Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Neil Young - Young Man's Fancy

Side 1
1. On the Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through the Past
5. Cowgirl in the Sand
6. Heart of Gold
7. A Man Needs a Maid

Side 2
1. Sugar Mountain
2. Don't Let It Bring You Down
3. Love in Mind
4. The Needle and the Damage Done
5. Ohio
6. See the Sky About to Rain 

In my experience, the live bootleg is one of the rarer varieties of thrift store records. But happily, the couple I have managed to find were by favorite artists of mine. I'm a big Neil Young fan and have been really enjoying the string of classic live recordings released in recent years (The Neil Young Archives Performance Series). Of the three I've heard, I think Live at Massey Hall 1971 is my favorite. Comparatively shoddy sound quality aside, this unofficial "Young Man's Fancy" live LP is similar in several ways to that recently released Massey Hall 1971 recording.

Label from unofficial 1971 Neil Young live LP:
Young Man's Fancy/Live on Sugar Mountain
Very little information was included with this record. The only writing to be found was on the title page insert posted above. By utilizing powerful, modern investigational techniques (ie Google search) and noting Young's own between-song banter, however, we can piece together the basic facts: It was an audience recording, made on Feb. 1, 1971 at the Los Angeles Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This means it took place just ten days after the Massey Hall performance/recording, and the set list and performance is similar (and similarly great!). It was the last night of his early 1971 solo tour. Before playing Sugar Mountain (which is the only song on this LP not found on the Massey Hall release), Neil says: "...tonight's the night when the tour ends for me..." (then it sounds like he makes a sad little sniffle and everyone laughs). He goes on to say: "this is my twenty fourth show since January fifth." 

Label from unofficial 1971 Neil Young live LP:
Young Man's Fancy/Live on Sugar Mountain

This recording must have been an extra exciting find back when it first showed up (reportedly, only weeks after the show), as it contains several songs that had not yet been released. It would be another year (Feb. '72) before future classics Heart of Gold, A Man Needs a Maid, The Needle and the Damage Done, and Old Man would be available on the Harvest LP. Journey Through the Past and Love in Mind didn't come out until October, 1973, on the Time Fades Away live album. See the Sky About to Rain would not get an official release until 1974's On the Beach. 

I mainly read about two versions of this recording that have been circulating on vinyl: A two record set containing 15 songs, which has been called "Young Man's Fancy," or alternatively: "I'm Happy That Y'all Came Down." There is also a single LP version with 10 songs, called "Live on Sugar Mountain." The one I own seems to be a hybrid of the two. It has 13 songs on a single disc, with both the Young Man's Fancy, as well as Live on Sugar Mountain titles printed on the insert.

My copy has a small warp that causes a rhythmic whooshing sound during the first song; there are scratches that occasionally add a steady ticking; the needle sticks in one spot; and there is a light & zesty crackle throughout, but it is still a pleasure to hear this performance. The extraneous noises aren't actually too distracting (except when the needle sticks) and, in a way, they even sort of add to the sparse, (mostly) mournful atmosphere created by Young's heartfelt vocals and lone guitar (or piano) accompaniment.

Click here to listen to a YouTube clip of Don't Let It Bring You Down

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fixing Unstable Turntable Speed

Technics SL-1300 direct-drive automatic turntable
Am I the only one who finds it odd that in 35 years,
no one ever removed that giant vinyl decal?
The thrift store can be a good place to buy turntables as well as records. You might have to be patient and keep checking, but it's not unusual to find a nice, vintage workhorse capable of outperforming many of the new turntables available today, and for a fraction of the cost.

I once found a beautifully kept Technics SL-D2 that barely needed so much as a light dusting. But most of the time there has been at least one or two things wrong with the thrift store turntables I have encountered. This Technics SL-1300, which I recently picked up, was missing the headshell/cartridge/stylus assembly, and while the sticker on the dust cover states that it has been tested and the "turntable spins," I could see by the wildly fluctuating strobe pattern, when I tried it out in the store, that the sound was going to be wobbly, to say the least. But for the low, low price of only $3.00, it didn't take long for me to decide to grab it. I reasoned that if it couldn't easily be fixed, it was still well worth buying just for the platter mat alone.


The video at right demonstrates the erratic strobe pattern and sound. The speed adjustment controls were extremely touchy. I only had to lightly tap them to make the platter spazz out even worse. There was no way you could stabilize the speed, and the turntable was unusable in this condition—unless you wanted to play background music in a funhouse. Watch the bottom row of dots. Those are the ones that should be appearing stationary.

What can happen is, the components that allow you to control the speed get dust and crud gunking up their internal contacts, causing them to work erratically. It's the same thing that causes crackly, touchy, volume controls. Eventually, the potentiometers ("pots") and switches need to be cleaned with a good electronic parts cleaning fluid. Often, this is all that is necessary to get things working properly again. I was able to fix this problem without buying or installing anything. The only tools needed were basic Phillips-head and flat-head screwdrivers.

CRC QD Electronic Cleaner
There are several brands of cleaning fluids available that should do the trick. DeoxIT® by Caig Laboratories has a very good reputation, and is pretty much universally endorsed. I already had this can of CRC QD Electronic Cleaner hanging around, so that is what I used. Make sure whatever you use, that the label states it is safe on plastics. I should mention that a lubricant is recommended (if not essential) when/after cleaning potentiometers to keep them operating smoothly and to protect against premature wear. DeoxIT® already has a lubricant mixed with the cleaner. The CRC is a very effective cleaner, but contains no lubricant. Now that this turntable is spinning properly again, I plan to replace its audio cables. At that time, I'll probably go ahead and lubricate the pots I just cleaned.

CAUTION: Always be sure the power plug of any electrical device is disconnected from power source before working inside device. Always follow standard safety guidelines for working with electrical devices. We at Thrift Store Record Report are not responsible for any damage to persons or property that may arise as a result of unqualified service personnel attempting turntable repairs after viewing the materials posted to this site.


Tonearm locked and platter removed
Before turning the unit over, lock down the tonearm, remove the mat, and carefully remove the platter. Some turntables may have screws on the platter, or a retaining ring or clip of some sort around the spindle that will need to be removed first. With this Technics, and many of the other turntables I have encountered, you only need to lift the platter. It might be a little stuck at first. You can lock your thumbs in the holes and push downward with your fingers on the base if you need a little extra leverage. Try to pull up with equal pressure on each side. You have to be especially careful not to damage the magnet assembly attached to the underside of the platter on these direct-drive turntables.

Inside view of Technics SL-1300 turntable
The main speed pots and speed selector switch
are in the upper-left corner
I left the dust cover on and flipped the unit upside down on a large, folded bath towel. I know this leaves a chance of cracking the dust cover, but I've not broken one yet, and it is easier for me this way, so I continue to take my chances. If you rig something up to support it without the dustcover, just make sure it is stable enough and that nothing can touch the tonearm assembly. Next, I removed the screws from the base. The feet did not need to come off, as on some turntables. There were two screw lengths. The shorter ones went around the perimeter; the longer ones closer to the middle. I pulled all the screws out (a magnetic tip screwdriver comes in handy here) and put them aside where they wouldn't get lost. Some people like to only loosen them, so they lift out with the base, still sitting in their respective holes.

Getting Down to Business

The primary targets are the main speed/pitch adjustment pots. I cleaned only those at first, then did a quick test, and found that the speed looked greatly stabilized just from those parts getting cleaned. However, to be thorough, I went ahead and cleaned the speed selector switch and the more hidden set of speed control trimpots. I also oiled the motor shaft while I was at it.

The video above illustrates, step-by-step, all of the work that was done, and is a live-motion companion to this written article. It even has a pretty snappy soundtrack—so check it out!

The main speed control potentiometers
Spray the cleaner in any openings you find in the components. The pots should have sizable openings where the three connection tabs are attached, as well as another small one around the outside of the case. After spraying fluid inside the housing, the pot shafts need to be fully rotated back and forth many times, then repeat the spray/rotation procedure at least once or twice more.

Spraying speed selector switch
Next, I cleaned the speed selector switch by spraying into the cracks where the plastic plunger piece comes out of the housing, and in some adjacent slots, as well. The switch should then also be worked back and forth several times and sprayed again. This fluid dries very quickly and doesn't seem to harm anything it gets on, so I don't usually worry too much about over-spray, but you can always surround the parts you're spraying with a rag or paper towel to catch the excess.

To get at the second, less accessible set of speed controls, the circuit board located next to the main speed pots must be removed. It was only a matter of taking out three Phillips-head screws and then lifting the board straight up while wiggling it a little bit to free its connecting pins from the holes they mate with on the motor board.

Variable resistors 1 & 2
aka VR1 & VR2
Once the circuit board is unscrewed and flipped over, it's an easy job cleaning these parts, as they are not sealed in housings and their track and wiper contacts are more exposed. Spray, fully rotate shaft back and forth, and repeat the cycle, just like with the first pots. After everything is reassembled, these trimpots will need to be adjusted first, to give the topside speed controls the range necessary to get the platter rotating at the right speed.

Oiling motor shaft on Technics SL-1300
As long as the platter was off, I figured it was a good idea to also oil the motor shaft—especially since this is something else that can affect the speed. Technics recommends doing this after every 2,000 hours of service. Since I bought this turntable used, several decades after it was made (and while it's in pretty good shape, it doesn't exactly look like it's been babied), I think it is probably overdue by now. The owner's manual and the sticker on the platter insist you use only the specially formulated Technics oil, but I doubt it is necessary. I would certainly use it if I had some, but since I don't, I'm inclined to just make-do with an acceptable substitute when working on a broken-down, three dollar turntable. I think a good light oil, such as sewing machine oil is fine for this task. If you would like to get the official Technics oil, you can find some available for purchase at the Kab Electro Acoustics website. I used something called Lubit-8. I like the precision needlepoint applicator and the fact that it is supposed to be compatible with all oils and greases, so it should mix well with any other oil that has been applied in the past. No matter what kind you use, you are only supposed to apply two to three drops.

These are basically "set and forget" trimpots
I didn't note the positions of VR1 & 2 before commencing to vigorously rotate them, so I reset them to the midway/twelve o'clock position. After trying out the turntable, I found they needed to be moved to the one o'clock position. VR1 and VR2 must be set correctly before the topside controls will have the range needed to get the platter spinning at the right speed.

The video below shows how the turntable is running very smoothly now.

A nice Technics turntable database can be found at Vintage Technics 

A great library of free turntable user manuals, service manuals, schematics, brochures, and technical documents is located at Vinylengine

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

The Incident:
There I was, on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, performing routine record cleaning duties (when I probably should have been outside playing stickball or frolicking with a puppy or something), and as I get to work on the final disc, I start to think: tee-hee I like that funny parrot on this label. Then I realize that none of the records I picked out to clean were on the Parrot Records label ... in fact, I don't think I've ever owned a record on the Parrot label...
Continuing to spread the cleaning solution, I start scanning the text on the label... Egads man, you're cleaning an Engelbert Humperdinck album!

This can only mean that a wanted record which I thought I bought has been displaced by this perennial thrift bin dweller that is of no use to me. Quickly suppressing the sinking feeling that begins to take hold, I remain calm, and like a mindless automaton, finish cleaning it—though it left me feeling somewhat like the hapless sparrow caring for a cuckoo bird's egg, covertly deposited in its nest. 

The Investigation:
After looking through the stack of covers that were in the other room, I found that the interloper had been concealed inside this Bee Gees jacket.

Bee Gees - Peace of Mind
"Circa '64 Australian Sessions"
1978 Pickwick Records BAN-90041

Taking a closer look, I now notice some clues, which, had I been more alert during my pre-purchase inspection, may have raised a red flag or two...

Sure, in hindsight, it might be obvious what is going on here, but if you only give it a cursory glance (as one is apt to do in the heat of a fast-paced thrift-binge), it just sort of looks like a former owner has signed their name on the front cover, as people often do (sigh). And even if I had read the name, well, there must be thousands of Engelberts out there who own Bee Gees records, right? And the scribble marks could have simply been a testament to this Engelbert's changing tastes and was a way of expressing his newfound dislike of the Bee Gees. 

Take Heed:
Lame excuses for my own carelessness aside, I write these words now, as a simple cautionary tale to remind you all (and myself), to be ever vigilant in checking the labels on those thrift store records to make sure the covers and discs definitely match up. Usually, it is the records with missing inner sleeves you really have to watch out for, but this disc had been stowed away inside a good condition inner sleeve that was placed neatly inside of the jacket; lulling me into a false sense of security, and I got sloppy. Don't let this happen to you.

It Gets Worse:
After I started on this article, I remembered there was another, similar LP of early Bee Gees material sitting on the shelf that probably came from the same lot. I go have a look at it to find...

Suspicion confirmed: a second defaced Bee Gees cover,
complete with Engelbert Humperdinck stowaway.

Now that's just pure evil! What kind of maniac repeatedly does something like this to protect scuffed-up Engelbert Humperdinck vinyl? I wonder if the Bee Gees LPs were taken out and discarded just to make room for the E.H. discs? I realize the Bee Gees are no strangers to the thrift bins, and not everone's cup of tea either, but in my book, they deserve better than this. What next, using Jethro Tull covers to store your precious, scratchy, Sing Along with Mitch LPs? 

I still like that funny parrot, anyway. I only wish it was attached to something in the Parrot discography I might have liked better, such as The Zombies or Them.