Technics SL-1301 Tonearm Lift Damping Fix

Update: I discovered there is a much easier method of doing this, outlined in a service bulletin from Technics found here. If that method doesn't work for you, this post describes how to disassemble the table and replace the old fluid.

It's common for the tonearm lift to begin rising and falling too quickly on old turntables. This makes cueing difficult and can damage your records if the needle hits the record at high speed.  I managed to fix this problem on my Technics SL-1300 and thought I would share the process. It's similar to what's shown in this video but more complicated. I believe the Technics SL-1311, SL-1401, and SL-1411 have the same tonearm so this would work for them as well.

Most old turntables use a piston filled with high-viscosity fluid to create the lift's slow, smooth motion. Over time this fluid dries out and needs to be replaced. I read several forums where folks suggested 300,000 cst or 500,000 cst silicon differential fluid for this purpose. This is sold at hobby shops and turntable parts sites, but the cheapest I could find it was on Amazon for $9:

The greater the viscosity (cst) the slower the arm will move. I read on a forum that 500,000 cst is better for s-shaped tonearms and 300,000 is best for lighter, straight arms so I went with 500,000 cst. After finishing the repair, I think either would have been fine. 500,000 cst is very slow.

First step is to disassemble the table. Page 3 of the service manual (available at Vinyl Engine) has great instructions for this:

After opening up the table, the first step is to remove the plastic lift. The lift is spring-loaded from the bottom. Look closely at the top of the lift and you will see a black, hex-head screw (seen in the photo below). Press down on the lift to allow the screw to extrude from the plastic lift. Remove the screw and the lift will come off.

When re-assembling, this screw sets the height of the tonearm lift.  It is very important that the lift not be contacting the arm when you are playing a record. Further instructions will be given about this later.

Next remove the arm assembly from the base. There are three black screws that must be removed; one of them is hidden under a plastic cap. Be careful not to damage the arm wires. You can bend the cable clamp attached to the base in order to remove the cable (and thus the entire assembly) from the turntable base. Sorry I didn't take photos of this.

Turn the arm assembly upside down. The next step is to carefully remove the anti-skate lever. The spring will remain attached to the arm, so you just need to set the lever slightly aside so you can reach the plate that's beneath it. Remove the screw and washer shown here:

Next, you must remove the two screws holding the plate that has the arm lift piston on it, seen below. Once you remove these screws, the plate should lift right out. Be careful not to damage the anti-skate spring and lever. Also make sure that you do not move the arm lift lever while this plate is removed. It needs to stay in the same position for when you reassemble.

Now remove the ring that holds the spring onto the piston. This is easily done with a small screwdriver, but make sure the ring doesn't fly away when you pry it off. This is the ring I'm referring to:

Once the ring is off, remove the washer and spring. Then remove the brass shaft from the hole. Clean off all old damping fluid:

Once the old fluid is removed, coat the shaft with new damping fluid. Insert the shaft back into the hole and wipe off excess fluid. Make sure the piston will slide slowly back and forth in the whole.

Perform all steps in reverse to completely reassemble your table, including the cartridge. Now take another look at the tonearm lift. Remember I said the black, hex-head screw is used to set the height of the lift. You need to make sure the lift does not contact the arm while playing a record. With the power off, place a record on your table and place the stylus on the record with the cueing lever down so the stylus contacts the record. Make sure there is a tiny gap between the rubber part of the lift and the piece of plastic that connects to the tonearm and rests on the lift, as seen below.

You will now have a perfectly damped tonearm lift!


A Scratch-Built Tube Stereo

Update: this project was featured on Hackaday!

In the summer of 2014 I decided to build a vacuum tube stereo.

If you're unfamiliar with vacuum tubes, they are electronic devices that preceded transistors. They were once used in everything from computers to spacecraft, but today they survive almost exclusively in audio amplifiers. Transistors are better than vacuum tubes in almost every way: they are smaller, faster, cheaper, and more efficient. However, some folks believe vacuum tubes produce higher quality sound than transistors. I don't know if this is true or not, but I do love how tubes sound. And they look incredibly cool.

I had tried for a long time to find a Dynaco ST-70, the most popular tube stereo ever, to restore. But these are expensive, even in disrepair. A friend's generous dad had given me non-functional Heathkit AA-100, but I wasn't in love with the look of the amp (the tubes are hidden under the orange chassis). It also doesn't have a reputation for great sound. So I decided to use the tubes and transformers (the expensive stuff) from the AA-100 to build a clone of an ST-70. A google search revealed a DIY amp builder named Tom McNally who had done the same thing in 2005

The first thing I did was draw up a schematic. There is a wealth of information and parts online for ST-70s. Tom McNally had used a PCB from Parks Audio called the DIYTube ST-70 Driver for the input stage. I did as well. The output stage was taken directly from the Heathkit AA-100 schematic. For the power supply, I decided to make my own PCB based on several designs for ST-70 kits I found online. For this I got some tips from Tom and the awesome folks at Audiokarma.org (a huge thank-you to dgillespie and kward). I simulated several sections of the circuit using LTSpice and PSUD2. The complete schematic is linked below.

Next thing I tackled was the chassis. I knew I wanted some combo of wood and metal. I found photos  of several amps online that served as inspiration:

Using these as a starting point, I used Google Sketchup to create a model of the chassis. I made it roughly the same width and length as the ST-70, but added to the height so I could put a meter on the front. I decided to mount the output transformers on brackets instead of inset in the baseplate (like they were in the AA-100) to simplify the metalwork and free up space inside the chassis. Here are photos of the completed model (link below):

I am not a woodworker, but I happen to have a father-in-law who is an amazing one. He graciously agreed to build the wood part of the chassis. I sent him drawings; we made a few adjustments, and just a few weeks later he emailed me this photo:

Awesome, right? The wood is cherry. You can see how the finish darkens and deepens over time by comparing to the photos at the bottom of this post. The bottom panel is removable; I decided to remove it to aid convection.

In the meantime I removed the transformers and fuse holder from my AA-100:

I discovered that the transformers were rusted and covered in wax, so I sanded and painted the cores with Rustoleum:

Next I ordered all the parts (a BOM is linked below), including three 1/8" aluminum sheets cut to size for the top, back, and front from onlinemetals.com. I then began the metalwork. Incidentally, this was the most painful part of the job, and if I had to do it again would spring for custom drilling. But I learned a lot! I was fortunate to be able to use the shop at my office. First I laid out the parts:

Then I drilled and punched:

(I am super-proud of this vintage meter I got on eBay. It was made in the USSR. I removed the rectifier so I could use it with DC voltage instead of AC.)

I wasn't happy with this look. The stock aluminum finish wasn't even and it was impossible to prevent a few dents and scratches. I found a tutorial online for brushing it by hand. It's a simple process: you brush the Al with 220 grit sandpaper using a guide block to make sure all the strokes go in the same direction. Then you brush it again with Scotchbrite to soften it. I was happy with the result:

One other note: the vent holes around the tubes didn't look great after drilling and using a deburr tool. A mechanical engineer coworker suggested I pretty them up using a counter sink bit on our mill, setting the stop so I went to the same depth on each one. I took his advice and I thought the result looked pretty great:

Next was the fun part: wiring it up. Here is a photo of the PCB I designed for the power supply. I ordered it from dirtypcbs.com, which was the cheapest I could find despite getting 10 boards when I only needed one.

Here is a photo of the diytube ST-70 driver board:

First thing I wired was the tube heaters. Afterwards I powered up to make sure the heater voltage was right and everything glowed as expected. I was pretty excited when it did.

I continued wiring:

(The big power choke in the photo above came out of an amp I pulled out of a garbage dump when I was 15. Pretty proud of that. I used an LCR meter and a hi-pot tester to characterize it.)

(Warning: the next 3 paragraphs are pretty technical—if you're unfamiliar with circuits you may want to skip.)

I wired and then powered up the amp in stages using high-watt resistors as dummy loads. I started with the power supply, added the output tubes, and then added the driver board. In the course of this process I changed the operating point of the output tubes. I had originally used the same values used in the AA-100, but I decided this was too close to the max power dissipation. With assistance from the good folks at Audiokarma I redrew the loadline to operate the plates at 430V and the screens at 325V with my 7.7K transformers. I sacrificed some output power doing this but I think it was worth it for sonic improvement and longevity. Here is a link to my loadline drawing.

The new operating point required adding a resistor in the power supply immediately after the rectifier tube in order to drop the voltage to 430 (big thanks to the good folks at dcaudiodiy.com who pointed out that I could use a lower-value resistor by placing it before—instead of after—the first capacitor bank). I originally tried to drop the plate voltage by adding zener diodes in series with the secondary ground on the power transformer. I neglected that this would change my bias voltage and I ended up smoking a capacitor. It's not a real build if you don't smoke something, right?

With everything wired it was time to start testing. Using 8 ohm dummy load resistors I measured that the maximum output per channel before clipping was 20W (thus, the name "ST-40"). I measured frequency response from 20 to 20K Hz and found it was within a dB across the band. I checked for hum with my scope but couldn't find any. I put a square wave on the input and tweaked the value of an RC filter in the driver stage to reduce ringing. I then tested a variety of different capacitor loads while varying the input frequency to check for instability. Unfortunately I found that when unloaded, the amp would go into oscillation. I asked dcaudiodiy.com for some suggestions and one of the guys there graciously invited me over to have a look at the problem! We ended up reducing the gain of the first stage and increasing the shunt capacitance of the feedback network. The amp was cured.

At this point I completely assembled the amp. I added a selector switch on the back so that the meter can measure the bias points on all 4 output tubes as well as the 300V power rail.

Finally, nearly 2 years after I started the project, I took it home and fired it up with my loudspeakers. I poured an old fashioned and put on "Attaboy" from the Goat Rodeo Sessions. It sounded just awesome.

Come by some time and we'll play some records!

Standard disclaimer: tube circuits contain lethal voltages! Don't try to build this stuff if you don't know what you're doing!
ST-40 schematic
ST-40 chassis model
ST-40 PSUD2 power supply simulation

Valve Amplifiers, Morgan Jones
Building Valve Amplifiers, Morgan Jones