My Portable Phonograph

My phonograph is finally finished! In July, I drove to San Antonio to a fleamarket booth that sells phonographs exclusively in order to pick up some rusty phonograph morning glory horns to use as light fixtures for my old fashioned ice cream parlor. This darling hand crank portable was an afterthought compulsion purchase.
So, it worked (okay) and made noise (okay) and I thought, “Well, Reese can fix this in a jiffy!” so I bought it, no second thoughts. Reese’s initial reactions to the machine were comical, at best. “This has been beat to shit!” he kept marveling. “WOW!” and then hunks of it started falling off!! Built in or around 1925, it looks as if my little portable had been around the block, cranking out tunes on picnics, parties, and dinner nights at home.
Problems: The main springs were worn out entirely, the turntable felt was shabby, needle cup rusted and broken, the reproducer’s pot metal was corroded and breaking off in big hunks, and the electrical tape some crafty person had used to affix the reproducer to the arm kept melting in the Texas heat and wiggling the needle on the record. The record holder was beat up and unsafe to hold records. Plus, the machine was quiet. REALLY quiet.

Reese dismantled the machine, oiled the motor, cleaned it from top to bottom, and clear coated it to seal in the original patina. He cut out the turntable felt BY HAND and put an orthophonic reproducer on the machine. Now it really screams, and reproduces bass and high vocals nearly as well as his Victor credenza model. The leather strap on the front is taped over securely, and the needle box has been removed and replaced by a Victor needle tin.

The clear coating on the outside helps to preserve the age of the machine, and showcases the wooden ribbed joints. The latches are still rusted, but I quite like them! Also, who can beat Nipper listening to His Master’s Voice on the needle tin!?
Since the springs in the Thorens motor were shot, we scoured our phonograph supply friends and eventually found new/old stock from a man in Michigan who has a barn full of accoutrements. Now the motor runs soundlessly.
Two of the three governor weights had broken off in places, and had to be sent off to be soldered & replaced.
In these machines, the sound comes out of the machine in a few different ways. Some portables are “dumpers,” meaning the sound shoots directly from the arm, out of a cavern in the machine. Other machines have large “horns” in the inside, which can be made out of different materials, including paper mache or burlap. My machine has a burlap horn, which Reese removed and covered with 27 coats of clear coat, making it as hard as plastic. This helped to strengthen the sound of the machine, sending the sound up and out in the smooth walls, instead of trapping it in the peaks of burlap.

With the clear coating, the green swirly design on the inside of the box and soundboard stands out more. It reminds me of algae or some other kind of botany design.

The outside is a bit difficult to photograph accurately. I’m so happy with the turnout!

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