Listening #135 Page 2
By mid-November 2013, the list of indoor projects I wished to accomplish during the coming winter had grown to six items: rebuild the motor in my Thorens TD 124; veneer and finish the plinth for my Garrard 301; build crates for storing my Quad ESL loudspeakers (and for a couple of large oil paintings); get at least a start on cataloguing my record collection; tear up the carpeting in the hall and replace it with tongue-and-groove pine; and build entirely new cabinets for my Altec Valencias (which entails cobbling together some guides for ripping and crosscutting plywood with my circular saw). All well and goodbut the trouble is, five of those six have been on the list for seven or eight years now.
I must have made references, in print, to my needy Thorens; an audio friend recently sent an e-mail saying, in effect, I hope to hell you'll get around to fixing your TD 124's motor soon, because I need to do the same thing, and I want you to go first. And don't forget to take pictures! That guilted me off my ass in a hurryaided by the fact that the e-mail in question arrived when I had just removed from the Thorens my usual Thomas Schick tonearm, but had yet to install the Abis SA-1. All the easier.
Knowing, from sore experience, how difficult it is to fully remove a Thorens motor and hoping my sample wasn't too terribly decrepit, I opted to work on the motor in situ rather than attempt a full rebuild. Thus, having already removed the arm and armboard and disconnected the AC cord, I removed the platter shell, platter, idler wheel, drive belt, and motor pulley (after first noting the pulley's exact height on the motor shaft); lifted the turntable away from its plinth and removed its main bearing, being careful not to let the bearing spindle slide free of its well; and inverted the TD 124 on my workbench (actually my dining-room table, but workbench sounds more important, rather like Hirsch-Houck Labs or Music Room 3).
The TD 124's motor is held together with four long, slot-head bolts, themselves held in place with small washers and nuts, the exact combinations of which vary slightly between Mk.I and Mk.II turntables. (Also attached to the nut end of one of these bolts is the O-lug of a yellow ground lead.) After removing these boltscare must be taken to use an appropriately sized wrench to secure the nutsthe motor's bottom cover can be easily removed, as long as the chassis is stable and reasonably level. That's how I proceeded, also taking care to lift away the cover carefully and slowly, so as not to lose the bearing ball perched in a dimple at the end of the armature shaft, like a golf ball on an oversized tee. Depending on the motor's state of lubrication, that ball may otherwise be grease-stuck within the bronze sleeve that serves as a bearing well and is fastened to the bottom cover.
This was only the second TD 124 motor I've taken apart, and the two samples had suffered very different ills. The first was clogged with a buildup of old grease that had solidified, and which needed to be cleaned out; today's motor was clean but very dry (footnote 3), and the tiny chromed-steel bearing ball was stuck in place. (Surely there's a word in German that means shaft-dimple.) That state of affairs allowed me to lift away from the motor body the entire armature. After that, the bearing ball yielded to a drop of alcohol and a few seconds of prying with the pointy end of a toothpick, after which I dropped the ball into a little dish of alcohol to soak it clean. I used pipe cleaners and cotton swabs to clean the upper and lower bronze motor-bearing sleeves, and a (hopefully) lint-free rag to clean the outer surface of the armature laminations. The motor shaft had some very recalcitrant bits of dirt, which yielded only to several minutes of wiping with lighter fluid and a piece of cloth.
I've mentioned the dimple at the thrust end of the motor shaft; there is also a corresponding but tinier dimple in the thrust pad integral to the sleeve that's affixed to the lower motor cover. I gave that a minuscule dab of medium-light automotive grease, which was blue. I put a similarly tiny dab of the same grease in the dimple at the bottom end of the armature shaft, and stuck the newly cleaned ball into it; the grease was sufficiently sticky to hold the ball for easy reassembly. I put a drop of Thorens's own light oil into the upper bronze sleeve and around the edges of same, smeared a small amount of the same oil on the upper and lower parts of the shaft, and reinstalled the armature, ball still in place. Then I dribbled a drop of the same oil into the thrust well and gingerly put it in place, watching very carefully to align well and shaft without knocking the ball into space. Back went the motor-casing bolts: tight, but not Linn-tight.
After I had everything back together, I was astounded by how much better the motor now ranthe platter reached speed within its first revolutionbut it now ran so fast that the Thorens's eddy-current brake couldn't slow it enough to attain accurate playback speed.
But that in itself was no big problem: All that now needed to be done was to loosen the bolt holding the eddy-current magnet in place and to scootch it, tinily, toward the TD 124's intermediate pulley. This involved a certain amount of trial and error, but I soon arrived at a magnet position at which the platter could achieve correct speed in the middle of its adjustment range, with room for adjustment in both directions. Done!
Until it hurts
In films of the great jazz and pop guitarists, you can see that they have to work at it. Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul, and, most famously, Django Reinhardt (who, like Paul, overcame crippling injuries that would have silenced mere humans): Their hands and fingers didn't appear to really fit the fretboard, yet these artists nonetheless compensated, often brilliantly.
The flatpicking legend Tony Rice, who turned 62 last year, is an exception: To watch him is to see one of the few contemporary players whose hands fall perfectly into place on the fretboard, as if he was made to play that instrument and nothing else.
Or so it was until recently. Over the past few years, Rice has fallen prey first to dysphonia (which curtailed and then halted altogether his ability to sing), then osteoarthritis, and now, lateral epicondylitis in his right arm. As of this writing, his guitar has not been out of its case since June 2013. He cannot, at this time in his life, perform, and will require surgery before he is able to do so again.
I'm fortunate that Tony, who is also a dedicated audiophile, has been a good friend since 2001, and I know that self-reliance runs deep in his character, as both an individual and an artist. But the fact of the matter is, until he can afford to have his performing abilities restored, music lovers will be deprived of his gifts: simple as that. With that in mind, some friends established, in December, the Tony Rice Foundation, central to which is a PayPal account for collecting the funds needed to make possible the surgery and, indeed, Tony's way of life. I see this as an act not of charity, but of civic-mindedness within the community of music-lovers: It takes the generosity of individuals to reach where commerce no longer does, to preserve those monuments that might otherwise fall by the wayside. Tony and the music he's created are such a monument, and I would greedily like to keep them around. If you can help, please visit the Tony Rice Foundation.
Footnote 3: I purchased my Thorens from Stereophile's copyeditor, Richard Lehnert, at a time when he still resided in the semi-arid high-desert city of Santa Fe, New Mexicowhere this TD 124 toiled, without additional oil, for some 30 years. You don't suppose . . . ?