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The $400 Restoration


While scanning the web recently, I came across a service claiming a $400 complete restoration service for phonographs. I had to look twice to make sure I didn't skip a zero someplace. Sure enough...according to their claim....they will restore "most" floor model Victrolas for $400...complete. To be honest...I have no idea how that is possible, but it did cause me to consider how such an operation could possibly be profitable.

For most "museum" level restorations of floor model Victrolas, we spend an average of $1150.00 on materials and parts alone. Motor parts, springs, plating, hardware, veneer, sandpaper, lacquer, shellac, polishes, fillers, etc. etc. add up quickly. For "home" level restorations, we spend an average of $660.00 on materials and parts. Those expenses alone exceed the cost of the mystical $400.00 restoration service! Perhaps we need to look a little deeper....

It takes us 12-18 hours to fully strip and clean a complete Victrola. I'm not talking about glopping on stripper and hosing off the mess in the backyard. That kind of process is great for stripping a ping pong table...but not for an antique! It takes a long time to get all the residue off each component and clean it fully to assure that no particles or "lumps" are left in the corners or crannies. Plus, hosing off a finish plays havoc with old veneers. Usually 2 stripping cycles are needed, followed by a cleaning process with toothbrushes and putty knives.

Then...surface preparation....takes an average of 20-24 hours. This includes multiple sandings, 2 coats of grain fillers, more sanding and then another cleaning. And we haven't even begun to repair the carvings, rebuild the motor and soundbox, replate the hardware, apply stain, sealer, and finish materials (anywhere between 6 and 12 coats, with wet sanding in between each one), rubout, burnish and polishing. 

So...now let's assume that the $400 bargain service pays their guys $15.00 an hour.  To make the $400 restoration possible...and assuming they buy $20 worth of bargain basement polyurethane and somehow can minimize expenses to $40 in miscellaneous. materials like hinges and sandpaper and gaskets...that leaves them with: ($400 - $20 - $40) = $340.00. So assuming that they have to make $100 profit on the deal...they must be expending a grand total of 16 hours working on the entire project! We can hardly strip a machine in that time, never mind restore it! And what about the seized-up motor and the missing trim pieces? Sounds like a bait-and-switch scam to me.

A few years ago, at a phonograph show, I saw a "restored" VV-XVII on display that looked strange at first glance, and terrible upon careful inspection.  The colors didn't match well, and the finish coat...while shiny...was unevenly applied, giving a wavy reflection (sort of like the fun house mirrors at a carnival). Instead of being properly replated, the hardware had been polished down to the brass and sprayed with metallic paint! The door knobs came from Ace Hardware and the crank was incorrect. I have no idea who restored it...but perhaps that is what a $400 restoration looks like. Too bad that it was done on a relatively rare and desirable machine. Perhaps that is an acceptable result to some people, but most Victor and Victrola owners I've spoken with want a much more professional end product.

Our fees are based on time and materials and a reasonable profit. The result: A phonograph you can present to novice friends and experienced collectors alike....with pride.

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