The Basement (& attic, & mudroom, & other junk locales)

A typical shelf in a typical American basement: tube tester, meters, calculators, slide rules



oscilloscopes


The Hickock scope on the left has a U.S. Navy manual specifying standard repair procedures for two — one to fling the technician from the machine and initiate resuscitation.


Set Tester

You’d take a tube out of your 30s radio, use the cable in the top there, plug it in where the tube used to be, and then plug the tube into the set tester. Voila! You could see all kinds of interesting voltages and currents while the unit operated! These wonderful devices declined with the advent of multiple-grid tubes, whose much higher gain made them fatally sensitive to several feet of wiring. Yesterday’s beloved in-circuit emulator (“ICE”) did pretty-much the same sort of thing with your microprocessor, and, similarly, is itself gone to the antique-technology basement, as ever-faster devices make inserted cable runs of a few feet impractical.

Another Shelf


Another typical basement shelf with set testers and meters, and a broken TRS-80 computer.

megger

The earnest old-timer claimed it was a “megger” and used to find breaks in long cables by cunning resistive techniques. But I don’t think so; I happened to come across the term elsewhere as a high-voltage post-war kind-of instrument used to measure insulation quality, and this isn’t it; it uses batteries, goes up to 10M ohms; although I suppose 1944/46 are postwar; but it looks pre-war. ... The rest of his story might be true, although I still don’t understand how measuring high resistances will locate cable faults — but then I revel in ignorance. ... The old-timer was trying to flog the thing and I guess he promoted the fancy $-sounding name. ... And wouldn’t he be surprised to learn ebay has one of these things today (described as a “resistance bridge”) for $250!

meter #1



This tube tester is a little larger and newer than the others, and presumably tested many a tube in the 50s or 60s.

meter #2


Yet another exciting tube tester.

Harmoniums


Of course no basement is complete without chord organs. On the left is one of those plastic things that must’ve made many a Christmas merry; the other is the more professional instrument, with many more chords. They differ in tuning by just about a quarter note.

a calculator



Where are the calculators of yesteryear? ... In my case, many of them are still in the basement. This well-preserved unit works perfectly; that’s the original 1976 receipt from some place on Chambers Street.

... And then there’re the slide rules, sweet innocent things never meaning any harm!....



... Or the cameras, the cameras! The 8mm Kodaks! The light meters! The check writer! ...

Or this beautiful light meter — apparently just my age, the little fellow!



... Or the other junk! ... The computers! The tape recorders! The endless debris....

pipesmore organs

And Organ pipes ... in the attic of course. The living room => is host to one of the latter-day Hammonds + a Macintosh SE in transit. ... The Mac hasn’t really done much for me (well that was then; but see the also-useless imini), but the Hammond was fun to play, even if outstandingly cranky, and beyond that now.

Then there’s the Hammond Chord Organ. All tubes; no transistors or whirling wheels here, just solid 40s tube technology. There are at least three tone generation systems in it: the monophonic solo voice controlled by the highest note on the keyboard, and to which most of the stop tabs are devoted, the polyphonic keyboard, and, finally, the separate chord oscillators! All the notes for the solo voice are produced, of course, by chord organa single set of tubes, with a keyboard full of coils adjusting the pitch. But even the polyphonic notes are shared — 3 keys to an oscillator in the lower part of the keyboard, and then 2 per in the upper! Every tube counted in those days. ... The resulting mix of individually-tuned solo, polyphonic, and chord tones is very sweet and unmechanical; it’s almost as if they knew what they were doing! The picture doesn’t show the two simple foot pedals which provide the oom-pah bass, or the emphasis bar in front of the chord section; these features provided all the beat there was, in an age before rhythm machines.

chords... Near the beginning of my second decade on this beautiful planet a Hammond Chord Organ appeared at the local “Hudson Guild” community center, and drove me mad with longing; I can still remember it vividly, if obscurely, a gleaming shiny beautiful powerful machine — it was so beautiful beautiful! ... Indeed, my longing for electronic organs transformed them all into transcendent mystical toys, and I can still just barely recapture the feeling of longing and religious certainty, that if I could just get my hands on one of these machines, oh the joy the beauty the shiny tabs! ... All of course utterly beyond and outside today’s nevertheless charming reality. ... I believe Hammond Chord Organs also found homes in low-rent commercial joints, as a cheap substitute for the real thing; I can almost remember it, and I have some “semi-pro” (I can’t play it) Hammond-chord-organ-specific sheet music.

... My beloved treasure was $50 — it is paint-speckled — but I bargained the historical society up to $150 including shipping — I learned my lesson with the DK40. ... And be sure to google for “Hammond Chord” to see many amusing pages.

Latter Day Reverb

And then, after fixing another in the endless succession of broken keys, I grotesquely-enhanced the wondrous machine with reverberation. ... The model after my S6 unit apparently came with spring reverb, but I connected some derelict powered-monitors to an equally-derelict FEX800 through an HD400 and a 26 ohm resistor to the chord organ speaker, and it was good. ... Indian Love Call gets a special something. ... I set the FEX800 to “all-wet” and pointed the speakers out into the room i.e. away from me, to get that so-desirable chord-organ-in-a-cave effect. ... Another tip ’n’ trick: I turned the bass switches on the monitors all down — the substantial chord organ oom-pah pedal fundamentals fighting their echoes is not to my taste....

Chord Organ Repair

I’ve repaired three or four keys, and once I stopped a terrible buzzing noise, basically by randomly changing every tube in the machine, but then there came a time of terror of fear of unexplainable sorrow: certain chords failed! ... I puzzled through the manual (which I bought from the Organ Service Company) and pondered deeply, eventually producing the Secret Decoder chart-like thing over there, and deciding that a certain tube was bad. But before I ventured the repair, I procrastinated for months, frozen in laziness, appalled at what I knew would be the horror of taking the thing apart, armed only with my chaotic notes.

In the event, my “single tube” theory was stupid because (1.) the other notes of the chord, not from that tube, would stop also and (2.) replacing the tube did nothing. ... So eventually, after additional months of delay, continuing deep thoughts produced a certainty that a particular capacitor was the culprit; it had somehow gone short, so when it was switched onto the chord bus, all the other notes would go bad; or something — in the event, the latter proved to be the case (i.e., “something”): when I took it apart and, intelligently distrusting myself, first tried resoldering the capacitor on both ends including the various resistors attached to the wiring points — that fixed it! ... And so what have I learned? ... Nothing. ... Well, actually, it’s like my analog tape recorder rule: it’s almost always the record/play switch, and cleaning/abusing such often fixed it. ... So the chord organ version would be, if it played yesterday, then probably one of the 5 milion switches got mysteriously dirty. Presumably from afrits in the night.

... The beautiful picture shows the unit in the throes of repair with a broken key missing its plastic, with the metal part sticking up. On the left, above, behind the chord buttons, is the area where my suspicious capacitor later lurked. ... But I must say, I do this poorly; I threw away my notes, actually deleted them on a laptop without backing them up (fortunately I was using OwenShow, so they wound-up in my deleted file folder), and when I started to take it apart, I realized I had kept no notes from the previous 700 times, like for instance getting the top off — this unit at least — involves two giant bolts, instead of the four claimed in the manual....

Key Repair

... Incidentally, I think I’ve learned how to repair the keys. There are two bolts holding the plastic to the metal mechanism, and typically one or both plastic sockets have broken off so the bolt isn’t holding anything. In the past, I’ve tried to “build-up” the plastic so it’ll take the bolt thread again, but that hasn’t worked well. ... A better approach is hot-melt glue and various bits and pieces. For instance, the rear bolt was missing in action on one I just did, so I stuck a piece of a thinner teflon bolt in the remaining crater in the plastic, reinforcing it with a few layers of hot melt glue. Eventually the plastic bolt remnant was sticking up through the larger hole in the metal. Then I got a plastic nut and a metal washer, and held it together that way — along with, in this case, the remaining original bolt (@ www.usplastic.com search for “632” — but the search/selection is sadly deteriorating)....

... But when I finally played the thing — well truly it is nothing to write home about; like the dancing cat, no, it doesn’t dance well. ... But it dances very sweetly; it’s as if it’s trying so hard. ... And I’ve noticed, as time passes, it actually sounds better — a sure sign, if one was needed, that it is sentiment more than music involved. ... But then what the heck is music anyway, if not noise + sentiment!?...

Monday, December 5, 2005. Then a week or so ago, I entered the fray again, in The Tale of The Bad 12AX7. In my notes I describe the symptoms as “high-distortion, thump-noises mode”; it would play more-or-less OK, but then sometimes I’d turn it on and it’d do that. As usual, I was horrified, terrified; had the poor thing finally met its ultimate fate? Would it chord no more? ... First I tried replacing the two 6V6 output tubes (www.thetubestore.com is a good source) which, like almost any tinkering, seemed to cure it for a while, but not for long. And the pulled 6V6s tested OK in my genuine NRI tube tester. ... Then, I replaced the 12AX7 output “phase-splitter” — and bingo! That was the culprit; and the old 12AX7 tested bad on the tube tester, which I believe is the first time I’ve actually replaced a testing-bad tube in the organ! ... And please note my ingeniously inept repair strategy: replace, then test! ... I think I do it that way because I can’t face the awful interminable delay that would ensue should I actually find a bad tube and not have a replacement. ... But whatever, the new 12AX7 made a new organ: cleaner, less noisy, and much louder than before! Now I can make wolf notes again! (Buzzing resonances that occur in the organ itself or neighboring bits of junk or room resonances.)

Friday, September 5, 2008 4:01 pm. More Broken Chords. So sad; it’s hardly worth detailing, 90% of the chords were totally silent. In the event, as I suspected, all I had to do was take it apart; you get it to a state as above, and then unscrew and unsolder the chord bar (you’re advised to remember which wire went where in the manual), and then — as per the manual — tape all the little keys so they don’t fling themselves across creation, unscrew six screws on my unit, and behold a frightening nest of chord bars which, indeed, required no repair, and everything worked when I got it back together. Although I did manage to drop at least one of the little keys and had a bad moment until I terrorized the LOL to come morally assist me to stare at the machine as I lifted the stupid cover off again ... and there it was! Lucky me!...

And of course I did manage to crack a 12au7 as I bolted the thing back together with my dangerous socket wrench. I never cracked a tube before, but I suppose it must’ve happened lots in the old days. It got real hot, the machine didn’t work good, and the tube was all sort-of frosty looking. ... A week of waiting for www.thetubestore.com, and the lovely chords call again!

Another keyboard of the heart was my Yamaha DK40. ... I don’t know what it is about these “fun machine” electronic organs (although see above for a possibility). ... Maybe it’s their utter present-day abandonment; maybe it’s the little people in flyover country who so prized the polished wood and colorful buttons. ... They’d get them to bond with the kids — ads show happy families playing and singing — they would get them to locate their shifting roots....

... They’d retire to a Wonderful Musical Hobby — and then in the last days they’re shocked when the Salvation Army will only give them $100 for their $3250 (1975!) pride and joy. ... Actually I got mine at a superior local flea market; I bargained them up from $450 to $500, but it wasn’t enough and delivery took a while — a year! ... But the organs always arrive in time for Christmas and my heart was full. ... The machine was mostly top-quality Japanese transistors; the stop levers ingeniously provide a drawbar-like feature by controlling volume for each voice (i.e. instead of just on/off). It had a lovely roll-top cover, like a tiny church organ....

I think we all lost something when these things departed, as did mine, in time. ... Sadly, their afterlives with me were not long-enough; but I still miss the genuine wood-like veneer + swarms of plastic knobs....

... And the Organs Died ...

After many happy years, to be sure. ... But I failed. I had a theory about my beautiful but doomed Hammond Commodore, that if I subdued the monstrous hum in the power supply it’d improve its other problems, i.e. apparently-digital failure modes basically summarized by some ebay pilgrim the LOL found with my organ approximately, “it plays for a while, but then stops” but you could just “turn it off and on and it’d play again”.

I recapped the Commodore power supply; I did a flaky-looking job, but it worked good! Hum immensely reduced. Organ still failed. Sounded lovely when it worked — better than it had in years! — but wouldn’t keep working for long enough. Before I started yesterday morning, the machine was no longer capable of remaining playable for 10 minutes; I could turn it on and go away, and 10 minutes later, it’d be mute, or at least wacko (wrong sounds). When I finished recapping, it’d stay on for almost an hour! Although eventually it’d relapse. And if I played a loud pedal note, it would still reliably make crashing noises and fail immediately. ... Indeed I suspect my power-supply tinkering made that effect worse, although it may have just made it more obvious. ... Subsequent random information-gathering suggests that the crashing noises are sometimes associated with defective transistors, as per some guy in Nuts ’n’ Volts resuscitating a 70s hifi, who had to trace the circuit to find the bad transistor, before replacing it. And his defective gadget sat there right on a bench where he could get at it. With heroic unimaginable efforts I could’ve probably jiggered my pitiful Commodore for circuit-tracing/repair; if I had that a/c/heated barn I’ve been meaning to acquire. But I didn’t. Of course back in the day an actual Hammond repairmen’d just replace the offending board with their copious supply of spares. ... Anyway, my power supply re-cap theory was definitely wrong....

... Sad Philosophical Musings ...

These machines were beautiful complex presentations: the levers and buttons were already simulacrums of the “real” thing, a pipe organ; they were designed to impress the home organist. And they did; and do. ... But the circuits are too complicated to fix. This is the true singularity of modernism: since the industrial revolution we more and more make things that cannot last without continued highly-skilled maintenance. Human society has always been interdependent; no man is an island, or as my Oscar Wilde quote puts it, “the brotherhood of man is not a mere poet’s dream: it is a most depressing and humiliating reality”. ... But in our modern times, no machine can stand alone; our artifacts have become part of the tribe, and if they are not taken care of, they die. ... So I took the Commodore to the curb; and the poor Yamaha DK40, which I helped to its end with even less-successful repair....

Another pitiful keyboard I’ve mistreated is my Wurlitzer electronic piano; I plugged an 8-ohm speaker into its output, which is a no-no. ... But the Wurly is still worth money! Today’s musical kids profess admiration for the sound and the thing. Part of this, I’ve realized, is its viability; the device was made as a miniature piano with tiny little amplified “tines” that the little hammers strike — that is, its innards are still early industrial revolution, and while the piano hammer action isn’t simple, it is at least fixable. ... As opposed to the “action” of my Hammond and Yamaha, consisting of hundreds of transistors or worse on numerous interconnected circuit boards, requiring the comprehension of cryptic schematics to even see properly, much less understand....

But then there is my other Hammond, my 50s tube-based Chord Organ. It is still fixable. Because tube circuits are simpler, mostly because of physical size/money limitations. That is, they couldn’t build circuitry like the Commodore and the DK40 with tubes; they’d’ve filled a house! ... Indeed, the early tube-based computers did fill large spaces. So my chord organ is relatively simple; not because the engineers wanted it that way, but because they had no choice. And I’ve been able to fix it, several times. And perhaps the next....

The old radio guys “recap” — entirely replace the electrolytic capacitors — their old radios, as a routine restoration measure because they’re almost always gone after a few decades. That’s where I got the general idea for my Commodore. But when they finish recapping a radio — actually I think they’ll replace all the caps, even non-electrolytics — but even then it’s just 10 or twenty components! ... I could’ve entirely recapped my Commodore, as opposed to just the electrolytics in the power-supply. But (1.) that’d be way too much work, (2.) it probably wouldn’t be fixed, because some of the 100s of transistors — or integrated circuits! — would need replacement, (3.) some of the caps would be difficult to replace for complicated reasons, and finally (4.) I’d probably never get the thing back together correctly....

In one of my songs me ’n’ God have a discussion, and I protest that “we can’t go fixing things forever” and He kinda says, sure you can, maybe. ... And I will, as long as I can. ... But some things — many — I cannot fix....

But of course the bright side is, now I have room for more organs!

— the pitiful technician
Friday, September 23, 2011 1:55 pm

... All I have of the Schober Organs (aside from charming recordings begged from the Schober community) is this device I bought in 1995 and fixed today Monday, July 7, 2003. In my misspent youth I used to visit the Schober Organ showroom in midtown NYC somewhere and pester someone who must’ve been Richard Dorf aka “Mr. Schober Organ” (although I gather there was a Mr. Schober at the beginning). ... And I managed to afford at least one “demo” record — or maybe I got it somehow for free — which I played over and over again with childish yearning until, I think, the age of 23 or so.

... The Electronic Tuning Fork is for me particularly charming because of its utter uselessness; little reed devices you can blow-on are inevitably much cheaper and more reliable. ... Although when this thing came back to life today maybe I’m hallucinating but I think Mr. Dorf deliberately made it sound like a reed tuning thing, so perhaps he was in on the joke. ... It was broken in the fine-tuning coil thingey in the upper-left hand corner; a previous pilgrim had masking-taped it together, so I went him one better and used heat-shrink. But I think the way the component is glued to the metal panel may be the original construction technique. ... As I child I lusted after a Schober organ kit I want wanted wanted one; later in life I have, with sorrow, come to suspect that putting one of these things together may not have been an ennobling experience....

And for those like one of my rare correspondents who encounter the Schober tuning fork without the batteries, it needs 18 volts, two 9-volt batteries in series....


For a little variety, let’s inspect the gone-but-not-forgotten junk corner in the attic, with various generations of antique sound recording equipment. ... I’m particularly fond of the utterly useless never-ready for prime-time Digital Compact Cassette deck, but the auto-reverse reel-to-reel TEAC on the left was intensely charming. ... Thursday, May 8, 2003 11:53 am. And then the Fostex died, and I took it, with the already-dead TEAC, out to the charity flea-market. ... I almost forgot the original boxes, what I had saved all these years!...

... And for yet more junk, see my MIDIized AGO pedalboard....

... Then again, the main floor “Il Stupito” room (because it contained my w3.1 can’t-divide pentium computer) has this => display of new antiques. The Mac is waiting for one pure of heart with diskette strong enough to boot. The emachine is no longer with us, but is lit with xmas lights; its hard drive survived it, providing gigabytes of space for a 1996 boat anchor elsewhere. The signal generator I believe I actually kind-of revived....

The (more) Broken Junk Section

Yes I will sing of elderly beautiful gadgets past their time! ... Sadly the only thing I ever really learned to fix was assembly language, so my efforts are so pitiful ... but not complete failures!

The Model S-11A POCKETSCOPE

Well it would take a pretty big pocket for this wonderful ~1952 thing I picked-up at NEARC for a song — but then it turned on me, and the trace faded after 20 minutes or an hour. ... I fixed many things, some of them apparently broken, seemingly without the least effect, until I reduced the value of the fixed resistor that connected the intensity control and the CRT — and then we were all so happy! ... Confirming Owen’s First Principle: Cheat! ... Here’s s_11_a.png, a schematic of the thing with my barbarous mutilations. ... And s11avolt.png shows supposedly correct voltages at tube pins. ... So in the box with the scope there was an IBM manual: apparently this gadget was part of a customer-site set of tools one could order from IBM which, along with the Pocketscope, included a Simpson VOM, and an IBM-made (apparently) “Dynamic Timer”, the latter being used to fix IBM machines the nature of which I could not ascertain.

Ancient Recordings

The pocketscope found a home for a while in the antique and steadily-deteriorating Attic Audio Studio. ... Along with dubious mixers of the ages, the BSR changer there has played at least four or five records without excessive violence. ... But nothing without discipline; a previous pilgrim installed the cartridge with one channel reversed — could’ve been me in another life! — resulting in disappearing monophonic sound (i.e., when both channels are mixed, as one should when playing mono records). Probably in a pitiful effort to fix it, the connection of one channel to ground was omitted. ... But now it all sounds so lovely — and looks so charming on the little scope! — particularly when run through the ancient reverb gadget....

Other Wandering Junk

I see I’ve somehow let this stuff wander off, including the exciting Ancient Polaroids, and the Eico Signal Generators! ... And this just in, the WO-33a scope....

— the programmer-philosopher king
4/16

homemusicbut

antique radios ...

and slide rules

“I slept with Ken Starr”
— bumper sticker observed on way to
New Hampshire NEARC show


(counter courtesy Paul Horn)