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Repair


A good starting point for repair is to refer to the original owner's manual, which will give you pointers on removing the motorboard, basic lubrication, etc. If you don't have a manual, a copy is provided via the link below. Follow these instructions for basic maintenance and disassembly. To remove the motorboard to gain access to the spring motor (for repairs or lubrication), remove the crank by winding it BACKWARDS a few turns, and it will pull straight out. Remove the turntable by lifting straight up. If it is stuck, you can use a small piece of wood held across the top of the turntable to put downward pressure on the center spindle while lifting upwards on the bottom edges. If necessary, have someone gently rap on the wood with a mallet while you are pulling upwards. Remove the soundbox by turning it clockwise 1/4 turn (while facing the front) and it can then be pulled straight off the tonearm. Push the tonearm to the far right to clear the motorboard. Then loosen any holding screws around the motorboard. If the phonograph has a semi-automatic brake, slide the y-shaped brake mechanism (visible with the turntable removed) toward the center such that all components are over the motorboard (and nothing is hanging out beyond the edge of the motorboard). Lift the turntable out using the small lifting knob (in most cases) located toward the front of the motorboard. It will usually pivot upwards or lift straight out, depending on vintage and model.

The detail of complete motor repairs is beyond the scope of this website, as it involves many steps and some rather dangerous procedures in removing the springs. I strongly recommend that the reader purchase a copy of Eric Reiss' excellent book "The Compleat Talking Machine", which can be found on the "LINKS" page of this website.

In summary, about 9 out of 10 problems that one will encounter with an old phonograph motor is caused by hardened grease. The mainspring assemblies were originally packed in grease when new. After 80 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 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. This isn't impossible for the home handy-person to tackle, but it is a real mess, and requires a few attempts before getting it right. The Reiss' book (referenced above) describes the process very well and includes clear pictures.

Governor mechanisms sometimes come apart over the years. There should be 3 governor weights in all Victor spring motors, and these are held to the shaft assembly via leaf-type springs. If the springs come loose, or the weights become detached, the motor will no longer function properly, or may "race" at an uncontrollable fast speed.

Basic Troubleshooting

Symptom(s) Probable Cause(s) Repair Required
Crank turns freely; does not wind motor Broken Mainspring(s) Remove and Replace Mainspring
  Winding gears or sproket damaged Replace Winding Gears
 Motor makes loud "thumping" noise or bangs occasionally during operation Hardened grease in mainsprings Remove, clean and grease mainspring(s)
Crank will only wind a few turns before stopping Hardened grease in mainsprings Remove, clean and grease mainspring(s)
  Broken mainspring Remove and Replace Mainspring
Motor "stalls" or slows while playing back a record, even when fully wound Hardened grease in mainsprings Remove, clean and grease mainspring(s)
  One or more broken mainsprings Remove and Replace Mainspring
  Hardened grease on drive gears Clean and grease drive (worm) gears and bearings
  Governor lubrication dry Oil governor mechanism
"Machine Gun" sound during playback or motor runs too fast Governor mechanism damaged Repair governor
Motor runs well, but too slowly Governor mechanism out of adjustment Adjust governor
  Hardened grease in mainsprings Remove, clean and grease mainspring(s)
Speed control adjustment does not work Governor mechanism needs oil or out of adjustment Lubricate or adjust governor
Crank frozen (will not turn) Broken (jammed) mainspring Remove and Replace Mainspring
  Winding gears or sproket damaged Replace Winding Gears
  Hardened Grease in mainsprings Remove, clean and grease mainspring(s)
Grinding sound Drive gears worn or out of adjustment Adjust or replace drive gears
Playback sound is harsh and/or "rattles" Soundbox gasket hardened Replace soundbox gasket
Soundbox is loose on tonearm (won't remain stationary) Worn tonearm seating gasket Replace gasket
Tonearm is loose on rear support (moves up and down) Mis-adjusted tonearm support Tighten or readjust tonearm support screw(s)
  Broken or cracked tonearm support bracket Replace cracked bracket

Recommended Lubricants

A good quality graphite grease, applied in moderate amounts, works well for lubricating gears and mainsprings. This provides superior performance to some of the "homemade" lubricants like Vaseline.  For bearings and bushings, a high-quality sewing machine oil works best. Cleaning off the old grease can be a challenge, but this must be done before lubricating any parts. If you don't have access to an auto-parts "hot" dipping solution (as used in most repair shops), then the next best thing is some Naptha in a large bucket and a scouring pad. It takes time and can be a real mess, so be sure to dress accordingly. Old grease can really stain clothing and hands, and it doesn't clean off. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area.  

Motor detail:

The example below is typical for most Victor motors; there are some variations, depending on age and model. However, the basic layout and function is very similar.                                         

Typical "as found" (uncleaned) Victor Motor, removed from the wood motorboard. This is a 3 spring version, often found on the more expensive external horn models or early Victrolas. There are 2 springs in the large barrel and one in the smaller barrel. Motors may have from 1 to 4 mainsprings, depending on model and vintage. Mainsprings must be removed from the barrels to be cleaned and lubricated, which entails removing each barrel assembly from the arbor, removing the barrel cover, and gently pulling out the mainsprings. Heavy gloves, arm, chest and face protection is strongly advised, as the springs can readily "fly" out of the barrel, causing severe cuts. Replacing the springs properly requires following a detailed procedure, which is beyond the scope of this discussion.

 

Detail of Governor Components. Note hardened grease on gears, which must be cleaned for proper operation. It is also essential that the governor spur gear be properly mated with the governor worm gear. This adjustment is performed by loosening the small bushing screws, and sliding the entire governor assembly back and forth in the bushing supports until the proper mesh is achieved (e.g. smooth, quiet operation).

 

Soundbox rebuilding is a tricky process, but can be done by most hobbyists if proper care is taken. The procedure is thoroughly covered in The Compleat Talking Machine, which is referenced on the LINKS page of this website.

 

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