In the late sixties, I had many, many record players. I didn’t want to entrust my blue and cream Dansette to British Road Services who would wing a trunk from Bournemouth to my university in Yorkshire in a mere three or four days, and deliver door to door. Think of a nationalised Fedex at far cheaper prices. There were nine of us living on a floor of a new Hall of Residence with its smart poured concrete ceilings and rough, scratchy bare brick walls. Not a radio or record player between us.
We resolved to pool our resources and buy a communal record player. The Communist cadre (he didn’t like participating in communal enterprises) and the Christian Union rep (he thought it the devil’s music) declined to chip in a quid each, leaving £7 which bought us an excellent fuschia coloured Pye player at the local pawn shop, with enough over for 10/6 for a new cartridge and stylus. With a little cooking oil on the moving parts, and liberal applications of car upholstery cleaner it looked and sounded like new. New ones cost between £20 and £30 then. Occupants of other floors admired it.
Realizing that the secondhand shops of Hull were full of them at £4 to £6, we sold it on for a tenner. After that we bought one a week, cleaned it, replaced the stylus, used it, advertised it on a notice board and moved it on for a tidy profit. So, yes, I have had Dansettes, Pyes, Deccas, Albas, Philips, Regentones, Portadynes, Portagrams, Ultras, Revelation Silvertones, EMI Elites and Fidelitys in my room. I had Bushes in my bedroom too, but that sounded crude in the list, so I deleted it. These were the things old 45s were played on. At least all of ours had good styluses.
Which? magazine did “Cheaper Record Players” in August 1963, and I found a copy at a Book Fair for 50p.
‘Are you sure you want to pay that much?’ said the seller, ‘Really? I’m not sure it’s worth that much.’
Booksellers are more diffident than record sellers, who are inclined to say, ‘Yeah, well, it does sound scratchy and distorted for a fiver, but if you put a bit of weight on the head it’ll sound mint. You can repair the sleeve with sellotape.’
Which? had reported on record players for “serious listening” a few months earlier, so now devoted themselves to players costing between £14.10s and £21 … those “advertised to appeal particularly to teenagers.” All were mono, and 25 out of 27 had autochangers. They played the records to a panel of twenty teenagers and five adults, using Gerry & The Pacemakers How Do You Do It as the test disc, together with Terry Lightfoot’s New Orleans Jazzmen doing King Kong. Not a record I’m familiar with, but I can guess what it sounded like.
They also did tests where they tried to insert a substitute finger into live electrical bits, or We poked a finger into various crevices which you could not say with a straight face nowadays. And they really did say Do Not Try This At Home. A few comments:
• When the singer is going full blast, rattles and buzzes from the record player are added to the sound.
• Only the Fidelity produced an amount of hum that was judged unacceptable.
• As you turn the volume control up, the quality of sound reproduction often gets worse and the sound may become intolerably distorted before you reach maximum volume.
• There are times- at a dance for instance – when loudness is more important than sound quality … the sound produced by the Philips was particularly distorted.
• The turntable should revolve at the correct speed … few were really accurate, but none would change the pitch by as much as a semi-tone.
* You could stack the greatest number of records on the BSR autochanger – at least eleven 45 rpm records. The Garrard would take eight, and the Philips ten.
A guy who restores old record players explained a problem to me. Because old tone arms don’t have the sideways correction / balancing of modern decks, they can have issues playing modern stereo singles (most will have mono cartridges too), which is particularly noticeable with small label soul and Northern soul reissue pressings that may skip on vintage equipment.