Fixing Up a Junk 65 Year Old Record Player

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I like fixing up old stuff. I ride a 1929 bicycle that I brought back from death. My lawnmower is from the 20s and was equally dead. I have a 1929 gramophone I restored from almost dead. I decided it was time to be able to play my vinyl on another Lazarus job.

I got a very old very knackered record player from eBay for £10. This was a bit foolhardy as I know NOTHING about electronics. I don't even know if valves are electronics.

The record player worked, kinda. The mechanism all ran, but the sound was crackly as hell, it only played mono records (pre 1958) and the box was in a shocking state. This was good due, as I highlighted above, to the fact thatI know NOTHING about electronics. It kinda worked, I just had to improve it. Good.

It's a 1953 Pye Black Box. This was the best record player in Britain in it's day. It is mono, but that is because it predates stereo records by 5 years. Never mind, I think stereo is a bit of a gimmick anyway. And a new stereo cartridge in, wired correctly, means that it can play stereo records back in mono.

After fixing it all up it looks fantastic and sounds great. At the end of this instructable is a video of it in action. Obviously you are losing a lot in the video shot on my phone, but it sounds terrific in real life.

Anyway, let's get on to how I did it. I will say, right off the bat that mine was working, so this does not cover any electronic repairs, just the fixing up of the box and the wiring in of the new cartridge.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Old record player.

Suitable replacement cartridge

'Headshell quad wires' (to enable the stereo cartridge to work with the mono record player).

Paintstripper

Sandpaper 240 up to 600

Danish oil

Brushes

Lint free cloth

Contact cleaner spray

Soldering iron

Solder

Heat shrink tubing

Step 2: Strip It Down

In order to work on the box, remove all the parts.

As I know NOTHING about electronics (I think we've established that) I removed the deck, the electronics and the speakers and kept them all attached to each other. This is because I don't even know how to disconnect them or, more importantly, reconnect them. I've only done very limited soldering and that was for jewellery.

Very carefully remove any badges.

Right, we now have the empty box...

Step 3: Strip It Down...

The box was in a shocking state. It is veneered, so I didn't want to go wild with sanders or heat guns so started with chemical paint stripper. Luckily it responded very well.

The first coat removed most of the varnish and a couple of subsequent applications in the difficult areas removed the rest.

Follow the instructions on your paint stripper. Mine required sponging down with water afterwards to deactivate the acid.

I did not do the inside of the box as that had not tarnished with age. I also left the back of the box mainly because I am an incredible slacker.

Step 4: Blister in the Sun

The paint stripper did an incredible job. Sadly it and the spooned on water also caused a huge blister in the veneer that I thought would destroy the project.

To cure the blister I slit it with a razor blade then used a pin to scrape out all the gunk until it was as clean as I could get it. Then I pushed in wood glue until it was as full as I could manage. I then pressed it closed and wiped away the excess. I covered it with some parchment paper (actually a jam making piece) as a non stick barrier then clamped it overnight.

The next day I removed the clamp and everything was rosy in the garden.

Step 5: Danish

I lightly sanded the box using 240 grit, then 300 until it had a nice even finish. Then I dusted it down and wiped it with white spirit (mineral spirit).

Then I applied Danish oil. There are lots of ways to do this, but here's what I did:

Applied evenly with a brush, waited for 5 mins then wiped off with a lint free cloth. An old Tshirt actually.

I gave it 4 more coats as it appeared to need it as it a bit patchy until the last coat. I allowed a day between each coat.

On subsequent coats I applied with a brush then gave a very light sanding with 400 grit using the Danish oil as lubricant, then wiped off as before.

Once you're happy with the look you have several choices. You could wax it. You could varnish it. You could leave it. I left it. I like the look and it will be super easy to add another coat of Danish oil at any point .

Step 6: Badge

I had very carefully, VERY carefully eased out the 'Hi-Fi' badge earlier. I lightly sanded it then painted it with some good quality gold paint. I did 3 coats. When dry I carefully clipped it back in place.

Step 7: Eye to Eye, CONTACT

Spray all the electronic contacts, but particularly the potentiometers, with a good old dose of a good quality contact cleaning spray. This stopped all the crackle when I adjusted the volume and tone.

Step 8: Grease Her Up

Lightly oil those parts that look like they need oil and grease those parts that look like they need greasing. That's a pretty good motto for life.

Do not spray WD40 all over the place or oil everything in sight. If everything is working nicely, then it is better to leave it be than risk putting oil where it is not wanted.

Step 9: Change the Cartridge

Chances are, if it is a very old record player it will need the cartridge as well as stylus changing.

How the hell do I know what cartridge to get? Well thankfully there are some incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly helpful people online.

I went to a forum called 'UK Vintage radio repair and restoration'. They are ace! I told them the name of the record player and the name of the cartridge in it (photos are helpful) and within a couple of hours I had people telling me what cartridge to get, where to get it, how to wire it up to convert stereo to mono, and where I'd gone wrong with my first girlfriend. No, even they're not that good.

Once I had my correct stereo cartridge I removed the old mono cartridge and cut off the tags that connect the wires in the arm to the pins in the cartridge. I then stripped these back slightly.

Each of these wires now needs to be connected to TWO wires with connectors for the new stereo cartridge. these are the 'Headshell Quad Wires'.

Cut the HQWs to a suitable length and and leave some bare cable at one end, connectors at the other. Now you need to twist 2 of these together, put a heat shrink tube on the cable ready, then twist these to one of the old arm cables.

Hold this connection steady and solder them. I do not have a picture of this as I was too busy swearing. It was VERY fiddly due to the teeny tiny original wire. I've recreated it with a bit of speaker cable acting as a stunt double. In essence, heat up the join from beneath with your soldering iron. Once it's suitably hot, touch the solder to the wire and it will be sucked on. There are plenty of videos online on how to do this. I copied them. It worked.

Once happy with your soldering pull the heat shrink tube over the join, heat it and shrink it. I used a shrouded head on my heat gun so as not to melt the paint on the pickup arm.

Connect the connectors to the pins on the cartridge. In my case, the 2 new wires from the black wire went to the 2 negative pins, the other 2 to the positive.

Check that it's all working before you put it back inside the case. Use an old record you don't care about.

Step 10: Groove

Once you're happy, put everything back in it's place.

Play some good records. Do some good moves.

Congratulate yourself on having an antique record player with better sound quality than most modern Bluetooth speakers.

If that's not trash to treasure I don't know what is.

Trash to Treasure

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