident; but what about the ‘Power Supply Unit’ of this device? What was it, and what shape was it in? Was it even usable at all?
This is the outer panel of the ‘Power Supply’. There are two ‘selector screws’. The one on the left has three positions. 1. DC; 2. AC 25 Cycles; 3. AC 50 Cycles. The one on the right selects the Voltage: 100, 110, 120, 200, 210, 220, 230, 240, 250. The two metal pins with slits are the terminals through which the power enters. But what does this bewildering range of Direct Current, Alternating Current at 25 Cycles and 50 Cycles mean? There isn’t space here to go into it in any detail. Briefly, nowadays we are used to our electricity supply being 240 Volts AC at 50 Hz. And this is the case virtually everywhere in the UK. But 80 years ago it wasn’t! Apart from the fact that many homes had no mains electricity at all as already remarked, those who were fortunate enough to have it, had it in ‘in all shapes and sizes’. One area might have 110 Volts DC; another might have 210 Volts DC; another may have had 200 Volts AC at 25 Cycles (Hertz), while yet another had 220 Volts AC at 50 Hz. There was – as yet – no nationwide electricity supply; it was all generated more or less locally, and so there was no standard. And above all, companies that wanted to manufacture electrical equipment to sell to the widest possible market, were compelled to make stuff that would work on all these disparate systems. Garrard were no exception, and accordingly designed this Power Supply. These were known as ‘Universal’ power units.
This is the back of that bakelite panel in the previous shot. It’s protected by an aluminium guard, because there were dangerous voltages inside. Also, it is heavily perforated to allow the heat to escape, because getting 110 volts DC – let alone 240 volts AC – down to the 50 or so volts the motor needed, was a wasteful process that involved the generation of much heat. Let’s look inside this thing…
Egad! We have er… seven layers of sheet mica insulation, over which are wound varying lengths of resistance wire. According to which screw is in which hole in the front panel, the right amount of resistance is brought into circuit to give the right voltage to drive that lovely little motor we’ve been raving about. The white straight things you see are the opposite of modern flexible insulation. They are small rigid ceramic tubes, threaded over the bare wires to insulate them from each other. One might almost call this a ‘Frankenstein’ sort of contrivance! On no account are unqualified people to meddle or tamper with this sort of ancient device. I almost never get ‘uppity’ on my website, but I am going to do so now, for safety’s sake. I have held an Amateur Radio Licence for the best part of 30 years, and this qualifies me to design, construct, adjust and operate radio transmitters on a very wide range of frequencies, using power up to several hundred watts. Such power may involve the use of 1500 volts or even more. Voltages of this magnitude are extremely dangerous. Indeed, even the 240 volts of our domestic mains supply can kill you at the drop of a hat – so do me a favour, and don’t get involved with it, OK? >8^( Nothing like the above ‘mains dropping’ set-up would be allowed in domestic equipment today; and I actually agree with that! Still, it does work, and so…
Here is the motor, fully re-assembled and raring to go. It must surely be one of the earliest belt-drive turntables? The belt, by the way, is a woven, canvas-like material, and the maker’s name – Tilton – is stamped on it.
It is now reunited with its ‘motor board’. The ‘Start – Stop’ feature has been disabled by us as you will recall, because of arcing on the switch contacts; but the speed control at the right is still operative. Its standard central setting is 80 rpm rather than 78; this suggests that he whole shebang was dedicated to Columbia, who retained their ‘Speed 80’ until late 1927 or even early 1928 (it’s late now & I can’t be bothered to look it up).
The unit is now restored to its case. The ‘power supply’ mounts on the inside of a rectangular hole on the rear right of the case, but I haven’t got around to fixing it there yet, so it still stands separate at this time.
Finally, the machine actually works! It’s seen here playing a red Parlophone by the Parlophone Syncopators, a.k.a. the OKeh Syncopators directed by Harry Reser. Who actually made this machine is unknown. It’s quite big for a ‘black portable’; but then it would have to be, in order to accommodate a 12” turntable. There can’t be many portable gramophones with 12” turntables to start with; and far less still, those which were perversely equipped with electric motors, even if they were capable of running off practically anything between 100 volts DC and 250 volts AC. The mind boggles; but strange gramophones keep on coming out of the wall… thank heavens!
After I had written the above it was 3:00 a.m! There still remained some things to do, so we had another go at it a few days later.
To clean up the cabinet was next, so out came the motor. We disconnected the lid stay. The lid hinge was dowdy & the screws were rusty, but we left that alone. The sound-box is rather interesting; more on that later.
Removing the tone arm & the actual motor board revealed the horn. The round tube that fits – a bit loosely, actually – into the base of the tone arm becomes of square section when it gets inside the horn mouth. It then curves round with the same width, while its height gradually increases. The sound is released & travels back through the outer horn. What compromise – if any – has been made in order to fit the horn into the available space I don’t know, and freely admit I know nothing of acoustic horn systems.
Oddly, there are no less than seventeen holes, or incipient holes, that secure the tone arm base onto the motor board! It is difficult to understand why this should be, as the tone arm has no stop – it can rotate 360° in its base. In other words, the three holes required can be anywhere. One at the front and two at the back would be the obvious way forward, not seventeen. 8^)
Here is the underside of the tone arm base. It is threaded, and it is presumed that the outlet is in the form of a flange which screws in. No attempt was made to dismantle it; it already rotated fairly freely, and oiling it from the top made it freer still.
At first we were puzzled by two holes underneath the back section of the tone arm. They were tapped, presumably 4 BA. It then dawned on us that they were the attachment for an arm that would operate the auto-stop mechanism, which had been removed for some reason.
In order to fit the mains dropping device, it was necessary to remove the horn, which was fixed in the corner of the box by four screws. On the side of the box, the above pencil inscription was revealed. S12 8? Or is the ‘S’ a monogram?
Now reassembly could begin. The mains dropper unit was fixed in place using, I reluctantly admit, modern ¾″ chipboard screws. These are too long; so washers were improvised from plastic IKEA nail-on feet, sorry! (Out of sight, out of mind…) Then the horn could be replaced.
The bakelite moulding (which was the switch, but is now simply used as a connecting block) was replaced. It is secured by two short 4BA bolts from the other side. Incidentally, either when the thing was first assembled, or more likely later when it was being worked on, one of the two wires from the motor had been trapped between the motor and the base plate. The top wire is supposed to be above the base plate, and the lower wire below it, as you see here. As found, both were either below it or above it – I forget which – and so the insulation of one wire had been badly pinched. I think this push-on insulation was called ‘systoflex’; but in any event, it had not worn through, a tribute to its durability!
So: the ‘motor board’… no, that can’t be right! The motor board is the wooden one, right? So what shall we call this metal thing? Ah – I have it: the motor chassis, of course! This is now ready for screwing down. At this point, it’s worth mentioning the auto-stop mechanism. I did not dismantle & clean it, since we’re not using the electric switch. However, the mechanism works perfectly in any case. You ‘prime’ the mechanism with the lever at the left. When the sound-box traverses the run-off groove, the (missing) actuator on the underside of the tone arm pushes against the bush ‘S’. It only needs to travel ⅛″ and the brake mechanism trips. Excellent stuff! There is also an interesting linkage ‘L’, which I have temporarily installed upside down for this shot. This is a strip of metal with a spring clip at each end to hold it in place over two short bushes. The bushes are part of the shorter arms. To remove the linkage, you just prise up the clip with a screwdriver and it disengages & can be swung out of the way. This makes it easier to change the belt on this machine; or perhaps Garrard were in the habit of using such linkages anyway? In any case, it is an elegant system.
Here is the adjustment panel of the mains dropper unit in its proper place.
…and here is the machine merrily playing a record. Mind you, I don’t want to pretend that the whole thing works properly – not a bit of it! When you first switch it on – or rather plug it in, because there is no switch! – the motor is rather reluctant to start, so you have to give it a few helping pushes. Then it needs to ‘warm up’, so you leave it running for a few minutes. After all, when you’re nearly 80 years old, anybody needs to warm up, correct? But when it is warmed up, I’m happy to tell you that the 80 rpm setting on the speed control is indeed almost exactly 80 rpm to this day. True, when you play a record, it drops to 79 rpm, but what’s a single rpm between friends? 8^) By the way, there is a record-carrying flap in the lid of the machine, to be clearly seen in this shot. It is made out of stained & polished wood, but curiously, is concave & so is thinner at the bottom than at the top – not a terribly good idea? Notice also that the left-hand retaining hook is bent. I took pliers and straightened it several days ago – but it’s bent again! More on this below…
As we said, the anonymous sound-box is of some interest, though whether it belongs to the tone arm is unknown. The stylus bar suspension seems to be a piece of spring steel fastened to the very substantial gasket-securing ring by the upper pair of bolts. The stylus bar is connected to this spring suspension by the lower pair of bolts. Unfortunately the rear connecting tube (pot metal) is broken, and the sound box was fixed in place with plastic tape when we acquired the machine. This is not a problem at all, as one might easily hazard £5 on a slightly damaged sound-box of commendable design, even were it not attached to a rather interesting gramophone that was ‘thrown in’ with it for the fiver!
There is another problem with the design of this machine, namely the geometry of the arm and turntable, as you can plainly see above. Generally speaking, we want our needle (and indeed our stylus on modern machines) to come about half an inch in front of the turntable spindle. This arm, alas, comes nearly an inch behind it. This is not so good; but overall, it remains a very interesting machine! Lastly (for the time being)…
…you will see that the gap between the turntable and its chassis is quite big – about ⅝″. This is, of course, because the turntable has risen up over the years, the rubber suspension bushes having perished & so become thin. It is also the reason that the left-hand lid-tray retaining hook bent again after I had straightened it – it’s fouling the turntable when you close the lid. Also, there is some perceptible noise while the motor is running.
The answer to this is a visit to B&Q to buy some tap-washers, to replace these bushes. Also, it would be rather interesting to do some electrical measurements. Possibly the reluctance of the motor to start is due to insufficient voltage? Some of those resistances wound on the mica strips you saw long ago got overheated some time in the past, and their resistance has increased? I don’t know much about resistance wire, but ordinary carbon resistors, if overheated, usually increase in value. So we will need to measure the voltage at the motor terminals, to see if it really is between 40 & 50 volts. Also, measuring the current will be useful. As you know, Amps x Volts = Watts, so that will tell us the power consumed by the motor, while it’s playing a record of course. Also, the input power from the mains would be useful, because we can then calculate the efficiency of the system. We predict that it will be low, because as was pointed out, much power is wasted as heat to get 240 volts down to 40 or 50. When the gramophone was reassembled, it was left to run for an hour or so. We wanted to find out how hot it would get. The rear right of the motor board, which is directly above the mains dropper assembly did get quite warm, or even mildly hot; but I don’t think there would be much chance of this machine transforming itself into a sort of Flame-Phone * …
* The Flame-Phone was a gramophone, from the 1920s I think, in which the output from the sound-box was used to modulate an array of gas flames, and so produce amplification of the sound. You might think I’m joking, but I’m not; there really was such a machine. It is obviously very obscure as I cannot find it on Google; but just because it isn’t on Google doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist, honest!
A 1920 ZONOPHONE ‘HORNLESS’ GRAMOPHONE.
This Zonophone definitely dates from 1919/20, because we came across a reproduction of an advert. for the 1919/20 range of Zonophone machines; this consisted of only 4 models. Ours is called the ‘Model 2’. It has a 12″ turntable and a double spring motor. The ‘Model 1’ predictably, had a 10″ turntable and a single spring motor. (Models 3 & 4 were horn versions of Models 1 and 2. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that that Models 1 & 2 were hornless versions of 3 & 4?) In any event, the horn versions would fetch a very great deal more money these days, than the hornless ones! By the way, I lifted the illustration from the late Ernie Bayly’s ‘The Talking Machine Review International’ No. 20-21, Feb.-Apr. 1973. Here it is:
Right: the machine looked OK; what did it play like? Well, not so good. Apart from a slight buzzing from the sound-box, which can easily be cured, it was at once obvious that the springs were gummed up. A machine with a 12″ turntable and a double-spring motor was clearly intended to play two 12″ discs with one winding. The turntable, without load, would rotate for nearly 10 – 11 minutes on one winding, which indicated (I think) that the two springs were, fundamentally, in good shape.
However, the graphite grease, which was the long-term lubricant with which the springs were packed in 1919/20, had long since hardened into a tenacious ‘gook’ which had become the opposite of a lubricant. It was now more of a retardant! As the springs tried to unwind, their spiral turns were held together by the now semi-petrified sticky ‘gook’. So the record being played slowed down. Every so often there would occur a ‘thump’ as the spring turns suddenly released from each other & took up a new position. This is a well-known fault with old wind-up gramophones and need cause no concern, except you must not ignore it: otherwise it will get worse and eventually a gigantic ‘thump’ will strip a gear or something worse. To rectify it, all we need to do is to take out the springs from their drums, thoroughly clean them of their old-fashioned & petrified lubricant, and replace it by a modern equivalent. (After having complacently written this paragraph a month ago, you may be amused to learn that – as yet – I have not managed to get the springs out of their drums! 25-10-09.)
First the motor board is removed. It is held on by 9 screws, 3 on each side & 3 at the back. You will see that the ‘internal acoustic system’ is exceedingly simple; one might say primitive. There is no top to the horn; this is furnished by the bottom of the motor board; and the motor is actually inside the horn.
Here is the underside of the motor board with its double-spring motor. The arm that goes through the hole connects with the speed control lever on the upper side.
Here is a close-up of the main shaft. The winding handle screws into the shaft, and a ratchet & pawl prevent the shaft from rotating backwards. Note also the grub screw in the sleeve on the shaft. This holds the whole mechanism together, as it were. Before removing it, it is essential that the motor is completely run down. Even if the turntable has stopped rotating, there will still be some residual tension in the springs, which you will feel if you try to rotate a spring drum: it will take up a little backlash, then when released, will move back. You must spin the governor a little at a time until both springs are completely slack. But do not overdo this, as you may then disconnect the centre of a spring from its anchorage. Actually, to my great annoyance, I did do this myself! Fortunately, careful twiddling, accompanied by prayers to certain obscure & dubious spirits, Minor Godlings &c., fortuitously enabled the re-attachment of the spring.
Here is a close-up of the main ‘works’. The power comes from the gear A, which is on one side of the second spring drum. This drives the worm gear B, which is on the main spindle – the turntable fits over the end of this; the motor is of course upside down in this shot. The gear C is also mounted on the shaft, and drives the governor through the worm gear D, which is not plain to see here, sorry. E is the felt pad which limits the travel of the movable end disc of the governor. Obviously, as the governor spins faster and faster, the three balls move outwards, pulling the end disc down the spindle of the governor. But the disc can only go as far as the stop E. This pad must of course be kept well oiled to stop undue friction.
The motor is now dismantled. There are, commendably, very few parts! As we observed in the page on the Garrard motor, you could strip the motor down for cleaning & oiling without dismounting the governor, the adjustment of which is very delicate. This is also the case with this motor, and indeed with the other two motors that will appear later in this interminably boring series: you have been warned! 8^) So we may conclude that a properly designed motor will always have this feature. We did not dismount the main shaft either, as there was no need. We just wanted to clean and lubricate everything. It goes without saying that the two spring drums work in opposition to each other, and are connected by a pair of central lugs on one drum, which engage in corresponding slots on the other drum.
This has now been done, and here is the motor frame ready for reassembly. Another reason for not taking the main shaft out was if we did, we would have to take off the brass gear which drives the governor worm, and this is part of the governor set-up, which we don’t want to disturb, as it was running fine already.
There was a huge dollop of graphite/grease mixture between the two spring drums. We scraped it off and as you can see, after 90 years it had become quite solid, and the same would apply to the grease inside the drum. This is the point at which we should have opened the drums and (very carefully indeed) taken out the springs for a thorough cleaning. However, in spite of being instructed in the proper way of removing the closure plates by an expert on gramophone conservation and restoration, we could not loosen them. Oh, thirty years ago I would just hammer in a screwdriver and lever the disc out! But now, being older and more ‘careful’, I wanted to do it properly… Also, another word of warning, for heaven’s sake, don’t just pull a gramophone spring out of its housing – it will fly around and be very dangerous. People have been blinded and/or literally had their throats cut doing that in the past. This drum is about what, four inches in diameter? The uncoiled spring inside may well be four times that size, and is itching to instantly expand! Leave it alone, OK?
Here are the two cleaned spring drums, face-plate side up. The idea is, you have a rubber or leather mallet, and hit the other side repeatedly. This makes the spring bang against the face-plate (or whatever it’s called) and it gradually comes loose. Anyhow, I got a rubber mallet and bashed the lower right spring for about 10 minutes and nothing happened. I didn’t bash the upper left spring, because you can see it has the main gear fastened to it, and if you bent that, that would be curtains. So instead we took the wimp’s way out, and ran WD40 and 3-in-1 oil copiously into the drums, and hoped that would somehow loosen, or re-dissolve the sticky graphite grease inside. People used to soak the spring drums in petrol for a couple of days, which would probably do the same thing, but I don’t have the patience for that, sorry! Anyhow, our stratagem worked pretty well…
Here is the reassembled motor, looking very dry to be sure; but the spring drums were already well loaded inside with oil, and after lubricating all the other moving parts, the machine was put back together. One last important thing had to be done.
The sound-box was original, but the rubber gasket tubing had gone hard/perished/shrunk, so the diaphragm wasn’t held properly & the sound was thin & ‘whiny’. My expert & generous friend referred to above kindly sent me a long length of new tubing, hence the nice white pliable gasket rubber you see above. There is of course another piece of tubing behind the diaphragm. The box looks a little ‘tatty’ to be sure, but it works OK. And the machine itself, after completely cycling the springs 20 or 30 times over a few days, will now cheerfully play two 12" records at one winding, and even three 10" sides if the third one is not too loud!
So there you have it. If only you could hear it playing… Aha! Well, you can… I have never uploaded anything to YouTube before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? It’s very boring, but it’s just a first attempt. I think what you have to do, is video the disc playing, in order to get the acoustic sound track. Then, you strip out that sound track as a .wav file. You then make that .wav file the sound track for a series of shots taken at different angles, of the machine playing. Then of course you would have to ensure that the needle travels logically across the disc in the various separate shots. I think they call that ‘continuity’… h’mm… fascinating. Ye-e-e-s. Oh dear; perhaps a new ‘craze’ is taking me over! Help!
Well, I’ve done it. The original upload of yesterday, which was primitive in the extreme, has been deleted, though not before it attracted a positive observation from somebody! It has been replaced by a slightly more sophisticated version. If you click the link below, you can see this machine in action.
A ‘hornless’ Table Gramophone, c. 1925-1926?
This machine was acquired quite cheaply a few weeks ago. It is quite anonymous, having no transfer or any sign of any maker’s or dealer’s plaque. It is a curious thing, to me at least, that while many people will pay quite large sums for red, grey, green or blue &c. HMV Model 101 and 102 portable gramophones (and sometimes even for the usual black ones), they will totally ignore anonymous machines like this which I find equally interesting. Certainly, a machine like this is far more scarce than a 101 or 102. I have seen scores, hundreds even, of 101s & 102s, but never a table-top quite like this. (Of course, it doesn’t sound anywhere as near as good as a 101 or 102 – I dare say that has a lot to do with it! 8^)
Here is the front view. There are no doors, louvres or slats. The wooden horn proceeds, dispassionately, back into the box. By the way, did you know that the doors to be found on many 1920s gramophones were a U.S. Victor Company patent? Still, you will find that there are lots of 1920s British gramophones with doors. That is because Victor – for whatever reason – did not enforce their patent in the U.K. But they did so in the U.S.A… at least until the patent expired, whenever that was. Anyhow, that does not affect our nice little gramophone here in any way. What’s inside its box?
Having removed the motor board, the answer is, a small wooden horn of rectangular section. It is a closed horn, unlike that in the 1919/20 Zonophone illustrated above. This is because the Zonophone had a deep motor that required a lot of space under the motor board. The motor of this machine is quite small, so it could fit in the hollow in the middle of the horn. What is the motor like?
Here is the motor as first removed. The white discs are the rubber suspension washers that help absorb any mechanical vibration that might be transmitted to the motor board. They are quite perished & hardened; indeed the upper one at the left rear has broken in two. This is not a problem: a selection of rubber tap-washers, obtainable very cheaply from a DIY supermarket, will serve as replacements, although something a bit softer would be better.
The motor from the side. We apologise for the fact that some of these photos. have been taken in natural light, and some with flash. The darker evenings were creeping in! From the right comes the winding shaft, which turns the big spiral gear on the upper left. This engages on a large disc gear on top of the spring drum. The coil spring in the upper centre of the photo. prevents the winding shaft ‘going the wrong way’ and allowing the spring to unwind back through the handle. This was a delightful invention, so simple and efficient in its action. (In the previous, earlier, Zonophone motor we illustrated, there was a ratchet and pawl mechanism, which worked perfectly well, but was much more tedious & expensive to manufacture.) The disc gear on the bottom of the spring drum drives the intermediate shaft, which has a small gear and a larger one at its lower end. The larger of these drives the main shaft – that’s the vertical shaft on the right. It has a small gear at the bottom; a striking red gear a third of the way up, and the top end of the shaft goes up through the motor frame. Of course, the turntable sits on the top of this. What does the red-coloured gear do?
It drives the governor. That is the little shaft with the three brass weights mounted on the blue steel springs. Like all well-designed motors, as we have learned while looking inside these old gramophones, you can take the motor apart for servicing without removing the governor.
The bottom plate has been removed, and the motor is now seen from the underside. With one exception, it is in excellent condition, and apart from a little light cleaning and re-lubrication, nothing else had to be done.
The motor frame was cleaned up a little. The flat arm at the upper left is the speed control. A vertical screw on the motor board adjusts the position of the felt pad which limits the travel of the governor disc.
This is the spring drum. Normally, we should open it and (very carefully and slowly) remove the spring inside, cleaning it of the old stiffened graphite grease that has been inside it for 80-odd years. But to do this we have to hammer the drum with a rubber hammer; and in view of the fact that both sides of this drum have gears, we did not do so, for fear of bending them. True, it would be unlikely that we would bend the one on top; as you can see, it is very thick. The lower one is actually cut into a turned-out flange on the drum itself. This is the open end of the drum, so we would not hammer that end… In the event, we left it all alone, and forced some oil into the bottom, hoping that this would soften up the grease inside, which worked OK.
This is the main shaft. The red angle-cut gear that drives the governor is not metal, but made from some hard pressed-fibre like material. Oddly enough, while being of a ‘vulnerable’ material, it is in perfect condition. But alas the small gear at the bottom of the shaft is not in good condition at all!
In fact, its condition is quite deplorable, as you can easily see! It’s terribly worn. This is a shame, because everything else in the motor is very good, as is equally apparent. Oh, the motor still works fine. But… it is this gear that, pretty soon, will fail, and as soon as the big gear driving it starts ‘jumping its teeth’, it will simply be wrecked. So, we just have to enjoy this little gramophone for whatever life-span is left to it. So we carefully put it back together. We ought also to mention the sound-box, which is of the ‘continental fitting’ (see below). As usual, the rubber gaskets were perished, and so were replaced with new fresh rubber kindly supplied by a generous friend.
It is not possible to know whether this was the original sound-box. It is certainly a plausible one, and that being the case, the issue is of no consequence. It says: ‘Will play any needle-cut record’. This would tend to indicate a rather earlier date; by the mid 1920s only Pathé were selling phono-cut discs in the U.K., and they soon ceased. Edison Diamond Discs were of course phono-cut, but that is a separate issue of no relevance here.
Lastly, one feature of this gramophone I particularly like, is that the brass screws which hold down the motor board rest in little brass cup washers. This is a delightful feature, not found on many more expensive machines. So: who made this gramophone, and when? We will probably never know. The style of turntable brake and vertical screw speed adjustment speak to me (in my modest knowledge) of the mid-to-late 1920s. There were many gramophone shops who imported ‘metalwork kits’ into the U.K., from Germany, Switzerland or Austria &c., and got the wooden boxes made up locally. Quite often, they had water-slide transfers made, and applied them to the side (or top) of the wooden box. The names given to them were endless and usually romantic and fanciful: ‘The Supreme’; ‘The Nonpareil’; ‘The Tone-Master’; ‘The Euphonic’; ‘The Silvertone’ - &c. Actually, I’ve just made all those up, so you see how easy it is! But nobody bothered to have a water-slide transfer made for this gramophone, so it will almost certainly remain for ever, just…. ‘The Unknown’. If you would like to see it in action, click the link below to a short video on YouTube:
Page combined with sub-pages & reformatted, 19th December 2015.