Educating you so you don’t educate yourself

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teenage rebellion

An alarming report from the underground.

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(“Born to Add” by Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band)

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(“Me Going to Munch You, Munch You, Munch You” by Cookie Monster & the Crumbs Unlimited Orchestra)

Folks come in fairly often looking for a “cheap turntable.” Of course, unless you hit on an awesome thrift store or garage sale find, this isn’t really something which exists anymore. We remember the days when box stores like Best Buy sold a fairly decent Technics or Sony, but that’s nearly as distant as the time Tom Petty fought with MCA Records when they wanted to raise the retail price of Hard Promises to $9.98. A good turntable just isn’t cheap anymore and given their popularity, not on the shelves for long.

Historically, Gen Xers like ourselves acquired turntables without much effort. Our parents’ friends often gave us theirs, since it hadn’t been used in years, or we simple went into Mom and Pop’s basement and stole the one they’d forgotten. When one of us used to commute by bicycle we’d find them on the curbs in nice neighborhoods on garbage day, and strap the new prize to a rack on the back. Yep, the coveted turntable was once like the television is today.

There’s a graveyard of turntables here at Hymie’s, from a vintage Brunswick wind-up (which belonged to a friend and is kept on display in the shop as a little tribute) to a couple of those goddamn Crosleys which poop out within weeks of opening the box. The turntables you see stacked in the back room of the shop all need some love of one kind or another. They’re not simply missing belts or needles — they need to be taken apart and fixed. This, along with the fact we sell them far more quickly than we find the time to fix them, is why there’s never a huge selection of working turntables for sale.

We’ve all become so spoiled by the fact there’s three dozen types of ketchup in the grocery store that we expect the same everywhere else we go. It’s just not so with turntables, especially the elusive “cheap turntable.”

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Consider, for instance, the time which went into a Technics 1900 which came with a large collection we bought last summer. Its tone arm lifter didn’t function, meaning its auto-start also would not function, and more importantly that when it reached the end of the album the auto-return would drag the needle across the surface of the album.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooomp! You know the sound.

What happens with a turntable sits for a decade or several is that its lubricants turn to sticky goo, sort of like pine sap. On other machines this freeze the platter in place. This is especially common with the classic BSR “stackers,” which at one time were about the most common record players in the world and when cleaned can be very durable. On these classic direct-drive Technics, which are no longer in production, the sappy gunk most often seizes up that tiny, essential little plastic rest.

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The rest is raised and lowered by a piston inside a metal shaft and a spring, and its connection to the auto-start, auto-return and cue switch functions are controlled by a plastic cam. Cleaning these parts requires a tedious deconstruction of the turntable. First one turns it over and removes the screws which hold the tone arm assembly and basic casing in place. When loosened you can remove the switches and cover plate seen in the first photograph, and you can work the casing carefully around the tone arm, as in the picture just below.

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Now you’ve nearly there You have to remove the remaining screws holding the turntable assembly to the rest of the mechanical parts and lift it up carefully. You must be gentle so you don’t damage the tiny leads which carry the signal from your stylus through the tone arm, and eventually out to your amplifier, your speaker and your ears (otherwise you’ll double your work). You also have to raise the tone arm assembly carefully so it remains properly connected to the levers and gears which control the various automatic functions (auto-start, auto-return, repeat, etc).

While you’ve got the machine disassembled, its a good idea to give everything a quick tidying, too. If you have a can of compressed air its nice to get any junk out of there, and its a good idea to clean the pitch control contacts with a de-oxidizing solution. If this isn’t something you do every week, the ten dollars you’ll spend on those couple cans will be an investment to last you half a lifetime.

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Finally you’re there. The white plastic piece you see below is the lifter cam, and its your culprit. Remember the Vroooooooooooomp! sound? Its all this guy’s fault. In the picture the spring which holds him taut has already been removed, but he was so stuck in place the spring was stretched to its limit. You remove a screw which holds the lifter cam in place and the tiny c-clip holding the spring over the piston. All of these parts, and all of the washers installed with them, need to be scrubbed with rubbing alcohol,using Q-tips and a tiny flathead screwdriver, until they’re free from the sticky lubricant. When this stuff is really stubborn, especially on older players, you may have to use a soldering iron or a hair dryer to heat the area up before you can make any progress. The piece onto which the lifter cam is covered with a tiny metal sheathing, and that has to be scrubbed too. One finally clean and dry they’re all re-lubed, this time with a dry lubricant which can be silicon- or graphite-based (meaning you won’t have to make this repair again for a couple more decades, ideally). Then the entire works needs to be re-assembled without disrupting the other functions, all of which were working when you started.

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Afterwards, the lifter rest needs to be adjusted to the proper height, so it neither disrupts play nor fails to raise the arm high enough to protect the stylus and records during auto-start and auto-return. Once assembled and adjusted, the turntable has to be tested for an afternoon, so you’re sure one of your customers won’t get home and find something else has been damaged in the disassembly and reassembly process. Most turntables have a damaged stylus by the time they make it to the record shop as well, so there’s the job of properly balancing and aligning the replacement.

We have always said we fall in love with most turntables which come through the shop — this is in part because we often spend half an afternoon performing surgery on them. When you think about the intricacy of the interlocking parts of a machine like this Technics 1900, they’re remarkably elegant. The many articles we’ve seen in recent years about the ‘resurgence of vinyl’ often cite the physical appeal of albums and the larger artwork on their jackets as a factor which distinguishes them from digital media, but seldom recognize how much ore enjoyable owning a turntable can be. We have many favorite models, and enjoying the beauty of them isn’t really so different than enjoying a classic car show or building a boat inside a bottle.

But they often require knowledge, patience and skill to repair. There is also often an investment in parts and supplies. This is why there aren’t always “cheap turntables.” When choosing which project to work on next, we try and get at least a couple record players repaired each month which will cost under fifty dollars, but many like this Technics 1900 go for more than that online in ‘as is’ condition. Even at a fair price, it was gone within a day or so, and the customer who brought it home has told us it performs fantastically and sounds great. We have meanwhile moved on to the next project, which yesterday was a Sony linear tracking turntable (what’s this?) which has a problem with the tone-arm motor.

If you enjoy looking at beautiful turntables, or if you’re looking for a fully-restored classic console stereo of quality turntable, you should really visit our friends at Vintage Music Company. They also have the largest selection of 78rpm records you’ll find anywhere, and they are where we most often by needles for our own records players here at Hymie’s.

So there’s an explanation of the turntable graveyard here in the shop. Some may never be fix-able, and others are being kept so they can one day donate a part or two to another. Others are on the ‘donor list,’ waiting patiently for a part. Most are just waiting until the day we have the time and resolve to get in there and fix something like a tone-arm lifter.

little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.

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An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.

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A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

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“The Golden Sun Never Sets”

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“Study Hard for the Revolution”

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“I’ll Take Up the Gun Too, When I Grow Up”

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

The fact that these two records ended up in the same crate by the time they got here is one of those things that makes this job so interesting.

husbands frustrated housewife

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Selection from Husbands, Love your Wives by Gene Jakubek, S.J.

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“Frustrated Houswife” by Ava Aldridge

SingThe Carpenters’ first single from Now & Then, “Sing,” reached #3 on the Billboard chart — not a bad performance considering their label and management expected it to tank. Karen and Richard Carpenter had predicted the song would be a hit the first time they heard it.

It was written by Joe Raposo, a staff writer for the Children’s Television Workshop — the public television organization that produced Sesame Street. Raposo and his frequent collaborator Jefferey Moss are often cited here on the Hymie’s blog as a primary influence on our musical taste.

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“Sing”

rubber duckeySesame Street made several surprise appearances on the Billboard chart, starting with “Rubber Duckey” in 1970 — credited to “Ernie (Jim Henson),” the song reached #16 — losing the Best Children’s Recording Grammy to the album from which it came, The Sesame Street Book and Record.

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“Rubber Duckey”

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Sesame Street originally released the albums through Columbia Records, but soon saw the potential in creating their own imprint — Sesame Street Records eventually produced dozens of titles, focusing on specific themes or characters (ie, Let Your Feeling Show or The Count Counts). Each Sesame Street album, like their books, contained a message about their mission:

With this record, Sesame Street is only as far away as your record player. Now your child can visit his Sesame Street friends at any time of the day and discover the same combination of entertainment and education found on our television programs.
Children familiar with the Sesame Street characters will delight in hearing their favorites again and again. But even those who have never watched the show will be able to enjoy, and learn from this album.
Workshop revenues from this project will be used to support the continuing production of Sesame Street.

We have already posted some of our favorite Sesame Street titles, including My Name is Roosevelt Franklin and Grover Sings the Blues. We have also posted this next album, which surprised the recording industry by reaching #74 on the Billboard Album Chart in 1977.

sesame street fever

Sesame Street Fever features Robin Gibb (“courtesy of his children, Melissa and Spencer Gibb) and some pretty good disco. It was probably inspired by the popularity of “Cookie Disco,” a single released earlier the same year with a hilarious sleeve picturing Cookie Monster decked out like George Clinton.

cookie disco

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“Sesame Street Fever”

artless motives

A public service message from this awesome album I bought at a basement show about twenty years ago. These guys were great. A while later they sent me their complete works on a 60 minute tape, pluse a live recording of their acoustic set and it was dubbed over a Curious George story tape.

There used to be a “Bleachman” comic, too, but I guess I’ve lost it.

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