Listening #135 Page 2

Where the Abis gave it up to my transcription-length tonearms was, surprisingly or not, with mono records. The SA-1 did a good, enjoyable job with Johanna Martzy's recordings of J.S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin (3 LPs, (EMI/Electric Recording Company 33CX 1288), but didn't reach the same magical heights of artistic teleportation as the big arms. Ditto the recent mono release of Paul McCartney's spotty Ram (Apple/Hear Music HRM-334452-01), which sounded good, but not as chunky and forceful as it should: The superb Miyajima Mono simply gives more of itself when installed in my 12" Thomas Schick arm.

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 good—but 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 hurry—aided 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.


Thorens TD 124 and tools at the ready: alcohol, swabs, a screwdriver, a vial of Thorens oil from Schopper AG. (Photo: Art Dudley)

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).


With both the pulley and the bottom of the motor case removed, the armature can be easily lifted free. Here we see the dimple, minus the ball. (Photo: Art Dudley)

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 bolts—care must be taken to use an appropriately sized wrench to secure the nuts—the 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.


The freshly cleaned motor housing. (Photo: Art Dudley)

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.


Loosening the clamp that secures the eddy-brake magnet. (Photo: Art Dudley)

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.


The magnet in its new position, to better slow the newly revived motor. (Photo: Art Dudley)

After I had everything back together, I was astounded by how much better the motor now ran—the platter reached speed within its first revolution—but 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 Mexico—where this TD 124 toiled, without additional oil, for some 30 years. You don't suppose . . . ?

Regadude's picture

Art. Restoring all this 19th century gear is pretty cool. But, why don't you use that Rega P9 you have in your closet to listen to vinyl? You know, that P9 someone gave you to review, and then forgot to ask it back (and you cannot find them)?

I'm pretty sure it will be somewhat better than that Flintsone era Thorens... I still give you a thumbs up for restoring it. 

Doctor Fine's picture

I believe Art wound up going with the short very stiff belt drive/idler pulley Thorens specifically to gain more TORQUE and less SLIP when using the heavy tracking but wonderful Denon DL-103. 

I recall Art TRIED several famous belt drive tables before giving up and looking around for more "oomph."  The Thorens motor bites its platter with the grip of a pit bull.  Very good indeed for the low compliance heavy set bunch.

I myself would have suggested to Artie he simply use a well kitted brand new Technic SL-1210M5G but he prefers attempting things of a masochistic bent. 

The Technics was initially designed to be the ultimate audiophile turntable with prodigious amounts of torque.  It has been discontinued for lack of interest by the new generation of "experts" who ignored its charms entirely.  Those that do not know its origins missed a great one, too bad.

Completely overhauling an antique Thorens which uses a rubber wheel drive just seemed the cat's meaow to our boy.  There never was a more rugged handsome masculine piece of gear than the Thorens 124 so I DO understand the appeal and cheered for Artie when he made his into a masterpiece with many upgrades......

It is apparently Art's diabolic plan to ferret away every last piece of HiFi porn worth lusting over and then not SHARE his pile with the rest of us.

This is patently unfair Mr. Dudley so cut it out right NOW!

popluhv's picture

Is the guage at the bottom of the photo for anti-skate or VTA? Does it have adjustable VTA?

nunhgrader's picture

I cannot wait to read the comments about your April column (I am such an audiophile gossipy old fart)! Wish someone would reference the facebook page!