Saturday, July 26, 2014

Back from the dead turntable - Hitachi HT-20S

I have been on the lookout for an automatic turntable.  My primary turntable is a Pro-ject Debut Carbon which is fully manual meaning that when the record comes to an end it will continuously spin with the needle on the record until I shut it off. While most times this is not an issue I sometimes like to relax with some jazz records on the couch and just can’t do it knowing that it will continuously spin if I fall asleep.

Today I found a used Hitachi HT-20S turntable. This is a semi-automatic turntable meaning that when the record is finished the needle will lift up and return to the tonearm rest while stopping the platter from spinning (a fully automatic turntable will do this as well but also have the tonearm lift and drop at the beginning of a record just by pushing a button). 

Buying used equipment, especially 30+ year old equipment, has its risks as you never know what could be wrong with the table. 

Besides record collecting, I also enjoy fixing electronics as a hobby so vintage usually works well for me. Often it just needs an electronic part or two replaced; a new belt or needle; or often just a good cleaning. I lucked out on this table because the only thing required to get it running 100% was a good cleaning. The needle plays just like new and the belt seems plenty strong. But most importantly, it sounds great!

Sure it’s not the highest quality table ever built, but it’s perfect for what I need. What I look for in a turntable is that the tonearm weight can be adjusted (some are fixed at the factory) and that the tonearm will accept a new cartridge rather than only a stylus. This tonearm is 1/2" mount meaning that the cartridge is held on by two screws at the top, giving me an endless variety I can choose to upgrade to. 

But why bother? The audio-technica cartridge that came with it sounds great and has always proven to be a very solid sounding entry level cartridge. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sony TC-530 - Reel to Reel!

I found a real treat on a trip to the thrift store: an old Sony Reel to Reel recorder. I`ve never had one of these machines before, but I always thought they were pretty cool looking. Sure it will never get daily use, but just the nostalgia of having the unit, a real snapshot of the late 60`s when this machine was used for live recordings (this particular unit is from 1967). Plus, once it`s polished up, it will look great on display in my musical household.

When we (my Father and I) first plugged it in, the reels spun about three times and then decided to quit. It`s more than I expected actually, being almost 50 years old with probably a good portion of those years sitting around in somebody’s attic. So, we found a digital copy of the owner’s manual online, took the unit apart, and had a look inside. The first hour was spent giving it a thorough cleaning. We did a light vacuum and then hit it with a can of compressed air. Most of it cleaned up quite nicely but we got the stubborn areas with cotton swabs and alcohol. The back of the unit contained all of the electronics and the front had all the mechanical parts which ran the reels.

Even though the reels were no longer turning, the motor was running, and at a fairly good pace too. I found a YouTube video of the same unit and just by judgment, the motor seemed to be running at around the same speed as on this video. This led me to believe that the issue must be mechanical. If the motor pulley was turning at the correct speed, then all we need is for the gears to hit that pulley at the right place with the right pressure, and everything should turn.

The belts seem to be in remarkable condition (I believe they must have been changed at some point) so that was not the problem. The issue was that some dirt gunked up the interior springs not allowing them to work properly. I was able to clean all of these springs except one which appeared to be permanently damaged. Luckily I found a similar spring on an old turntable and installed it replacing the dirty one. Lo and behold, the reels began to spin!

Now that the reels were moving we thought we were home free, but when I played the tape that came with it (CharleyPride) it was playing way too slow. It took me a while to figure out what the issue was, but it turned out to be this tiny wheel at the bottom of the unit called the ‘pinch roller’ which pinches the tape to this peg called a ‘capstan’. It was pinching the tape too hard causing it to slow down. I tried sanding the wheel a little to make the rubber softer, but it wouldn't work. After some more searching, I found this metal plate that could be adjusted. The farther out the plate was, the farther the wheel is from the capstan. After a few small adjustments, I got the speed set up perfectly!

So, now I can play reel to reels at ease. Next, I’m going to try and get a blank tape to see how the recording feature works. There are speakers on the side of this unit, but it also has two exterior speakers that can be used as monitors. These simply plug into the side of the unit and I flick a switch telling it to use these speakers.

Also included were the original two microphones that came with the unit. These were stored in a small compartment on the top. They are heavy steel microphones that really seem durable. You can use both microphones to record in stereo, one mic for the left channel and one for the right. The speakers clip onto the front of the unit making it portable, folding up like a suitcase (mind you a heavy one...It weighs approximately 50 pounds).

This turned out to be a really fun project. I now have a great antique to display as well as a fully functional reel to reel recorder. These units in the 60’s were built to last, and it really shows. Barely any tweaking was required to fix this unit to just like new condition. Now, to find the perfect place in my home for this piece!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Revisiting a Classic: CSNY - Looking Forward!

It’s hard to believe that it has been 15 years since any new studio albums appeared in stores from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Of course, the quartet has made many appearances and even toured since, but their last studio album, Looking Forward, was released in October 1999. This is the eighth studio album for CSN and the third to feature Neil.


This album began as a CSN album, but after their label Atlantic dropped them due to low sales, they started funding recording on their own dime. It was around this time that Neil Young joined in making it a CSNY LP. Also, when Neil got involved, his label Reprise decided to pursue the album with them.


Even though it is not their best remembered effort, this LP does have some great moments. The song Slowpoke is my favorite. It has Neil handling the lead vocals and CSN coming in for their ever famous harmonies at the chorus. It’s a very slow tempo acoustic song with Neil’s reflective lyrics, harmonica, and a pedal steel guitar giving it that Harvest/Harvest Moon/Prairie Wind feel.

Another honorable mention is Crosby’s Dream For Him. It has a cool rhythm guitar with lots of hammer-on’s and palm mutes as well as a very clean lead guitar playing throughout the vocals. Plus the drummer (Joe Vitale on this tune) uses this catchy jazz style hi-hat rhythm that works well. This is a deep song looking for ways to discuss difficult issue such as death, lies and politics to a child. It has great lyrics and singing in this tune, plus I love that you can still hear the protesting hippie side of Crosby in his songs.


Stills and Nash also contributed on the album, handling the lead on their share. Stills’ opening track Faith in Me has a real Caribbean feel to it which is fun and Nash handles a few beautiful slow songs: Heartland and Someday Soon.


Even if this album is not recognized as one of their best, with these four strong songwriters creating an album together, you know it’s going to be pretty damn good and in my opinion it’s great! Plus, you know when CSNY gets together they always include an all-star list of studio musicians on their albums and Looking Forward is no exception. Some of my favorite musicians appear on this album including Spooner Oldham on keyboards, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Ben Keith on pedal steel  (there are many more musicians involved in this album, but these are just three particular names that jumped out at me).

This album has been out of print for a long time now, but one good part of this digital era is that the music is still easily available even if the physical copies are getting trickier to find. I have yet to find it on vinyl but for now I’ll make do with my CD copy.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Secondspin Records is coming to Fredericton!

It’s official, Secondspin Records is opening a new store in Fredericton, New Brunswick (79 York Street). Kris from Secondspin took the time to answer a few questions below:

Please introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about Secondspin!

My brother (Mike) and I (Kris Hopper) opened the shop in Saint John in 2003 and will be celebrating 11 years in business here on July10th.....and plan on opening the shop in Fredericton on Aug 9th!!!

What is it like owning a record store in 2014? Vinyl really made a big comeback in the last five years, have you noticed a change from when you first opened in 2003 up to today? Do you typically see a young crowd coming to your store or does the age group vary?

Over the last 5 years the amount of young people getting into collecting has blown us away and all the folks that collected years ago are jumping back on it. I think right now is perfect timing for the shop in was always the plan to eventually open in the Capital.

Will this location just be records or also comics and toys like St. John?

Vinyl only shop, NO CDS! Strictly vinyl, turntables (R ega & Denon), and a huge selection of posters and t-shirts.

Congratulations on the upcoming Fredericton location. I am really looking forward to the shop and I know many others who feel the same.

I hope everyone in Fredericton is ready to see some great pieces of Wax next month.....if you don't see it in the shop we will get no problem. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Revisiting a Classic - Leatherwolf!

I’m going to have to label this summer my “Summer of Hair Metal”! While I continuously listen to folk, rock, jazz, blues, etc.. I always seem to be leaning towards putting hair metal on the turntable during the evenings.  
This week’s #1 pick is the second self-titled album by the American heavy metal band Leatherwolf.

Leatherwolf was formed in California in 1981, and has since released five studio albums (and are still active today). Early in their career, they were often seen touring along with bands like Metallica and Slayer until being noticed by record label Tropical Records (Enigma) whom agreed to release their debut album in 1986 (this year varies from 1984-1986 in many sources I have read, has it down 1986 as their earliest pressing so I’m betting on that year). This was the only album released on Tropical as they moved to the major label Island Records after its release. This is where they released the album that I own, which too is self-titled (confusing).

The lineup for this album consisted of: Michael Olivieri on vocals/guitar, Carey Howe and Geoffrey Gayer on guitars, Paul Carman on bass and Dean Roberts on drums. This three axe attack of guitars was crazy for this release. There were extreme progressive solos, dual solos, synchronized solos; I love these “battle of the guitar” type albums.

I really like the opening track Rise or Fall in particular. With the slow clean guitar intro which leads to the addition of two lead guitars, all leading to a big smash of heavy drums, distortion and glam style vocals. Now that’s a solid intro.

There are many styles of songs featured on this album, most stay in that mid tempo metal range. These songs are not too fast (and not so slow its boring), but consistent leaving lots of room for the guitarists to breathe with their complex solos. Most of the songs stick to this formula, but the always anticipated rock ballad also makes an appearance in Share a Dream, plus they threw in a cool cover of CCR’s Bad Moon Rising just for good measure.

This is at the top of the pile for hair metal albums in my collection. A safe bet for all you 80’s rock fans and a must have for any metal collection.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Revisiting a classic: Blue Murder!

Blue Murder was a heavy metal band that was active from 1988-1994. It was formed by Whitesnake guitarist John Sykes (also played with Thin Lizzy and Tygers of Pan Tang) after he parted ways with the band. He teamed up with Carmine Appice on drums (Vanilla Fudge, King Kobra) and Tony Franklin (The Firm) on bass. Sykes tried out a few vocalists for the band including Ray Gillen (Badlands, Black Sabbath), but eventually took over lead vocals himself.

This group did not need to work hard for a record deal, Whitesnake’s label Geffen was eager to profit off of John Sykes’ ties with the hugely popular band. They also got the band a great producer, Bob Rock, who previously worked with The Cult and Kingdom Come and would go on to producer legendary albums by Metallica, Motley Crue, Skid Row, and many more. Together they released this debut self-titled album in 1989.

From their three resumes alone, it’s easy to assume the musicianship would be incredible, and it is. Carmine’s drumming is tight and non-flashy as always, and Tony is exactly what you want in a bass player for a trio like this. He keeps the bass lines busy, leaving lots of backing for John to let out his crazy guitar solos. Of course John Sykes’ guitar capabilities need no introduction after hearing his past Whitesnake material, but he really takes it to a whole new level on this album. Shredding solos with plenty of harmonic squeals (which I love). I particularly like his solos on the second track Sex Child and later on the song Billy. This album is a must-have for any aspiring heavy metal guitarist.

What got me nervous was Sykes handling the lead vocals. Oftentimes you see lead guitarists leave to release solo albums and the singing is usually subpar. That’s not the case with Sykes. He can nail these metal vocals, hitting all the screechy high notes and holding them for a hell of a long time. His singing absolutely blew me away on this album.

This debut album gathered a bit of attention when it was initially released. With plenty of heavy catchy tunes such as Riot, Sex Child and Black-Hearted Woman, it fit in nicely with the late 80’s metal. Of course no late 80’s album would be complete without a cheesy rock ballad, and Blue Murder lets us off easy with just one, Out of Love.

Unfortunately, the band was soon lost in the grunge takeover of the early 90’s only managing to release one more album, Nothin’ but Trouble (1993), before calling it quits. Blue Murder did gain somewhat of a cult status, being named by many as a major influence. I was reading in an article in Classic Rock magazine a few months back where Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge was praising the hell out of this album, and rightfully so! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Led Zeppelin Remasters!

I have been anxiously waiting for these Led Zeppelin remasters that were released this week. This is the most excited I have been for a reissue since The Beatles in 2009, but this is even better since they have included so many extras, including a live concert from Paris in 1969.

This post is not a review, but instead my observations. It’s kind of a bragging post if you will, since I love them so much. There are literally hundreds of reviews online, so there is no need for me to repeat what has already been said.

I have been eyeing each of the different editions online since they were announced a few months back. If you don’t already know, here are the options:

1-      Original album remastered – available on vinyl and CD
2-      Deluxe editions: This includes the original remastered album in addition to an extra disc of rarities. These are all double albums except for Led Zeppelin 1 which comes on three vinyl (but still only 2 CD’s).
3-      Super Deluxe Box Set: This contains the deluxe vinyl, deluxe CD, high resolution downloads, tour program reissue, press photos, a numbered print of the album cover and a hardcover book.

I was originally planning on just getting the deluxe vinyl issue of each, but unfortunately they have been backordered at most record stores in Canada (a few have them, but I think their distributors are from the USA). I planned on waiting, but patience is not one of my strong points. Instead, I opted to buy Led Zeppelin 1 – Super Deluxe box, and Zeppelin 2 and 3 on deluxe CD.

First, I will discuss the deluxe CD’s. I was pretty nervous to get these since the packaging looked similar to The Beatles remasters. I absolutely hate the CD sleeves for The Beatles since when you slide the CD in the gatefold, it often hits the seam causing glue on the edge of the CD’s. Once I discovered this flaw I simply inserted a folded piece of paper between the CD and the sleeve to fix this issue, but still, a poor design in my opinion.  

What’s great is these sleeves are much better than this. They fold out three wide and the discs insert from the top rather than the side. NO GLUE! Perfect. I am super happy with this new packaging. The new remasters sound amazing and the bonus material is all fantastic. There is not one single track that I didn’t enjoy. Plus, they each come with these great book inserts.

Now the real gem, The Super Deluxe!!

This is the first vinyl super deluxe box set I have ever bought, so this is a real treat for me. The actual box is beautiful hard covered with a textured finish. It opens up to reveal the beautiful 180gram vinyl. There are two sleeves, one for the original album and one for the double bonus live concert. The cover on the bonus discs is different as well.
Both CD’s are packaged in mini replica sleeves of the vinyl.

The hard cover book is very attractive and loaded with all kinds of goodies like magazine articles and photos.

The print of the album cover comes on some nice heavy textured paper and looks great up on the wall.

The tour program replica is a nice addition. It included two photo inserts, as well as a bunch of original write-ups including band bios.

I haven’t downloaded the high resolution songs yet. I’d be content just with a CD rip, but it’s nice to have the option.

As you can tell, I am very pleased with the new additions to my vinyl collection. I would strongly recommend these to any Led Zeppelin fans.