So far in this series, we’ve looked at what older turntables are worth considering and what to avoid. Now it’s time to look at turntable maintenance with our turntable expert.
What is a good, basic maintenance routine to keep an old deck going?
Old lubricants in bearings and motors can dry out with time. Even Rega turntables need their main bearings checked and cleaned out, plus re-charged with the recommended oils if necessary every ten years or so. Belts and idlers need checking, cleaning and the former replacing every so often. As to how often I can’t say as usage plays a huge role here.
Springy belt-driven decks may need the suspensions checking and general fixings tightening up, but in the Linn LP12, the religion which built up around it and the exorbitant prices charged for a service (£200+) can be off-putting. I’m instructed to replace springs and grommets as a matter of course, but I’m not entirely sure it’s entirely necessary in a lot of cases. It’s done because it’s done! If a deck is basically working right, I’d leave it alone generally, but obviously if – like top Garrards and all Lencos – the main bearing needs a drop of oil on the top bearing sleeve periodically, then please keep to that regime. Other top decks also have things needing to be checked.
Obviously, styli need to be kept clean. Signs of stylus wear are often heard in the form of increasingly wild ‘sibilance’ after which groove-damage will occur. Already sparkly Ortofon cartridges just get worse and worse until the mis-tracking becomes unpleasant, for example.
Are there any makes or models to avoid either because they’re not good or just too complicated for beginners?
If you’ve never owned a record player before, I’d probably suggest playing safe with an aforementioned Rega!
All turntables from the 1980s and before will need work doing and it’s up to the individual to thoroughly research the model that interests them. Very old decks will have audio cables in various degrees of age-contamination which can cause hum and intermittent sound.
As for decks to avoid, it’s tricky. At the very bottom, the Garrards and BSRs derived from record player base chassis – Garrard SP25 series, BSR MP60/P128 and so on – will need VERY careful work to free off gummed-up mechanisms and, after all this, rumble is still an issue. But as modern cartridges are readily available tracking at 2g upwards, these decks can still have a new lease of life.
Many good-looking Japanese decks at the lower price range can be awful as regards playing records with any form of fidelity, mainly due to very flimsy construction and bad acoustic feedback which ruins the sound. Sometimes, and as Rega recommend, removing the lid when playing can improve things a good bit.
Vinyl first-timers should probably avoid any of the very springy belt driven decks, unless they know the history or have an experienced pal who can help set it up. Once set up, Thorens decks tend to stay set unless messed with, but these are so expensive now they may not appeal to first-timers. Duals and Garrards come up cheap and some of them are bargains if you can sort them out!
Japanese direct drives, even the best ones, can suffer dirty speed controls and switches (I have an SL1500 I thought I’d sorted ten years ago that once again suffers wayward speed due to bad pitch presets and main switch). The wiring to the amp on some can ‘go off’ over time as I discovered. Main bearings and motors will need a drop or two of something, I suggest.
Are there any simple tools worth investing in?
A set of decent small screwdrivers
A set of tweezers or fine, long-nosed pliers are useful for fitting cartridge tags
A set of suitable cartridge screws – I use stainless steel 2.5mm Allen head bolts and nuts as well as suitable aluminium equivalents, which some cartridges prefer for mechanical reasons
A stylus balance – there are many digital ones these days, but I have huge fondness for the old AR plastic one, now sold as a Rek-O-Kut model (shown near the bottom of this web page). It’s incredibly accurate for each quarter gramme increment.