The Victor-Victrola Page
ANSWER: We formerly provided extensive, dedicated restoration services for antique phonographs, but it wasn't financially viable. Retaining a crew with the necessary expertise to do this work required a sustained income-stream which was simply not possible given the "ups and downs" of the business, so we permanently closed-down our restoration operations in December, 2016. Plus, the cost of EPA compliance when using authentic finishing materials became prohibitive.
Unfortunately, we don't know of any dedicated phonograph restoration services that we can recommend 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 experiences, many don't have sufficient expertise in the details and methods for the proper restoration of antique phonographs. If you just want a glossy finish or sparkling-new looking hardware, then any furniture restoration service in the Yellow Pages will be fine. But if you hope to preserve some degree of authenticity and correct appearance, along with proper function for the mechanics, whoever is doing the restoration work really needs to know what they are doing in this specific field. For example, what is the correct type of finish material and 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 job. Plus, purchasing the correct type of varnish is quite another consideration. Most of the hardware-store varnishes today have some degree of modern polymer content, which will not result in the correct "sheen" when completed. You have to 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 will have to purchase a high pressure or HVLP spraying system, and work in a spacious, well-lit room with adequate exhaust ventilation (the room will get pretty messy). Plus all the needed tools and materials, including sandpaper, stripping liquids, pads, funnels, brushes, rags, solvents, gloves, etc.etc. Then you will need lots of practice beforehand, 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 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 only one thin finish coat of cheap polyurethane, wavy and unevently 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 alligatored 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 and value of a Victor or Victrola. And you can rest assured, once someone puts polyurethane on your Victrola, whatever value it once had is gone forever. And given the fact that in some states, only urethane-based finish materials can now be purchased (unless expensive air exhaust filtration systems are present in the workshop) many antique-refinishing services are only using urethane 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 a while back, restored an Edison upright phonograph which was featured on an episode. Not only were the restoration details and finish materials on the machine totally incorrect, the turntable was obviously not running at the correct speed when they were demonstrating it, and the sound was "dubbed over" with some kind of weird canned "Roaring 20's" music. They had 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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