Thursday, September 23, 2010

Audio Components (Turntables)

Audio Components (Turntables)

Grado Green on Marantz 6300
Vintage audio has made a resurgence along with vinyl LPs. Bear in mind that there are audiophiles all over the US and the world who have never stopped listening to LP’s on vintage and vintage inspired audio equipment. Twenty years ago, you could find good classic turntables in thrift stores or pawn shops. Back then you could get a really good turntable for around $20.00. That same turntable today probably fetches $100.00 - $200.00 on eBay. There are some brands like Marantz that will fetch between $300.00 to $600.00 for a vintage turntable made in the 70’s. But, there are still some bargains to be had on vintage audio equipment and records as I have discovered over the past few years.

Crappy stereo system (source

In my opinion, your audio components are probably the single most important thing in the music listening experience. That and maybe the room you listen to your music in. One could argue that there are other factors equally important but lets face it; shitty components give you shitty sound and great components…..well you get the point. Now be that as it may, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on components to get good ones. I am a low budget kinda guy and would rather purchase a $1,000 component for $100.00 bucks. Who wouldn’t!! So where to begin? I am into vinyl so turntables are a must for me. These days they are getting harder to find at a decent price. There has always been a market for turntables, particularly with the high end audio folks. If you are that type of person then you probably know what you need to know. You may know more about this than I do and I look forward to your comments and advise. Anyway, back to my thought…….with the birth of Compact Discs (CD’s) in the late 80’s, most people got rid of their turntables and records. CD’s were more portable, more durable than tapes and records; and could be played from a variety of sources like a computers, a car stereo or from a portable device. That convenience essentially made them more popular with the general public than records and tapes. Now were CD’s better than records and tape? That’s a question that we will address in another post. So by the time the 90's rolled around CD's were in abundance and you could find inexpensive turntables and records every where.  Thrift stores, pawn shops, flee markets, yard sales, you name it. Now bear in mind that not all turntables are created equal. In the height of the vinyl years, the early 80's, manufacturers like Sansui and others were mass producing turntables like candy. Most were made with inferior materials and there was a lot of plastic being used.  Again, bear in mind that these turntables were made for the masses.  Brands like Sansui, Sony, Hitachi, Akai and JVC made a lot of turntables and they tend to be the ones you see in pawn shops, thrift stores and ebay these days. They range in price and quality and if you can get one at a decent price then it may be a good place to start.  I would not pay more than $45.00 to $65.00 for some of these plastic turntables made in the 80's.  Some of the better turntables were made for the most part in the 60’s and 70’s.  These turntable will tend to cost more that the ones made in the 80's and you should expect to pay $100.00 to $300.00 or more for the Marantz and Pioneer turntables depending on the brand and vintage.  The high end or audiophile turntables will run thousands of dollars, new or used depending on the brand.

Marantz 6300
Turntable #1
In the early 90’s I was lucky enough to find a Marantz 6300 turntable, (pictured to the right) for sale in a Thrift Store in Suffolk Virginia that I purchased for $12.00. Yes, $12.00, I talked the clerk down from $25.00. He said that the platter did not turn and that it was missing the RCA cables and the dust cover. I figured for $12.00 bucks, it could be a little project for me to get it up and running. Well I took it to my apartment in Virginia Beach and flipped it over and found that the voltage select switch was set to V240. I switched it to V110 and plugged it into the outlet and turned the record player on. I was thrilled to see the platter turn. I found a pair of Radio Shack RCA cables in my apartment and lopped the connectors off one end and soldered them to the output terminals in the turntable. Now that I felt that this table could work, I contacted a local record store and ordered a cartridge and needle.  A couple of weeks later I picked it up and installed it on the tone arm.  I put a record on (don't remember what it was), and I was thrilled to hear sound coming out of my speakers. I was in business for $12.00 (initial cost of the turntable), $30.00 for the cartridge and an hour and a half worth of my time and labor to do all the work. I still have that turntable to this day and I use it on a regular basis.  Online, this turntable sells for between $300.00 to $600.00 in really good condition or if any custom work was done.  Last year, I finally upgraded the cartridge and needle from an Empire 2000 to a Grado Green 1 and added a phono stage preamp to this turntable that I got as a gift from my good friend.  What a difference a quality stylus and phono stage makes!!!

Marantz 6100

Turntable #2
Last year, (2009), my good friend told me about a Marantz 6100 turntable, (pictured to the right) for sale in a thrift store in Chesapeake Virginia.  I went there the very next day and talked the store clerk down from $25.00 to $15.00.  The turntable was intact, not a scratch on it and had the dust cover and the clerk said that it worked.  I think that the turntable was never used or rarely used.  It still had the plastic film over the Marantz emblem on the dust cover that I eventually removed.  This turntable is a manual table and lacks the hydraulic precision that the 6300 turntable has but it's still a great table, and there are advantages to having more than one table.  It did not come with a stylus and there was a generic (no name) cartridge on it.  Within days of purchasing this turntable I ordered an Audio Technica cartridge and stylus from the Needle Doctor.  This table sounds great too!!!!

If you would like to see my other audio components please check out the following website,  From the Home Page, scroll down to the bottom and select Virtual Systems. From there scroll down to the bottom of the page and in the Search Systems field type 70's Vintage Audio.

Thanks for reading and good luck with the hunt, be patient and I hope that you are able to find a turntables and audio gear that suites your needs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

John Coltrane's birthday

John Coltrane (source Wikipedia)

Today (September 23) is John Coltrane's birthday.  Were he alive, he would have been 84 years old.  I have lots of Jazz records, mostly John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and I listen to them often.  For the past 25 years, I have always recognized this day by playing some of Coltrane's music.  These days, I have added Frank Foster's music to the mix as he shares this birthday with John Coltrane.  Frank Foster is a jazz saxophonist who played with the Count Basie band for decades and was the band leader in the 80's.  More about Frank in another post.

Here is a little bio about John Coltrane........

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926, and grew up in High Point, NC, attending William Penn High School (now Penn-Griffin School for the Arts). Beginning in December 1938 Coltrane's aunt, grandparents, and father all died within a few months of each other, leaving John to be raised by his mother and a close cousin. In June 1943 he moved to Philadelphia PA. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945, and played in the Navy jazz band once he was stationed in Hawaii. Coltrane returned to civilian life in 1946 and began jazz theory studies with Philadelphia guitarist and composer Dennis Sandole. Coltrane continued under Sandole's tutelage until the early 1950s. Originally an altoist, during this time Coltrane also began playing tenor saxophone with the Eddie Vinson Band. Coltrane later referred to this point in his life as a time when "a wider area of listening opened up for me. There were many things that people like Hawk, and Ben, and Tab Smith were doing in the '40s that I didn't understand, but that I felt emotionally.
An important moment in the progression of Coltrane's musical development occurred on June 5, 1945, when he saw Charlie Parker perform for the first time. In a DownBeat article in 1960 he recalled: "the first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes. Parker became an early idol, and they played together on occasion in the late 1940s.
Contemporary correspondence shows that Coltrane was already known as "Trane" by this point, and that the music from some 1946 recording sessions had been played for Miles Davis—possibly impressing the latter.
There are recordings of Coltrane from as early as 1945. He was a member of groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges in the early- to mid-1950s.

Miles and Monk period (1955–1957)

Davis and Monk (source-
Coltrane was freelancing in Philadelphia in the summer of 1955 while studying with guitarist Dennis Sandole when he received a call from trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis, whose success during the late forties had been followed by several years of decline in activity and reputation, due in part to his struggles with heroin, was again active, and was about to form a quintet. Coltrane was with this edition of the Davis band (known as the "First Great Quintet" to distinguish it from Davis' later group with Wayne Shorter) from October 1955 through April 1957 (with a few absences), a period during which Davis released several influential recordings which revealed the first signs of Coltrane's growing ability. This First Quintet, represented by two marathon recording sessions for Prestige in 1956 that resulted in the albums Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and Steamin', disbanded in mid April due partly to Coltrane's heroin addiction.

During the later part of 1957 Coltrane worked with Thelonious Monk at New York’s Five Spot, a legendary jazz club, and played in Monk's quartet (July-December 1957), but owing to contractual conflicts took part in only one official studio recording session with this group. A private recording made by Juanita Naima Coltrane of a 1958 reunion of the group was issued by Blue Note Records in 1993 as Live at the Five Spot-Discovery!. More significantly, a high-quality tape of a concert given by this quartet in November 1957 surfaced, and in 2005 Blue Note made it available on CD. Recorded by Voice of America, the performances confirm the group's reputation, and the resulting album, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, is widely acclaimed.
Blue Train, Coltrane's sole date as leader for Blue Note, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Paul Chambers, and trombonist Curtis Fuller, is often considered his best album from this period. Four of its five tracks are original Coltrane compositions, and the title track, "Moment's Notice," and "Lazy Bird", have become standards. Both tunes employed the first examples of his chord substitution cycles known as Coltrane changes.

Davis and Coltrane again

Davis and Coltrane (source-
Coltrane rejoined Davis in January 1958. In October of that year, jazz critic Ira Gitler coined the term "sheets of sound" to describe the style Coltrane developed during his stint with Monk and was perfecting in Davis' group, now a sextet. His playing was compressed, with rapid runs cascading in hundreds of notes per minute. He stayed with Davis until April 1960, working with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley; pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb. During this time he participated in the Davis sessions Milestones and Kind of Blue, and the live recordings Miles & Monk at Newport and Jazz at the Plaza.

At the end of this period Coltrane recorded his first album for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps, comprised exclusively of his own compositions. The album's title track is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition. Giant Steps utilizes Coltrane changes. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he would continue throughout his career.


Read more about John Coltrane at

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Humble Beginnings.

First of all, I would like to say that I am not a blogger, well... until now. I am not really a writer; first thing I have written since high school. And lastly, I am not a vinyl LP or music expert. What I am however is a man on a journey. A journey to perfect my music listening experience and to build the best record collection I can.  With this blog, I will share my thoughts, experiences and ideas with all who are interested in the hopes that I can help some of you along the way.

Portable Reel to Reel tape recorder

My journey began back in the mid 60’s. I was going into junior high and I was listening to rock and soul superstars on LP’s and on the radio. My sister and I had one of those small record players that was an all in one unit. You know, they looked like a small over night case. You opened the lid and there was a platter that turned the record, and a tone arm that housed the needle. The lid contained the speaker or speakers depending on whether it was mono or stereo.   In the following years, I got a portable AM radio and small reel to reel tape recorder, (pictured to the right) like the one they used in the old Mission Impossible TV series.  Then I got my first portable Am/Fm radio and I listened to the FM radio stations that played all the popular music of the times.  Well, those were the days and that’s when I got hooked on music and audio gear.  My sister and I still have most of our records from those days. We still have our Bowie, Santana, Floyd, Zeppelin, Tull, Genesis (Peter Gabriel) records.  Music has always been a part of our lives and my sister and I have passed that on to our children by taking up musical instruments, or through listening to recorded music.

Close-up of front panel of Sansui 8080db
 There were periods in my life when I did not listen to my records.  A lot of which was due to the fact that I was traveling a lot and I did not have a record player.  Recently I have taken a strong interest in my LP’s and I listen to them almost everyday. I started getting back into vinyl LP’s around 1991 or 92 to give you a time reference. Back then I had about 125 of my sisters and my records with me in an apartment in Virginia Beach Virginia. In 94’ I went on a business trip that took me to central Florida and then drove down to South Florida to visit my parents. When I returned home I drove a rental van back to Virginia packed with audio equipment, about 75 more records, books and some small furnishings. Before I left, my father threw in his BIC Venturi Formula IV speakers which worked and his vintage Sansui 8080db receiver, which didn’t work. Dad said that I could get it repaired or use it as a spare to repair mine. We both had a Sansui 8080db receiver which was the second biggest receiver Sansui made at the time. Once back in Virginia, I set up my 8080db, (pictured above) in the den of my apartment and hooked up my Dads BIC Venturi speakers.  The system sounded great!!!  At the time, this was one of the best audio systems I had and the fact that I could play it loud made it even better.... I had really cool neighbors.  In the early 90's, I was listening to the alternative/modern rock, classic rock and jazz on the radio. I still did not have a turntable, or a CD player.  Since CD's were becoming more popular, I started building my CD collection and saved some money up to buy a CD player.  Before long, I had about 50 CDs and I finally purchased a CD player.  I connected the CD player to my system and was thrilled at the CD quality sound..... but still no turntable.  Looking through my record collection, I realized that there were records I had that were not on CD, and perhaps would never be.  Also, I felt that I would not have the money to replace all my records with CDs like some of my friends were doing.  It was then that I made a conscious decision to buy a turntable so that I could start playing my records again.  I was rediscovering jazz at this time but I was still a huge rock music fan. Back then, I remember that most Antique stores in my area sold records. Thrift stores were an excellent place too. And the records that I was getting from the Antique and Thrift stores were vintage classic jazz records. Classic Jazz artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, as well as contemporary artists like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. There were quite a few vintage and collectible records available then. Antique stores were getting items from estate sales and people just trying to liquidate their dads record collection. The records were always in great condition and I purchased anything that looked to be in good condition and collectible. Today, most of the Antique stores still get records the same way and they sell them online and mostly on eBay. The thrift stores on the other hand are selling your grandparents music like Lawrence Welk, Al Hirt, Henry Mancini or someone like that. You can still find some gems in thrift stores but you have to sort through a lot of junk in the process. There were not as many people interested in purchasing records back then so they were pretty cheap and abundant. Today however many more people are interested in records and antique stores and thrift stores recognize the value and see the demand so they tend to sell them online for more money.

This journey has spanned four decades with the most significant activity taking place over the last two decades...and the journey continues everyday. I am so glad that I got a head start on this in the early 90's when everyone else was not paying attention.  As a result I am so far ahead of the game than if I started a couple of years ago.  However, it's not all lost and there is hope for those just getting started.  Over the course of these posts, I will try to outline the steps that I have taken to get to where I am now. I will try to convey the steps that I have taken to get quality vintage and collectible records and vintage audio equipment, and you wont need a brinks truck full of cash to do it.  You will need quite a bit of patience and a little bit of cash.

Good luck and happy hunting.