An RCA 45 RPM Record Player Unlike Any Other
Not Your Father's Record Player
Since I was a wee one, I had a 45 RPM record changer to play with; it was my most favorite thing in the whole world (that is, until I started modeling trains). After I retired, I stumbled across restored 45 RPM players on eBay. I was feeling a tad nostalgic, but unwilling to spend $300-500 for a trip down memory lane. So, I decided to take a crack at refurbishing one myself, and bought a couple of non-working units. My goal was to restore one to as-built condition, tubes and all. After a few years of on-and-off tinkering, I had a pretty decent machine, but it still had some pesky problems that eventually convinced me to drop the as-built restoration plan and go for something that functioned better. What ultimately emerged after a few months was an entirely unique little beastie.
I started by creating a totally new changer mechanism using a heavy-duty low-RPM geared DC motor (below left) and a number of repurposed gears, levers, springs and other spare parts (below right). The new mechanism functions better, mostly because it operates more slowly. The original was touted by period advertising as "the world's fastest record changer," which had its drawbacks: it was noisy, and occasionally the tone arm, as it whipped around wildly, collided with a descending record.
Then I addressed the platter drive. While the original still worked reasonably well, there was noticeable speed fluctuation owing mostly to the rubber idler wheel. Replacements are available, but the motor also created a hum in the audio. So, out it came and in went a speed-controlled brushless DC motor (below left), which I fitted with a roller to drive the platter directly (below right), doing away with the troublesome idler (the new motor was actually much cheaper than a replacement idler).
Next, I upgraded the player with a 21st-Century solid state amplifier (below left). Smaller than a business card, it's rated at a belief-straining 60 watts, and has enough gain to do away with the need for a preamp. For giggles, I added a retro-inspired "tone" control (some "deluxe" models from that time had "tone" controls), which is nothing more than a poor-man's treble attenuator. Finally, I replaced the original 4-inch circular paper cone speaker with a comparatively beefy 4x6 oval poly cone speaker (below right), the largest that would fit in the case without modifying anything.
Although one of the players I got came with a relatively modern replacement pickup cartridge, it failed to track some of my records properly, and also tended to chew them up, so I purchased a brand new cartridge specifically made for these players that reliably tracks at a much kinder, gentler 4 grams (below left). At $40, "The Redhead" as it's called was the single costliest component of the project—the rest of the new parts averaged $10 or less each. All of the electrical gear is powered by an efficient 2 amp 12 volt DC switching power supply (below right).
Once the player was fully functional, I took it back apart so I could address cosmetics. The red spindle cap inspired the color scheme: a brilliant candy apple red tone arm, a red platter pad, and a hammered graphite black case with red base trim. I'd wanted to sand and polish the Bakelite case, but it had too many blemishes. I'd also wanted to repaint the spindle, but I learned early on that additional paint on the spindle interfered with records dropping. Since the spindle's original finish was pretty beat up, I stripped off the gold paint and polished the bare metal with steel wool. The platter pad is red self-adhesive craft foam that I trimmed to size while the platter was turning. I also sprayed the RCA Victor emblem bright red like the tone arm.
The finishing cosmetic touches were old-fashioned-looking volume and tone control knobs originally made as replacements for Fender electric guitars; I colored the white letters and numbers red in keeping with the scheme. (Never mind the fact that the numbers appear upside-down; obviously I didn't think that one through when I bought them. Oh, well!) Meanwhile, the main power switch and the record change pushbutton are modern, illuminated controls that just happened to exactly fit their respective openings in the case.
All of the above was not accomplished in a single pass; getting things to function properly took many attempts. With over two dozen new holes, the underside of the base (above left) bears witness to a great deal of trial and error; the main chassis (above right) is similarly well-perforated. Yet some things still aren't quite right, and likely never will be, as there comes a point of diminishing returns—it's as good as it needs to be to put a smile on my face.
Despite all of its modern functional upgrades, a precision, high-fidelity instrument it most assuredly is not. So, being something of an audiophile, why did I invest so much time and energy in the silly thing? First, it was a fun project that presented many technical challenges for me to solve. Second, it makes a great conversation piece when guests come over—they enjoy digging through my record collection and listening to old tunes they'd not heard in a long time, or not heard at all. And last, I'll admit that watching it play still mesmerizes me the same way it did when I was a young-un, so it's also a priceless piece of nostalgia.
Copyright © 2021-2022 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved