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Thorens TD-124/II restoration / upgrade

Discussion in 'classic' started by Tony L, Dec 20, 2011.

  1. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Rather than keep cluttering up Fox's thread I thought I'd start a new one to document my ongoing attempts at assembling a really decent TD-124/II.


    My TD-124/II is cosmetically in very good condition and shows no evidence of being butchered / tampered with over it's life, e.g. all the screw-heads below are sharp and clean, the chassis and platter are largely unmarked etc. It looks just as the picture above aside from it's now sporting a Stereo Lab arm board as I had one knocking around. There are however some parts that were less than perfect, and I've come to the conclusion that it probably makes sense to simply hang the expense and replace them than keep buying and selling 124s in the vain hope I might eventually get a top platter etc that meets with the approval of my OCD tendencies etc.

    Thus the first thing to fall through the letterbox was a Swissonor upper platter:


    My original upper platter (right) is a very annoying thing as it is in absolutely perfect condition; not dinged, warped or otherwise abused at all, a real minter. It is however a bit of a 'Friday afternoon job' and the machining / chamfering of the top edge is just a mess. It really should have been caught by quality control, or failing that the original purchaser should have taken it back to the shop as due to this machining error there is a dip of around 1.5mm per rotation on the top edge only, i.e. the bottom edge and front runs straight and true, yet the chamfer at the top is inconsistent at one side. It irritated the crap out of me so it had to go before I could really take this deck seriously. For a couple of years I'd been under the impression the Swissonor replacement upper platter was no longer made as it has vanished from the Shopper site. It can however still be had from Swissonor directly and is a nice piece of kit and looks indistinguishable from an original. Except it's actually flat.

    I thought I'd give my 124 a full service at this point as it was a good three or so years since I'd last done it. As such I stripped it down and was met with a real shock when I cracked the bearing open. My memory of this bearing was that it was absolutely perfect. I can remember no flaws at all the first time I serviced it. But now:


    Check out that black spot / pit! There are two others too, all rough to the touch and it's definitely pitting not surface dirt. I mentioned this to Urs Frei from Swissonor along with a picture and he reckons there are some very unlikely conditions where if a piece of 'noble metal' is present in the wrong kind of oil the whole bearing assembly can act as a battery. It's a better explanation than I have, which is none at all. I do not understand this at all, though can't believe I failed to notice it when I initially serviced this bearing - I just notice stuff like this, it's what I do. Certainly not a cheap thing to put right either, basically the options were taking a risk on buying yet another TD-124 and hoping it had a perfect bearing, or spending about the same amount on a beautifully engineered replacement from Shopper. I gritted my teeth and opted for the latter:


    It really is a beautiful thing, even if it does cost the same as a half decent second hand LP12 or whatever.

    Luckily my E50 motor really is in great shape, the spindle shows next to no wear, and with a little careful jiggling of the motor casing, as is the way with E50s, can be coaxed to run very quietly, to the point I can't hear it with my ear a couple of inches from it (assuming the belt and intermediate wheel are not connected). I'll strip it down again tonight to clean and relube it with the Shopper oil, which is lighter than what I have in there at present, so I may get it even quieter again.

    So, that's where I am at present. I've also got a Swissonor grey iron lower platter in the mail to me and I'm quietly on the hunt for a new idler wheel. The grey iron platter is regarded as a big upgrade on the light zinc alloy one my deck is fitted with, it apparently brings all the sonic advantage of the original cast iron and more, but with none of the magnetic attraction. I'm certainly hoping a drop in rumble anyway as the alloy one does sing along with the idler wheel a fair bit. I want to take this 124 as far as I possibly can within it's current aesthetic context, i.e. the beautiful mint condition period-correct 3009 Series II and DL103 are staying, but I want to get the deck itself performing as close to it's capabilities possible. It's a keeper.

    PS Must mention Joachim Bung's Swiss Precision book, which also turned up recently and is a truly beautiful thing covering all things TD-124 along with it's historical backdrop of Lenco, Garrard, Thorens, Ortofon, SME, Shure etc, all of which are covered in some detail. A remarkable book and it's great to see someone documenting this classic era of audio so well.
  2. Markus S

    Markus S 41 - 29

  3. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator


    I've spent the afternoon giving it another strip-down and oil-change with the new lighter Shopper oil.


    A look at it's nether regions with the lower motor case removed. That chassis really is a beautiful casting, I can't think of another turntable built to this quality this side of a SME 20 or 30.


    The contents of an E50 motor, cleaned. I'd already drilled out the rivets midway through Fox's TD-124 thread several years ago, so getting back to this point was easy. My 124 has enough slack in the motor wiring to get at the top bearing too which saves time / hassle desoldering anything.


    The bottom bearing assembly with the felt oil reservoirs cleaned and replenished. The tiny ball bearing visible sits on the end of the motor shaft. If anyone is planning to strip an E50 they need to be very aware of this as if you drop it it will be gone!

    It's currently sitting on three baked bean cans and running nice and quietly in a part assembled state. I'll leave it there for a few hours before doing a final adjustment / alignment of the motor case – with the E50 aligning the top and bottom case parts perfectly is critical for quietest performance, and this is done by ear / touch / feel, rather than just where they look right. I've never had any real issues with this motor, it seems to want to run quietly - any washing machine impressions from this deck (of which there are several) seem to come from the belt, intermediate wheel, idler and lower platter. I'm hoping the eventual combo of new main bearing and far weightier and inert lower-platter will mean less translation to rumble. I realise I could kill any rumble pretty much stone dead with a hefty slate plinth, as I have with the 301 in the other room, but I really want to try and get this deck nice and quiet in it's lightweight ply plinth if I posibly can.
    Jonathan likes this.
  4. Fox

    Fox The sound of one hoof clopping

    Mass works. You may not need a Slate Plinth per se, just sit it on something heavy. I use a block of slate I used to use from my LP12 in the 1990s (before Mana) instead of the MDF board with my Target Wallshelf.

    Also, a heavy platter is IMV well worth it. That drops surface noise by lots. Schopper's or anyone's really. Even basic CNC machining is milling to parts-of-a-micron tolerances so the aftermarket ones in Brass and Stainless Steel are a big step up from the cast ally or iron sub-platter and the awesome motor can handle it. And the idler is fine.
  5. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    In many ways the rumble is but a diversion as it doesn't really bug me in practice - it's barely audible in the run-in / run off of a record and doesn't get in the way of the music at all, plus one could argue it's all part of the vintage aesthetic / charm anyway. By saying that it is a pretty good indicator that I'm doing something right every time I manage to reduce it a little.

    There's certainly less resistance since replacing the main bearing and re-lubing the motor with the light oil, to the extent I could only get correct speed with the eddy current brake up full, i.e, speed knob fully clockwise and that was barely holding it at 33.3rpm - I've moved the magnet a touch closer to the intermediate wheel which has given me some more speed adjustment. I think it's running a little quieter too, but I'd really need to turn the central heating off to hear that properly. I'm far more interested to see what it's like once the iron platter arrives (currently at Zurich airport...) as that's allegedly far more inert.
  6. PaulMB

    PaulMB pfm Member

    Reading this thread makes me realise what a fool I was to sell my 124 in the early '90s. (picked up arm-less for about £25 around 1978, and then sold for what I thought was an enormous £350 or so with an Audio Technica arm I'd mounted around 1994). I still remember the pleasure in working on this over-engineered (in the good sense) machine that looked as if no thought whatsoever had been given to the cost of production. Good luck with your project!
  7. spet0114

    spet0114 REMPI Member

    Hi Tony,

    The localised pitting corrosion of your original bearing looks quite alarming. What kind of oil were you using? Have the people from Swissonor come across this phenomenon previously?

  8. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    It was Swissonor who suggested the battery theory, so I assume they have experience of this. I can't be absolutely certain what oil I was using, and I don't really want to name the four possibilities as it would be entirely unfair on the three innocent ones to do so publicly! I certainly remember stripping and servicing this bearing, and I remember clearly doing the old Lenco trick of using a light smear of grease on the bottom gasket to seal it. The other possibility that has to be factored in is that I missed it initially, but I do find this improbable given how picky / OCD I am about these things - if it was there I'm sure I'd have seen it, and it would have worried me sufficiently that I'd have swapped it out as I've had two other 124s to hand in this timeframe.

    Whilst I'm still in a state of shock at the new Shopper bearing's price tag I'm hugely impressed by the item itself. It is remarkably solid, absolutely no 'rock' so you really get a feel for how rigid the 124's chassis is, and it's spin-down time is amazing - I haven't timed it, but certainly several minutes from 33. I'm getting less rumble out of the speakers too. I may not have wanted to buy this item at all but there is no doubt in my mind that it is better than the stock item, and by quite some distance. Whether one could get an original bearing into this ballpark by replacing the tired sintered bronze bushings is of course another question, but this 124 is certainly working the best has in the time I've owned it.

    One slightly odd thing I'm noticing since rebuilding the deck with the new oil / bearing is the speed-drift behaviour has changed, it always used to start up with the strobe drifting backwards just a little, and after about 5 minutes it would stabilise in the middle. Now it starts a little fast, and again the strobe stabilises after a short while. I can understand the former; oil heating up in the motor or main bearing, becoming more viscous and exerting less drag, but why it should do the opposite with a lighter viscosity oil is beyond my grasp of physics! In both cases this is very minor, I can't hear it and I've got pretty good pitch - I bet the 301 does it too, but as it hasn't a built in strobe I'd never notice.
    Teeds likes this.
  9. Mignun

    Mignun pfm Member

    Tony, lovely pictures - thank you for posting. Regarding speed at start up, I find that my Loricraft 401 starts up a little bit fast and then settles back down after a few minutes.
  10. Shuggie

    Shuggie Trade: Ammonite Audio

    Funnily enough, this starting fast thing is exactly what my TD124 now does after Martin Bastin serviced its motor (excellent service BTW). Overall speed stability is significantly improved - clearly visible since I replaced the neon strobe lamp with a Keystrobe LED conversion.

    I can't wait to hear how you get on with the new Swissonor platter. The original zinc alloy platter is the one thing that does not seem very well engineered in the TD124 - my Lenco L75 has a very finely engineered and balanced platter in comparison. I could be tempted with the new top platter too - mine has a slight deformation that I'm hoping to correct using a carefully machined MDF former, but if that does not work, then it will have to be the new one.

    Another thought - you mentioned the Stereolab armboard earlier. I was very disappointed with mine, particularly since it was rather expensive. A Brazilian Cherry armboard from Jim Campbell (eBay seller jec965) is, for me, way better musically as well as being shockingly cheap for such a beautifully finished thing.
  11. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Ironically the zinc alloy platter is cast by the same company that made both the Lenco platters and the TD-125 chassis casting! The things one learns from Mr Bung's lovely book...

    I agree about the Stereo Lab armboard, it's not that great IMO (unlike the plinth which is lovely) , it doesn't sit particularly tidily and I much prefer the SME cutout set on the board at an angle rather than straight. I'm only using it as it was free (came with another 124) and it's the correct thickness so the three bolts don't protrude beneath the chassis the way they do with the thin perspex SME original (in the picture at the top of the thread) which requires the suspension to be set excessively high to stop them touching the plinth. I quite fancy one of the 10mm thick perspex boards off eBay, or maybe go the whole hog and get a Shopper one - I'd like to keep it black as it just seems to sit better with the black conical plinth IMO.
  12. Markus S

    Markus S 41 - 29

    If it's good enough for the pros ...

  13. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Arse biscuits. Just trashed my 103 with a yellow duster after mounting the Swissonor platter, which turned up today. That's the second new cart I've killed in such a manner...
  14. Mignun

    Mignun pfm Member

    Oh no! Still, good thing they're relatively cheap. Possibly a candidate for some re-tip experiments?

    I just bought a whole bunch of them because I saw the price creeping up. Found a place selling them for just under £100 each, although I note that even they have now raised the price to £125. Most are selling for £150 or thereabouts. Still great value though.
  15. Markus S

    Markus S 41 - 29

    My commiserations, Tony.
  16. Mr Tibbs

    Mr Tibbs Infinitely Baffled Member

    These things happen. Yellow dusters have killed many, many nice carts!

    (totalled a Supex 900 that yellow way once upon a time)

    Love the 124, it's such a beautiful and compact design. The pits in that bearing are puzzling - must quiz my ME brother when I see him over the hols as he might know the answer. They might look bad but are unlikely to affect the TT in any audible way, though I can understand why you splashed out the new bearing.

    Mr Tibbs
  17. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The 103 is annoying, not so much for the cash but for the sheer level of personal stupidity involved. This is not the first time I've done this, I also trashed a Ortofon MC10 Supreme in the exact same way about a decade ago. To be able to do this with a cart in a detachable headshell, and one with a very good stylus guard takes a special calibre of idiot. Anyway, another ordered and it's already in the post.


    Here's the Swissonor lower platter. It is a beautiful thing indeed, though I've not managed to get it installed perfectly yet - I'm getting some rise and fall as the platter rotates that I'm now pretty sure I've narrowed down to the bearing, i.e. I've tried bolting it to the bearing spindle in each of the three possible orientations and the rise stays with the bearing orientation, not the platter orientation. I was getting a similar rise and fall with the zinc one too, but thought nothing of it - I just assumed I'd got a bit of dust in the interface between the two parts somehow, and as it was coming off again soon I didn't bother investigating any further, it's about 1.5mm or so at the outer edge. I've contacted Shopper so will see how I get on. Vintage decks can be a bit of a PITA to be honest...
    torstoi likes this.
  18. ian r

    ian r 401's Nakman

    V sorry to hear of the cartridge. It did interupt the flow somewhat.

    The detachable headshell reference made it v poignant.
    I advise a cup of cocoa with a teaspoon of whisky.
  19. awl

    awl pfm Member

    The TD124 platter undersides are very beautiful indeed:


    Tony, you might recognise this one, it used to be yours!

  20. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    In a way it's a shame Swissonor didn't replicate the green of the original iron platter, it's a beautiful thing, though the Swissonor one is beautiful too in shiny black.

    PS I've just refitted my original bearing and the new Swissonor platter runs perfectly straight and true, so it looks like I'll be needing a replacement replacement bearing...

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