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Do you like dancing? I don't, and it isn't my goal to waltz you through every possible repair. In keeping with the principle that less is more I am going to discuss the most common repairs, the real life scenarios. In many cases you will be able to get your Amberola humming happily again even if you have two left feet. As a prelude, you might study an excellent posting I found on the web regarding Edison Phonograph Repair, written coincidentally by the same distinguished author as this article. Almost everything I say there also applies to the Amberola models. As to where to find parts, please consult the relevant section of the Antique Phonograph FAQ.
I'm not going to tackle the exotic machines such as the Amberola I, or machines which used oddball motors such as the Amberola V, other than to throw you back again to the general discussion on antique phonograph repair. These machines are too hard to get parts for, and if you're doing anything other than cleaning and adjustments you may find yourself paying a visit to your local machinist.
This means we are left with two groups of machines: the belt drive Amberolas and the direct drive Amberolas.
I. THE BELT DRIVE AMBEROLAS (VIII, X, most versions of the VI).
These can be blatantly identified by a pulley on the mandrel connected by belting to a pulley on the motor. Because these machines were marriages of internal horn cases and outside horn components --usually the Edison Fireside-- everything I say in the Antique Phonograph Repair tutorial as to belting, governor adjustment and such also applies here.
Machine runs sluggishly or erratically:
Unscrew the little collar at the right end of the mandrel shaft. Clean and polish the mandrel shaft. Oil the motor and check the belting. If you are unfortunate enough to own a machine that employed a Gem rather than a Fireside motor you may be out of luck in that the motor may not be strong enough to push through an entire record. The Gem motor had an open mainspring; the mainspring in the Fireside motor is enclosed in a spring barrel.
Assembly that connects horn and reproducer is missing:
Most of these machines used variations of a nickle plated ball joint assembly with telescoping arms (see photograph). Nobody, to my knowledge, is manufacturing these any more. Unless you can scrounge the assembly off a parts machine you're probably out of luck.
Reproducer doesn't sound right or needs repair.
I'll tell you how to disassemble the reproducer in a minute, but first I'm going to inform you of a symptom that's surprisingly common, but also ridculously easy to fix. Every once in a while you run into a reproducer that sounds garbled, sort of crystal clear and yet off at the same time, as if it's skipping on the surface of the record. I don't mean that the record is repeating the groove. Repeating is caused by a misadjusted half nut. I also don't mean an echo in the record. An echo is usually caused by a bad stylus. If your reproducer has this mysterious symptom there's a trip you can take. Loosen the big screw at the top, tail end of the reproducer just a little. Lubricate the assembly and work it up and down. Then screw it back tight and try the reproducer again. If it seems to help, but not quite enough, loosen the big screw just a little, return the reproducer to the carriage, and leave it that way. This will set the drop of the reproducer good enough to work.
You may want to have one of the professional repairmen rebuild the reproducer, but if you're adventuresome the process isn't much different than rebuilding an Edison C or H. You start by removing the two tiny screws at the heel of the reproducer. I've always had a rough time removing the tiny pin that holds the needle bar in place; you may want to purchase some very fine needle nose pliers. If all you're replacing is a chipped stylus and the rest of the reproducer is satisfactory you may get lucky and be able to hook the old linkage onto the new stylus bar without disassembling the reproducer.
II. THE DIRECT DRIVE AMBEROLAS (30,50, and 75)
Machine seems to work, but not quite right.
Yes, I know this is a nebulous symptom but I'm leading up to a point. The machine does something incredibly funky such as plays for a while and then hits a stopping point, and it's a different stopping point every time, or plays better when it's pointed uphill, or only plays well on alternate Thursdays when the Democrats are in office. This malaise, caused by a combination of factors, can frequently be cured by giving your Amberola a tune-up. It's easy to do, and you don't even have to vote Democratic, unless you're an admirer of FDR.
Perform the tune-up in the following order:
1) Remove the front grill of your Amberola and look at the horn. There is a small hole in the bottom of the horn. This hole engages a pin toward the front, center of the wooden baseboard. If the pin is missing make one out of a screw or something else appropriate..
2) Slip your hand gently over the outside of the horn. There is a hook at the top of the horn, and slipped onto the hook should be a little spring. The other part of the spring should be hooked to the underside of the metal bedplate (see images). If your spring is missing you will have to replace it with a spring from the hardware store. You don't want a really powerful spring, just a spring strong enough to gently float your horn. It's a test of dexterity of re-hook the spring.
3) Unscrew the front rod that the carriage rides upon (see image) and slide it out. Our goal here is remove the reproducer from the horn. Be careful, the neck of most of these reproducers is pot metal. Gently twist and turn the carriage until the reproducer removes itself from the horn. (If it's easier for you to work without the carriage try loosening the set screw(s) on the reproducer and see if the reproducer pops out of the carriage. If it doesn't the reproducer may be frozen in the carriage and we'll have to pry it out later.) The reproducer may offer a little resistance but you shouldn't need the strength of Hercules to remove it. If your reproducer seems to be frozen into place it means that the pot metal neck has expanded so much that it has forever embraced the horn and cannot be cleanly removed. You might as well stop here, drop down to the section on reproducer repair, and decide whether you want to invest in a new reproducer.
4) (Optional) Remove the reproducer from the carriage. It will usually pop out if you press the back of the reproducer strongly with your thumbs. If it doesn't pop out just leave well enough alone. Later on we may have to remove it to rebuild it or adjust the carriage, but for now we'll work with the reproducer seated in the carriage.
5) Polish the neck of the reproducer with some fine sandpaper and clean the inside of the neck of the horn. The reproducer should be able to rotate freely 360 degrees inside the horn. If some of the neck of the reproducer has crumbled you can probably safely ignore it; I have seen reproducers work properly with around as little as a half inch of the neck remaining.
6) We are now, and only now, ready to adjust the machine. Try reassembling everything, sliding the rod through the carriage as the final step. If you're lucky everything will work as God and Edison intended. Flip the lift lever on the carriage up and slide the carriage back and forth. Does everything slide smoothly, and does the horn follow? If not, check the tension on the horn spring or see if you're binding on the pin. Can you feel the half nut dragging as you slide the carriage? If so, we will adjust this later. Does the the stylus seem to scratch the record as you slide the carriage back and forth? If so, we will also adjust this later. Flip the lift lever onto the play position and fire up the motor. If all goes well you can stop here and get a cup of coffee. If not, proceed to step seven.
7) There are two final adjustments you can make on the carriage, and getting them right will be a matter of trial and error (see photograph).The pin at the top of the carriage adjusts the drop of the reproducer. You want to set this, quite obviously, enough so that the stylus contacts the record, but not so much that the stylus scratches as you return the carriage. The adjusting screw at the bottom of the carriage adjusts the tension of the half nut. You want to kiss the feed screw just enough so that the record doesn't start repeating.
Mandrel turns sluggishly
IMPORTANT: run down the motor. Unscrew the little collar at the right end of the mandrel shaft. Unclip the two springs at the left end of the mandrel shaft and remove the mandrel. Clean and polish the mandrel shaft. Replace the mandrel, leaving just the slightest amount of free play between the collar and the shaft.
Speed needs adjustment.
Early Amberolas had a knurled speed control screw sticking through the upper gear housing, but on most machines you will have to remove the upper gear housing and turn the speed adjustment screw (see image).
Machine winds, but then unwinds all at once.
This is the signature of a problem with the ratchet and pawl. You can possibly fix this yourself if you're willing to disassemble the motor. Be sure that the little tabs on the pawl aren't broken off. The spring hooks into a hole in one of the tabs, and then over the casting on the opposite side.
Much of what I said earlier about the Diamond B reproducer is also true of the Diamond C Amberola reproducer.Edison used pot metal in some of these reproducers, and the thing that has come back to haunt most people is the pot metal neck. I have heard of people re-necking broken reproducers, although I've never attempted this phonographic transplant surgery. I assume that it consists of epoxying a brass sleeve into the shell of the old reproducer. You might want to try it if you're desperate.
The Amberola I displayed cabinetry of exquisite worksmanship, but by the time we arrive at the Amberola 30 the cabinet work had degenerated to the cheapest possible expedient. It is a rare Amberola 30, literally one out of a thousand, that does not suffer from some degree of veneer peel. I usually steam off the old veneer with an iron, having learned that the old oak is too thin and brittle to patch. Although it costs a little extra, it's easiest to replace the old stuff with a two ply veneer.
BACK: Part One: Edison Amberola Models
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