The Victor-Victrola Page
ANSWER: There can be many reasons why your turntable/motor won't function, but the usual causes are:
1. Broken spring(s)
2. Solidified lubricants in spring barrel or gears (most common problem)
3. Missing, worn or damaged gears/governor springs or weights
For electric motor Victrolas (VE models):
1. Damaged motor brushes or windings
2. Loose electrical connections
3. Failed power resistors
First, we need to do a little detective work:
FOR SPRING MOTORS ONLY: To begin, remove the crank by winding it BACKWARDS a few turns, and it will pull straight out. Make sure that the brake is released (not in contact with the turntable) Then remove the turntable by lifting it straight up. If it is stuck, you can use a small piece of wood positioned across the top of the turntable, laying right over the center spindle. Have an assistant put downward pressure on the wood (and spindle) while you are lifting upwards on the bottom edges of the platter. If necessary, the assistant can gently rap on the wood with a rubber mallet while you are pulling upwards on the turntable edges, to loosen the press-fit of the spindle-turntable connection. It will eventually come off. If the spindle begins turning when the turntable is removed, the motor may be ok; you have either a brake assembly that is stuck or some other type of interference that is preventing the turntable from freely turning. A close inspection should determine the problem.
If the spindle is not turning, you must remove the motorboard. Loosen the hold-down screws (either 2 or 4 of them at the corners of the motorboard). If the phonograph has an automatic brake, slide the y-shaped brake mechanism (visible with the turntable removed) toward the center such that the yoke is positioned directly over the motorboard, and nothing is hanging out beyond the edge. Lift the motorboard out using the small lifting knob (in most cases) located toward the front. Some motorboards will pivot upwards from the front via a spring-clip joint toward the rear. In this case, pivot the motorboard up and then pull it straight toward you to remove. It will take quite a tug to break away from the spring clamps. Other motorboard designs simply lift straight upwards, but you may need to "maneuver" the motorboard a bit to clear some of the protruding components from the cabinet. 4 spring motors are very heavy, and it can be a chore to get them out. The low-cost tabletop models of the mid-1920's can be serviced simply by turning them upside down; there is no removable motorboard on these machines. WARNING: these motors can be covered with grease, which after 100 years is almost impossible to remove from clothing or furniture. Be prepared with a work surface which will get very dirty!
Once removed, inspect the motor components for obvious physical damage or loose parts. A diagram of a typical motor can be found here, but be aware that there were many variations of motor designs. If everything looks intact, then you probably have damaged or jammed mainsprings. A good way to hone-in on the problem is to spin the governor assembly with your fingers (the shaft with 3 weights supported by springs). If it won't turn freely, it is highly likely that one of more mainsprings are jammed with hardened grease. If it does spin freely, you likely have broken mainsprings or the spring have disconnected from the winding arbor. WARNING! If you suspect that broken or jammed springs might be the case, DO NOT attempt to open-up the spring barrels or disassemble the governor before consulting with a good repair book. The result will certainly be a room full of flying knife-sharp springs or other parts which will pop-out with incredible force, most likely straight into your face. More than one home handyman has been seriously injured by taking apart spring barrels without the proper tools and bench setup.
About 9 out
of 10 problems that one will encounter with an old phonograph motor is caused by hardened
As a general rule, if the motor spins
slowly, stalls, or thumps and bangs loudly while running, then the spring(s)
likely need to be removed, cleaned and lubricated. The mainspring assemblies were originally packed in a
graphite/Vaseline grease when new. After 100 years, the grease typically becomes hard as
a rock, and can cause a number of different problems in operation. The only way
to rectify this situation is to pull the motor completely apart and remove all the
mainsprings (no small task), perform a thorough cleaning, and reapply grease.
Then the springs have to be wound back into the barrel; the rewinding process is
tricky. It must be done in the correct order, and in the correct direction.
Each removed spring must be inspected along its entire length for corrosion
or hairline cracks.
A small fracture in the spring, or
permanent corrosion on the spring surfaces will require replacement of the
entire spring itself, and unless you know what you are looking at, you could
very well spend hours doing a teardown and rebuild, only to discover that
the phonograph is still not working correctly when finished. These
tasks certainly aren't impossible
for the home handy-person to tackle, but it is a real mess, and usually requires a few
attempts before getting it right. And there may be up to 4 mainsprings in the
motor, which usually all require cleaning and lubricating.
There are a few YouTube videos
available online to address the subject, although we have not vetted any of
them for correctness. While plenty of hobbyists are successful at motor
rebuilding, it has been our experience that having an experienced repair
service handle it (often using ultrasonic cleaning tanks and with the
equipment to easily rewind springs) is well-worth the money spent.
FOR ELECTRIC MOTOR VERSIONS: The turntable for an electric Victrola (VE) should not be 'forced' to spin. If the machine is not operating when powered-up and the brake-tab-switch is turned on, then the problem could be electrical (failed voltage-dropping resistors in the rear of the cabinet) or mechanical (motor commutator dirty). Bad internal connections are also common. Servicing these systems can be complicated, and should be done by competent technicians. When the motorboard is removed, most systems have two Bakelite connectors (one at the motor, another at the power switch) which must be separated in order to remove the motorboard. From there, a voltmeter can be used to determine if power is available at the motor. Most AC motor systems in early phonographs operate at 32 volts AC.
Instructions for repair for each motor type and configuration are beyond the scope of this website, but the reader is strongly encouraged to purchase a copy of Eric Reiss' book "The Talking Machine Companion" (see the Recommended Reading page) for simple diagnosis and instructions. Alternatively, a number of excellent repair services are available, listed on the "RESOURCES" page.
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