Vinyl appeal

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This is a "bleg" -- begging on a blog. I need some advice and assistance.

I recently came across and purchased a copy of the Johnnie Lee Wills "Reunion" LP, recorded on April 3rd and 4th, 1978 at Tulsa Studios, released on the Flying Fish label, and featuring an amazing lineup of western swing all-stars: Johnny Gimble, Joe Holley, and Curly Lewis on fiddle, Eldon Shamblin, Don Tolle, and Roy Ferguson on guitar, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Gene Crownover on steel, Wayne Johnson on sax and clarinet, Clarence Cagle on piano, Glenn "Blub" Rhees on sax, Ted Adams on bass, Claude Clemmons and Tom Montgomery on drums, John Thomas Wills (Johnnie Lee's son), and a cameo by O. W. Mayo, Johnnie Lee's manager and announcer and long-time owner of Cain's Ballroom. Steve Ripley produced the album, Jim Halsey was executive producer, and Bob Burwell was creative director.

The track list:

Side One: Silver Bells; Rag Mop; Memories of You, Dear; I Wish That Your Picture Was You; Four or Five Times; La Golondrina; Rosetta.

Side Two: South; If I Had Another Chance; In a Spanish Mission; Talkin' 'bout You; Whose Heart Are You breaking Now?; Milk Cow Blues; Goodnight Little Sweetheart.

(This album is part of my long-term aim to own every recording on which Eldon Shamblin performed. I would love to hear the albums made by the reunited Original Texas Playboys in the late '70s and early '80s.)

I haven't listened to the album yet. While I have a couple of turntables, one is older than this album and the other is nearly as old, and I haven't used either in over a decade -- probably closer to two. I have no idea if the belts or needles are any good, or where I'd get replacements if I needed them. I don't want to use this album as a guinea pig.

I remember that in college I had a Discwasher kit, which I used religiously before putting an album on the turntable. I have no idea if that product is still around or if it's even recommended anymore.

While I appreciate the special qualities of vinyl recordings, I'd really like to get this album into a digital format, so I can enjoy it on my MP3 player and in the car. My wife and I have other recordings that we'd like to hear again as well. Some of them, recordings of school orchestras and church choirs, are never going to be available from another source.

So I'd welcome advice, particularly from those of you in Tulsa, about sources for testing and reconditioning turntables, needles, cleaning methods and supplies, and digitizing vinyl records.

Please note that while I am a music lover, I am not an audiophile, so I don't demand an acoustically perfect experience. I have a high tolerance for scratches, warbles, and other artifacts of age and wear. I just want to hear the music.


Some time not too long ago, I watched The Blues Brothers. The movie is remarkable for bringing together great musicians from a wide variety of genres with some connection to the blues, including R&B, Soul, Big Band.

There's the scene early in the movie where the band plays the first gig after their reunion at Bob's Country Bunker, where they have both kinds of music -- country and western. The band soothes the savage country music fans in the bar by playing "Rawhide" and "Stand By Your Man."

During my recent viewing, it hit me what a wasted opportunity this was. Instead of introducing the Good Ol' Boys and adding them to the list of people who wanted Jake and Elwood dead, the scene might have highlighted the western side of the blues by bringing the Blues Brothers together with the Original Texas Playboys for a down-and-dirty rendition of "Blackout Blues," "Trouble in Mind," "Sittin' on Top of the World," or "Milk Cow Blues."

The Original Texas Playboys were actively touring and recording in the late '70s and early '80s, including several albums on Capitol. The Blues Brothers was released in 1980, so it could have happened, but for a lack of awareness of the blues roots of Western Swing.

But as an intriguing western swing what-if, it pales in comparison to "Can't Buy Me Faded Love."

UPDATE: Thanks to all who commented and e-mailed with helpful advice. Several of you pointed me to the many USB-capable turntables on the market. And then David Sims mentioned this CNET guide to turning vinyl LPs into CDs.

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jetan Author Profile Page said:

Vinyl is doing very well and the go-to guys for all of the vinyl tech questions are the DJs who couldn't get by without the turntables. Some of them used to run Element Records in Brookside but I think the rising rents here did them in. Anyway needles, belt, etc. are all pretty available...Heck, even Best Buy still sold turntables as late as two years ago. Turntables are a lot harder to kill than some pieces of equipment so yours are probably still good and won't damage your record unless you do something really frightening. But if you want the expert advice anyway just call one of these Technodance DJ kids. Or call Best Buy before they go bankrupt.

Stop me if I've told this one, but when I was a kid Eldon Shamblin tuned the piano at the Church where my Mother worked. She encouraged me top ask him about music, but I wasn't interested since he wasn't "rock" and if it didn't have a fuzztone I didn't want to know. Of course, when he died Rolling Stone wrote him up as the best rhythm guitarist in the history of pop music. Guy probably did as much to invent Rock n' Roll as Muddy Waters. If I ever find a time machine I am going to go back and beat the crap out of myself.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Here's a low budget idea: buy an old album that you don't care about and try out your turntables on that one first. If your computer has a microphone and the ability to record - probably cheap or free programs on the interwebs - just play your record into your computer and voila!

David SIms said:

Check these out:

Google: IonĀ® LP-Ripping Turntable with USB Output

"How to turn vinyl LPs into CDs"

Video Revolution here in Tulsa can do it also. Never had it done, but I know they do it.

There's tons of stuff out there on the net

W. said:

I agree with Shaw. Use an unwanted guinea-pig LP to see how well your existing stuff works. If it does, you're good to go.

If not, it's going to be hard to find parts for old turnables, and the cost to fix them might be too prohibitive. In that case, I've heard good things about the Crosley USB turntable, which gives you just about everything you need and looks pretty cool for just $150.

Discwasher went out of business in 1991. But a quick Google search found plenty of used equipment for sale on Amazon. A little secret I learned many years ago: If you're out of the Discwasher fluid, distilled water works just fine as a refill.

I searched for "LP Ripping Turntable" on Amazon and found good prices for used turntables that turn LPs in MP3s. The used prices started at $75. I might buy one myself.

I have a 1970s big box floor stereo with AM/FM, Turntable, and 8-Track - and the 8-Track still works!

Although I can't part with my iPod, I still like to play my records. Pink Floyd and Genesis don't feel the same on my iPod.

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

Eldon Shamblin. Now, there is a name I haven't heard in some time.

Mr. Shamblin used to tune my mother's piano. Every year or so, he'd drive over to the house and my mother would introduce me to him. I was too stupid at the time to know I was standing in the presence of a musical giant.

And he was a character with a dry sense of humor.

CGHill Author Profile Page said:

Last I looked, I had about 1.5 pints of Discwasher fluid left.

Turntables are still easily come by, at $150 and up.

Thanks for all the sound advice. jetan and Brent, I feel your pain. I suspect the original owner of a prototype Fender Stratocaster knew something about fuzztones.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

The belts are likely shot on your old turntables. It used to be that you could get new belts at about any repair shop. Direct drive turntables don't use belts. Your cartridge will still probably play even though there might be some degradation in the rubber that holds the stylus.

Assuming you get the turntable drive situation remedied, any computer with a sound input jack can digitize the sound. Windows has a built in sound recorder that will make the WAV file. You can download Audacity for free to give you more control and ability to edit the WAV file into tracks to make a CD. For not much money, you can buy commercial software some of which includes noise, tic, and pop reduction ability.

To send the sound to the computer, you will need to have a receiver with old fashioned phono input jacks. Or, you can get a $20 phono pre-amp and run it into an aux input on the receiver (or possibly direct to the computer). From there, you go from the tape out or line out on the receiver to the computer.

Because stock computer sound cards are not always the quietest, I record to a dedicated digital recorder or a CD recorder; then transfer the file from that to the computer to edit with Audacity and create a CD.

Often, old vinyl albums were played on poor quality phonographs with cheap cartridges that did substantial damage to the grooves. It is common for high quality cartridges to sound WORSE than a cheap cartridge on albums like this because the finer stylus rattles around more in the damaged groove. The finer stylus will also reach down deeper into the groove and "play" all the dirt that has accumulated down there. It is OK -- in fact, recommended -- to wash, as with soap and water, a vinyl album.

I recommend you check with a certain trumpet player at your church to see what he has set up. In the past, he has had the necessary equipment to do this.

From an old Team Electronics employee. Back when Hi-Fi stuff was considered cool.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 1, 2008 11:31 PM.

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