I’m not sure I’ve got the strength to write this post…
I’ve been working all day on the finishing touches to my new turntable setup and I’m shattered. But I’m listening to it now (even though there’s a new Maron to watch, Nurse Jackie, Louie and Arrow…) and it sounds amazing. I’ve never heard it sound as good.
Considering the turntable is as old as me, that’s quite stunning.
Like my hi-fi rack post, here’s the photos and if you want to read the details (long), they are below!
I bought this turntable, a Thorens TD-150 MKII, about 3 years ago for 50 euros. An absolute bargain. Owned by one man from new. He hadn’t used it for a long time but it was still in great condition.
Apart from needing a new stylus, it worked fine. But having read up on them, there’s lots that can be done to improve them so… I replaced the tonearm wiring, capacitor (maybe a resistor, I forget now – there’s minimal electronics going on inside these amazing turntables), changed the RCA cables to some really great ones from eBay with a separate ground that runs to my tube pre-amp, and bought a rather incredible stylus – handmade in Japan. The difference between what I bought and what I had by this stage was amazing. Ok, it was now at a bit more than 50 euro but … 😉
Still, the weak point, both musically and aesthetically, has always been the plinth (the case), which is the original stock plinth and very dull (well, it has a certain charm but …)
The base is literally just a few mm of chipboard dotted with holes. One of the standard improvements is to replace this with thick plywood or MDF although I never got around to that… until now.
A couple of years ago I saw a plinth a man had designed and built for a similar, but different model, Thorens turntable on an audio forum and loved it. The design, which I’ve based my plinth on, is made of plywood but has the added extra of compartments inside the plinth that hold sand. Compartments? Hmmm… Maybe not the best word but …
I wanted to make one a couple of years ago, but real-life got in the way. It’s only recently that I’ve started doing the woodworking and, after building my hifi rack (see earlier post), I decided to build the plinth.
Basically it’s 15mm plywood, made into a rabbeted box to fit the original plinth size (actually, I made it slightly wider so I can put a wider armboard in – Linn LP12 size – in case I ever want to change the tonearm). Then more plywood is glued out of the sides to make the compartments (I’m SURE there’s a better word…) for the sand. Then the outer plywood is put on to seal it in. Bit of a messy job but had to be done!
This was all cut with a circular saw because at this stage I didn’t have a table saw (more on that in a minute!)
I finished it in raw, unbacked, walnut veneer. It wasn’t as hard to work with as I feared (I decided to use PVA glue, put onto both the plinth and the veneer, left to dry and then ironed on – and so far so good). The only real problem I had, and it is a problem, is with the mitred corners. I cut them perfectly but when I went to apply them, I just couldn’t get a good match in some corners. Maybe because the glue causes the wood to shrink? I’m not sure, I need to practice that again.
But it’s not the end of the world. I cut some of the veneer out, patched it up and with a couple of shades of brown nail varnish in certain places 😉 it doesn’t look too bad. And if I can’t live with it long-term, I can always make another. It’ll be faster next time around having learnt lots making this one.
The base is also 15mm plywood – finally getting rid of the rubbish chipboard.
I made a new armboard to replace the stock plastic Thorens one (I had to, as I’d made the armboard space wider). I used bamboo from a (new) IKEA chopping board. Cut to size, then put in my new thicknesser to take it down from 16mm to the 10mm I needed. Some red solvent dye on it really made it come to life.
Then I waxed both the plinth and the armboard in a clear soft wax, adding some red dye to the wax in the final round of waxing. And I polished and waxed the edges of the platter too. Came up well.
Internally I grounded it better, put some cork damping in, re-wired the tonearm (again), put phono plugs on the end of the wires so I can easily take the tonearm out and change the armboard (I want to try some different materials). And I put phono sockets inside (obviously) which go on to the RCA cables that were previously directly soldered to the tonearm wires.
All in all, it’s taken a couple of weeks or so on and off, but well worth it. Today was my final main day working on it. It’s a suspended turntable which means the platter and armboard sit on three springs to isolate them from external vibrations. They needed adjusting for the new plinth. Bit of a task to get it right, but it needed doing. I’m now listening to Donny Hathaway’s Everything is Everything as I write this, and it’s never sounded so good. Bass is clear and tight, and the stereo has really opened up.
Oh the final touch was some new cones on the base (that actually cost half what I paid for the turntable originally…)
The whole thing weighs an absolute ton (I don’t own scales but going from what I know boxes weigh at work, I’m guessing around 20 to 25kg?). A good test for my wall-mounted turntable shelf. So far it’s holding up!
I’m going to make another plinth, again with a heavy base, but without the sand, just a simple mitred hardwood box basically. And then I can make a comparison between them. But there’s no doubt this is much much better than the stock plinth.
So, I mentioned a table saw…
I’ve been after one for a while. A circular saw isn’t the right tool for precision work. Fine for some jobs but I really did need a table saw if I was going to do proper projects.
I’ve put adverts on Facebook in the local buy/sell groups etc. But everything I’ve seen has been crap. Really cheap rubbish that just isn’t worth buying.
Finally… just when I was about to give in and buy a decent one (at a more than decent price – and live off bread and water for the month) someone replied to one of my posts.
We got talking and it turned out she was helping a friend whose husband had died last year. He was a master woodworker. Most of his equipment was still there and she wanted to sell it.
I only *needed* a table saw, but… I ended up leaving having agreed to buy everything. The lot. Every item. She just wanted the space cleared and the constant reminder of her husband gone. She had a younger male friend there to help her, otherwise I might have felt a bit uneasy about it.
I’ve bought so many items since starting this, and I do need most of what I bought from her, and buying it in bulk like this was far cheaper than buying them separately. Just some of the drill bit sets and small tools alone etc would cost a lot.
So now, on top of the tools I already had, I’ve got a great table saw, a band saw, a scroll saw, a thicknesser, a jointer, a lathe, a good workbench, ooo what else – oh a proper dust extraction system, a biscuit cutter, lots of hand tools, an orbital sander – oh and lots of other things that I’m too tired to remember at the moment.
I went to collect it with a man and a van the next day and a neighbour of the widow helped us. He then offered me a 1/2″ router (mine is only 1/4″) for 20 euro, a plunge cutter for 20, and a nail gun for 5! So I bought those too. Used all three so far.
I now basically have a fully-kitted out workshop! I won’t say what I paid, but I didn’t negotiate. It wasn’t an unfair price from her point of view – and she suggested it – but it was a great price from my point of view. I’ve probably spent about half that just driving to the shops in Malaga in recent months buying tools bit-by-bit.
She was more keen that it went to someone who would use it. Her husband had taken great care of everything. All the items are in great condition. Original manuals etc.
There’s something special about using well-loved tools. My late cousin was a woodworker and, even though I don’t believe this, it sometimes feels like he’s looking over me as I work. I’m always conscious of what he’d think about what and how I’m doing something. Now I have Mr Cooper to worry about too… 😉
So… that’s me. A woodworker in the mountains of Spain. How did that happen? 😉
I’ve already got a few new projects in mind. Stay tuned!
ps. I’m now on to Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (yes, it did take that long to write this). Wow. Just wow… it sound’s amazing!
pps. the photos were taken before I’d adjusted the springs, so the armboard is sagging a bit in them, that’s now fixed (before I get any complaints from Thorens fanatics!)
ppps. I’m now on to Dark Side of the Moon…