Monday, April 29, 2019

Uncle Rick

My Uncle Rick is the #1 influencer of my musical taste in my lifetime.  It is probable that the fact that I became a musician and pursued it was contributed to by his exposing me to music at a young age.  Along with the fact that I thought he was pretty cool so I'd probably have gotten into whatever he said he liked.  He always had a ton of vinyl around and he had a real nice hi-fi setup.  He was a very early adopter of CDs when I didn't know anyone else that had them.  He would make mix tapes for me with obscure stuff, and some of those tracks became bands that I continue to listen to now, 30 years later.  He leaned toward what I think of as cerebral music, like fusion jazz and progressive rock.  He liked standard rock and roll also, the kind where you didn't need to do deep thinking.  But I count the former styles as some of my favorites to current times.

So while visiting my parents last week, my mom mentioned that my aunt said they had some stuff they wanted to get rid of.  So I sent my aunt a text.

I remembered that my uncle had a Marantz turntable and I'd recognize that cabinet from a mile away. It has a flip top glass lid that acts as a dustcover and was clearly designed with a turntable in mind. This literally is my childhood, in a single photo.  Now, they had it down in the basement and the receiver long ago died or was taken for another project.  It didn't take much thinking to know I'd be over there as soon as possible to scoop all this up.  

So I made plans to go over there on Thursday night before Good Friday (which is a paid holiday for me).  I even snuck out of work a little early to drive over.  When I arrived, I was early and no one was home.  My aunt and uncle showed up a few minutes later with their grandkids in tow.  They had just picked them up and soon had to drop them off.  After showing me where everything was, they left me to my own devices to start packing things up, they said it would be about an hour.  My uncle mentioned there were a few beers in the fridge and recommended I partake.  I don't usually drink that early in the day but this was a very special occasion.  The fact that I was going through it all alone, in the house I remember so much as a kid made it even more special.

So I brought some boxes for the vinyl (based on what I saw in the bottom of the cabinet).  I also brought some corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, tape and stretch wrap as I knew I'd need some serious packing skills to get that cabinet home in one piece.  I started with the vinyl.  My uncle had it in a bunch of stacks on a tables in the basement.  I refused to look at anything, I told myself that would be the reward at the end of the night, after I lugged this stuff home and dragged it all upstairs.  One that caught my eye was Chris Squire's solo album.  I knew my uncle liked Yes though he never really played it when I was a kid.  Later, I found a few more albums: Going For the One, Yessongs and even Rick Wakeman's first solo album.  But I have jumped ahead.

My uncle had showed me that he uncovered some more vinyl, in a dusty wooden crate he found under the stairs.  Luckily, the two boxes I bought did carry the stuff stacked on the table, and the rest stayed in the crate.  So I carried it all up to the kitchen.  I opened up a Two Hearted Ale and kind of just stopped and took my time.  I didn't want to get caught up in the moment, I didn't need time to tick any faster than it needed to.  The house was very quiet and I just stood and breathed, then headed back down.

I carefully carried up the turntable and the Yamaha dual tape deck and set them on the kitchen table.  My uncle had told me to leave the cabinet until he got back but they had only been gone probably 15 minutes and I was otherwise done.  So I decided to give it a go.  It is much heavier than it looks on account of the glass, but also just the wood isn't that Ikea garbage, it is very dense.  There is nowhere good to grab it so I just bear hugged it and took it one stair at a time, then rest for a moment.  It is on wheels so once I got it upstairs I rolled it to the backdoor.  

Then I had to carry it down about 5 stairs to the driveway, then carefully roll it to the truck and somehow tip it into the back.  I had brought a very large box (24x24x48) which I left flat and unfolded, then stuffed with corrugated cardboard and bubble wrap.  I figured I could lay the cabinet on it's back, like a mattress.  Somehow I got it in there and positioned it.  I taped the top shut and filled the space under the doors with bubble wrap and more cardboard.  Then I strapped the whole thing down with ratchet straps so it wouldn't slide around.  

After that I started hauling the rest out.  Three boxes of vinyl, one of which included a ton of cassette tapes.  The turntable and the tape deck I brought up front with me so they wouldn't bounce around.  After that I was done.  I cracked another beer (Two Brothers Cane and Ebel, been a long time since I had one and man are they good).  I sat on the porch and appreciated how quiet it was.  It was a little cold but I ignored it and just listened to the nothingness.  A few people walked dogs and such and I marveled at the neighborhood.  I always loved coming out there when I was a kid, not just because of the house but because the area always seemed so different and exotic.  As an adult I can appreciate it more.  What a nice place to live.

It was killing me to have time on my hands and not to be looking through that vinyl.  I knew it was filled with great stuff.  Finally I decided I would look through just one of them.  As expected it was stocked well with classics.  Then I started going through some of the tapes.  I found an old TDK tape holder but the zipper was corroded shut.  I went into the basement and found some WD-40 and squirted it on and gently tried to maneuver the thing but no dice.  I pulled a little harder and the zipper actually broke in half the thing is so old!

So I went back into the basement and found a pair of pliers to continue to manipulate the stub.  I had to get in there! I felt like I was in a time warp or something, it was just so quiet and no one was around but me at this crusty old tape holder.  I finally got it open just before I started to think about stabbing into it with my knife but alas it held nothing of value.  Shortly after that my aunt and uncle came back.  They were shocked that I found a way to get the cabinet out and then we went out to have a few beers and some pizza.  My uncle told me that he thinks he got the cabinet in 1981.  He said a friend bought it but didn't like the wood grain so the manufacturer gave him another one, and my uncle got the reject.

I got home and after many trips was able to drag everything upstairs.  I sort of staged the cabinet and got to task on the vinyl.  Three huge boxes - it was almost too intense to handle.  One after the other, so many classics!

I kept trying to decide how to even organize them.  I would try to pull out a pile of albums that were the best of the best, then another stack of 2nd place, but it would get fouled up right away.  After hours of tangling with this, I came up with three piles.  The first included some children's albums and other junk, this went to the thrift store.  The second pile was for me, no questions asked.  The third was stuff that was certainly very good, but I have to draw the line as I am always trying to stay under around 700 LPs and this would just be too much to take on.  That being said, there was no way it was going to the thrift store.  It didn't seem right to sell the stuff though surely I could.  I ended up just bringing it to work and stashing it in my office.  Somehow getting it off premise made me relax a bit.

I started going through the 'keepers' and ordered a bunch of extra inner and outer sleeves.  I had zero inner and about 10 outer on hand.  So I stocked up.  I always cringe at the price for a bunch of plastic bags and paper envelopes but I buy once a year if that.  This will last a good while.  Until they arrive (and ask of this writing) they are leaning against my desk on the floor.  I can't put them away until they are sealed up.

The next task was to make this system playable.  So I needed a receiver.  I went to ebay and pretty quickly found was I was looking for.  A Marantz SR340, asking for $175 OBO, and it was local so I could pick it up.  I offered $150, they accepted and I brought it home the next day.

I quickly found that the FM tuner did not work, just consistent static across the dial.  If you look closely you can see the green corrosion.

After a ton of research I found that this is due to the variable capacitor being dirty.  So I ran to Home Depot and bought the appropriate products to take care of that.  After about 36 hours of cleaning, listening and cleaning again, the problem seemed to be long gone and I had clear crisp reception.  So for that day and a half, I had it set up on a TV tray table in my dining room hooked up to some tiny portable speakers out of the head phone jack.

I was hesitant to button it up and put it away until I knew it worked.  But after much review, I did so and it still seems to be going strong.  I also cleaned the oxidation out of the sliders that control tone/volume/balance and any crackliness has gone away. [EDIT: a couple weeks later, I changed the station and now all FM is gone again.  I know I need to just keep cleaning the variable cap, there is some tiny bit of corrosion left.]

Onto the final chapter: speakers.  This time I went to Craigslist.  I have bought and sold a handful of items on this site over the years.  Speakers seemed like an especially shady business for such a site since it would be easy to try and pass off a blown set on an unsuspecting buyer.  I found a beautiful set of Marantz speakers and made an offer of $100 and the guy accepted!

I am ashamed to admit I do not remember the gentleman's name but I believe it was George.  What a great guy.  The blurb he wrote for the speakers on Craigslist is GOLD.

Marantz Vintage Speaker SP-2368 2 Way System Wood Black Front JHUp for auction is this beautiful set of Marantz SP2368 - 2 way bookshelf speakers. The grills are in pristine condition and there are no visible scratches or gouges in the veneer. The speakers look like they have come out of a time machine. The drivers and tweeters are in great shape, and they sound as good as any version of the popular bookshelf speakers I've heard. Each speaker has a long-excursion 6 1/2" woofer, to produce deep accurate bass and a 1" liquid cooled tweeter that delivers soaring highs. Passive crossover networks provide satin smooth response without artificial "peaks" Power handling capacity is 80 watts RMS and they loved to be pushed. Size: 15" H X 8 1/2" W X 13 1/2" D.

I drove out to his apartment and the place was stocked with high end gear.  He told me that he and his brother were long time collectors.  He had the speakers set up on his dining room table before I arrived hooked up to a basic Pioneer receiver to test with.  He cranked it up even louder than I would have asked for - these speakers were clearly NOT blown.  He showed me the rest of his collection and as strange as it sounds (considering we just met), I could have hung out with the guy looking at his gear for a few hours.  But I got out of there and headed to Walmart to grab speaker wire (they were the only place open on Easter Sunday).

So I finally got the whole thing hooked up and as expected it sounds great! I currently have my old bass amp being used as a speaker stand for the right channel.  But there is a handle on top which limits how I can place the speaker.  I can remove the handle but the screws also retain the head inside the cabinet.  But I noticed that it was also at least 6" lower than the left channel (which is on a shelf), so I built a quick box at work to elevate it, and I left the bottom of the box open so it goes over the handle.  Looks great and works perfectly!

My uncle replaced the cartridge in the head shell many years ago.  Inside now is a Shure VST III.  I even have the original case that the cartridge came in, and inside he put the original Marantz cartridge.  I've never seen one like this but there is even a tiny brush on the end, in front of the stylus, to pick up dust before it hits the needle.  Pretty cool.  I was able to set the counterweight, I set it to 1.5, I actually have the original instructions from Shure but it is confusing and I can't understand if they are saying to set it at 1.5 or 1.75.  I set the anti-skate to match and I've had no issues.  It is a weird turntable though.  When it is in 'manual' mode, the turntable always spins when it is powered up.  You can't freely drop the tone arm, you can only position it over the groove you want and there are cushion 'up' and 'down' buttons.  You can also use 'auto' mode: this will stop the turntable when the needle gets to the end of the run out groove.  And it doesn't start the turntable until you hit the 'down' button to drop the needle.  Really weird and took some getting used to.

My uncle also mentioned that the glass top dustcover used to have some kind of pads so the glass wouldn't come down against the wood cabinet if you pushed too hard.  But they fell apart and wore away.  I could see a tiny bit of adhesive left.  So I made my own pads.  I used this felt like material from work, backed a big piece with double stick tape, then used a punch to cut through both materials.  Makes perfect little discs.  Put one on each corner.

One of the last things I did was swap the new cassette deck my uncle gave me with the one I already had.  So now I have my uncles black Yamaha deck with my old Kenwood amp in my office; I moved my Technics silver tape deck into the living room to match my new silver Marantz amp!


I found PDF copies of the service manual for the turntable and the receiver.  I also purchased a legit copy of the owners manual for the receiver.  I put everything in a binder and printed some cool images for the cover and spine of the binder.  In the photo at the bottom of this post you can see the spine, it is sitting on top of the tape deck.  If either item ever croaks on me, I'll have half a chance to find the bad component and hopefully resurrect it!


  • Ebay: receiver 150 (wanted 175) paid cash
  • Craigslist: speakers 100 (wanted 120) paid cash
  • Walmart: speaker wire/RCA cable 26.93
  • Target: RCA cable 8.63
  • Ebay: 50 inner sleeves 24.99
  • Ebay: 100 outer sleeves 34.99
  • Ebay: receiver manual 5.50
  • Home Depot: supplies 19.18
  • TOTAL=$370.22
Here are the select records I have added to the collection.  I have so many more I don't even have room for them so they are currently in a crate in my office at work.  At the bottom is a mix I just did from these selected records.  I haven't listened to them all yet but here are some standouts:

1) The two Journey albums are pre-Steve Perry.  I always read that they were a semi-prog rock band in that era but I had never heard it.  So far both are really good.
2) My uncle recommended that I listen to Phil Manzenera 801 Live.  He did not have this on vinyl but I streamed it and loved it.  He also gave it to me on a (very old) cassette tape.  Here we have one of the 801 studio albums which I have not checked out yet.  I did listen to K-Scope a bit and dug it but it wasn't as good as the 801 Live.  I was always a bit weirded out by Phil Manzenera when I was a kid, I would look at the albums at my uncles and I never understood what genre of music it is exactly, and the covers were odd.
3) The same goes for Shadowfax.  I was going to kick this one to the curb then I looked at saw they were from Chicago.  This is really excellent and I've spun it and streamed it a few times.
4) The Fleetwood Mac 'Rumours' is a Dutch import on white vinyl! I have no idea why he has this!
5) Ummagumma is a vinyl I used to stare at when I was a kid.  Not just because of the cover (though I did think that was awesome), but the band photos and the rear jacket photo especially really weirded me out.  The studio half of this album is so noisy and experimental it isn't really that listenable. I need to give the live half a chance.
6) He put 'Don't Go' by Yaz on a mixtape he made me when I was young.  Song has a bad vibe and so does the cover.  Couldn't leave this one behind.
7) Same goes for 'Journey to Love', the title cut was on a mixtape.  I actually already own this LP, it is a promo (not a true promo, but does have a huge sticker) but it is kind of beat.  So now I have both.
8) The Billy Cobham was a no brainer and is excellent, very chaotic and like early Mahavishnu.