The Victor-Victrola Page
ANSWER: We operated a dedicated restoration service for antique phonographs for many years, but it became financially unsustainable. Retaining a crew with the necessary expertise required a stable income-stream from the business. This eventually proved to be impossible, especially considering the declining collector market in recent years. The cost of assuring EPA and OSHA compliance when using authentic (e.g. high VOC) finishing materials also became prohibitive. We permanently closed our restoration business in December, 2015.
Unfortunately, we don't know of any dedicated phonograph restoration services that can be recommended to our readers at the present time. There are many "antique restoration" companies out there, and some of them are probably quite good, but in our experience, most don't have sufficient expertise in the details and methods for the proper restoration of antique phonographs. If you just want a glossy refinish job, then almost any furniture restoration service will be fine. But if you hope to preserve the correct appearance, along with proper function and operation, whoever does the restoration work needs to know exactly what they are doing in this specific field. For example, what is the correct type of finish material and application process for a Mahogany 1919 Victrola VV-XVI? Brushed Lacquer? Brushed Shellac? Brushed Lacquer over Sprayed Shellac? Polyurethane? Brushed Varnish over Sprayed Shellac? ANSWER: None of the above. Should be "Sprayed Varnish over Sprayed Shellac". So if the restoration service has no clue about this basic fact, then they are not going to provide you with a very authentic result. Even the simple task of purchasing the correct type of varnish can be challenge today. Most hardware-store varnishes now have some degree of modern polymer content, which will not result in the correct "sheen" when completed. The restorer must know where to buy the correct materials and how to apply them. Restoring Aunt Betsy's antique kitchen table is one thing. Restoring a valuable antique phonograph is quite a different specialty.
Alternatively, you can do it yourself. To get a decent result, you must purchase a high pressure or HVLP spray system, and work in a spacious, well-lit room with adequate exhaust ventilation (the room will get messy). Plus all the needed tools and materials, including sandpaper, stripping liquids, pads, funnels, brushes, rags, solvents, buffers, polishing compounds, gloves, etc. Then you will need lots of practice beforehand, best achieved by experimenting on "trial" parts. We cover some aspects of the "Do-It-Yourself Process" here. Be aware that most first-timers are more likely to ruin a machine than they are to successfully restore it. But everyone has to start somewhere!
One of the most common problems we experience when appraising machines is finding a REALLY BAD amateur (or professional) restoration. We've seen some amazingly horrible attempts at restoration over the years, often by people who claim to be "experts". Typical problems include not removing the original finish completely, the use of cheap polyurethane, wavy and unevenly applied finish coats, mismatching wood shades, or a lot of drips and runs. We've come across more than a few machines where the restorer simply covered the original crazed finish with Varethane (a floor varnish), and claimed to have a like-new phonograph. This is a sure-fire way to ruin both the appearance of a Victor or Victrola. And you can rest assured, once someone puts polyurethane on your Victrola, whatever value that it once had is gone forever. And given the fact that in some states, only urethane-based finish materials can now be purchased, forcing many antique-refinishing services to using urethane varnishes or modern lacquer products for their restoration work. In those instances, there are no viable ways to achieve a correct result. Proper restoration is a very expensive and time-consuming process. The well-known Las Vegas restoration service, which had a popular TV show for a while, featured a restored an Edison upright phonograph on one episode. Not only were the restoration details and finish materials on the machine totally incorrect, the turntable was obviously not running at the proper speed when they were demonstrating the completed project. So the playback sound was dubbed-over with some kind of canned "Roaring 20's" music. They had absolutely no clue of what they were doing, and when completed, that machine would probably sell for $50.00 at auction....as a parts-donor for someone else's project! And the owner paid well over $1,000.00 for the restoration work. Caveat Emptor!
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