Phono hints and tips

What shall we do with a rusty gramophone horn ?
It all depends on how rusty it is.
If there is only rust on small parts of the surface and if the aspect of the original paint is rather good, you must keep the horn as it is. A few rusty parts, to my mind, give character and authenticity ! Do not try to retouch the rusty parts, as the cure would be worse than the illness ! First clean all that can be cleaned with a non-aggressive product (furniture cleaning spray). But never use any solvents that might attack the paint ! To avoid further corrosion, apply clear liquid wax with a soft brush. Allow it to dry for a couple of hours and shine it with a soft piece of cloth. Just be careful if the original paint has a tendency to flake off ! This wax treatment will restore the brightness of old paint without making it too flashy.
But if the horn is 90 % rusty, the only thing to do will be to strip and scour the whole thing then paint it again. This will mean hard work with a rarely perfect result. One thing you must know : A repainted horn (even if reasonably well done) will be far less valuable than one with its original paint even not in perfect condition.
Brush painting is to be avoided. Better results will be achieved with spray paint. If you have artistic gifts, you can make a subtle gradation with two colours. A pink horn shaded with red edges is typical . First spray the light coloured background. Allow it to dry completely, then spray the edges with the darker colour. The gold stripes, which were made long ago by expert hands are now easily made with a medium size gold felt-tip pen.This is the only way I have found to make straight regular stripes.

What shall we do with a badly cracked and distorted reproducer ?
NOTHING is the answer ! That's what is called " pot metal", a cheap low temperature melting alloy which swells and cracks in a few decades and thus becomes unusable. In fact pot metal reproducers made during the 20ies had a normal life expectancy and were not supposed to survive until now ! So the only thing you can do is find a new reproducer or an old one (provided it is not pot metal either !)

My neighbours are complaining about my gramophone playing too loud: How do I turn the volume down ?
You can use soft tone needles, which are thinner and longer. If you have a hill-and-dale Pathé machine, you can pull out the sapphire rod a little bit. In either case, you can also use a special - 20 dB acoustical attenuator. This highly technical device is easily obtained by inserting an old sock into the gramophone horn !

The machine is playing but the sound is distorted :
Almost certainly, it must be caused by the gaskets of the aluminium or mica diaphragm. As they were made with natural rubber, they have hardened during the years and the diaphragm cannot vibrate as it should do and parasitic vibrations occur. You must remove the hard rubber with a small screwdriver and caution (the diaphragm is very fragile !). Install new gaskets instead (silicone rubber tubing is available in the "shop" section ). Do not use plastic tubing from electrical wire, as this material lacks the necessary resilience.
Another reason for parasitic noise : the small adjustable pivots of the stylus bar are too loose. Adjust the pivot screws with a tiny screwdriver in such a way that the stylus bar can move freely without being loose nor being squeezed.

How do you record on a wax cylinder ?
All cylinder phonographs, in theory, can be used for recording provided they have a feedscrew system allowing to cut a spiral groove. This, of course, excludes Pucks and simple machines with floating reproducers like Pathé 0. The motor must be robust and the belt must not slip. The ideal choice is a good old Edison Standard which meets all the requirements for personal recording. You also need a recorder which is less obvious. If you are lucky enough to have one, the recording stylus will certainly have been lost. You can get a replacement from Expert Stylus Company or you can try to make one with a very thin glass rod that you break in such a way as to have a sharp cutting edge.
The only re-usable cylinders are those made of brown wax (the black ones are too hard to be re-recorded) Take a brown wax cylinder making sure it is not playable (which is the most frequent case) and shave it if you are fortunate enough to possess a cylinder shaving machine ! Otherwise, you will have to erase the grooves with a piece of cloth and turpentine. Do it outside and operate with gloves. The brown wax has hardened and has become very fragile through the years, so do not expect to make recordings sounding as good as in the old days. Nevertheless, if you operate in warm conditions you will get better results. You can safely put the phonograph on a central heating radiator, but NOT in the kitchen oven !
Replace the metal horn by a cardboard cone that you can easily make yourself and speak loud enough into this "microphone". The recording process is a bit messy and will produce wax shavings that might get inside the mechanism. So don't forget to place a sheet of paper on the bedplate of your phonograph. With some luck and practice, you will certainly succeed to record a few cylinders...and impress your friends !

Beware the crapophone !
Lots of fake gramophones made in India are seen these days. They are easily recognised by their shiny brass horn, their equally shiny polished wood cabinet and the inevitable brand plate or decal showing an approximate image of Nipper (His Master's Voice). The mechanism, taken from a cheap portable gramophone, works poorly (when it works at all !) The average price of a crapophone is around 2000 French Francs. A perfect Christmas gift for your mother-in-law ! But if you want a genuine vintage machine with a horn, expect to pay twice that price. Buy it from a specialised dealer who can guarantee the authenticity and the good working condition. That's what I call "sound investment". For more details, go to my "phono" page.

How to clean old records ?
A moistened cloth will do the job most of the time. If the records are very dirty, you can clean them with lukewarm water and a few drops of washing-up liquid. Some records are so badly worn that they will slow down and finally stop the motor. In such cases, you can spray them with some silicone furniture cleaning product (The brand I use is called "Pliz" but similar products exist under other brand names in your country) and wipe the surface with a soft cloth. This light lubrication will allow a perfect rotation. This is only advisable if you are playing records on old gramophone. Never use ANY lubricant if you are playing records on modern equipment ! The very thin diamond would be clogged in a few seconds !

How to clean wax cylinders ?
How cylinders should be handledWax cylinders are one century old and they had not been designed to survive such a long time. Therefore the proportion of audible cylinders is today very small indeed. If they are spotted with white stuff or entirely white, then they are moulded. The groove has been eaten by mould and there is absolutely no cure. If there is just some superficial white dust, eliminate it wit a soft and dry cloth . Never try any liquid on wax cylinders. If you are lucky enough to have shiny black (or brown) cylinders, keep them away from shocks, humidity and temperature changes. Never touch the recorded surface. Handle them with two fingers inside, as shown here.

Playing records at the correct speed :
Old records are not all 78's. Some will play at 80 rpm or 90 rpm, even 120 rpm. Most cylinders rotate at 160 rpm. You can download a nice and tiny software (23 KO only) which will enable you to make and print stroboscopes for any speed. In the case of cylinders, you'll have to make a 160 rpm stroboscope. Make a screen copy and paste it into Paint Shop Pro or similar programme. Reduce its size to a diameter of 4 cm. Print it on adhesive paper and stick it to the end of the mandrel. The black lines of the stroboscope will stabilise at the correct speed, provided that you view it with an electric light powered by alternating current ( 50 Hz in Europe, 60 Hz in North America !)

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Last updated January 5 th 2000
Copyright Jean-Luc Fradet 1997-2000