Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MumeyBO37aI
1962 Dansette Tempo Vintage Record Player Restoration - Modern Cartridge, Preamp And Service
The Dansette Tempo record player was made in 1962 by British hifi manufacturer Dansette, a division of J&A Margolin Ltd. This iconic vintage record player enabled teenagers of the 50s and 60s to listen to their very own records for the first time, and they were hugely popular. Mine, however, was in a bit of a sorry state, so I treated it to a restoration, including a modern cartridge upgrade and preamp, serviced the original mono valve / tube amplifier and gave it an overall service to help keep it running like clockwork for another 60 years.
This is what a British icon looks like - oozing in style, charm and sophistication. And here’s my 1962 Dansette record player!
Now as far as record players go, this isn’t all that great. It sounds pretty terrible, the original cartridge and needle destroyed modern records, and to be honest it’s a bit of an electrical hazard.
Founded in 1952 in Old Street, London, by J&A Margolin Ltd, Dansette’s early models were bulky and quite expensive, but by the early 60s mass production allowed costs as well as physical size to come right down, and a whole generation of teenagers - my own parents included - snatched them up.
These basic, lightweight and portable units not only allowed them to enjoy their own music in the comfort of their own bedroom for the very first time in history, but Dansettes were also a common fixture at parties, where they’d usually be blasting out The Who, Hendrix, and some floppy haired boys from Liverpool. Whatever happened to them?
Sadly the company was pretty short-lived, and died along with the 60s in December 1969. Ultimately they failed to move with the times, selling predominantly mono players in a world where stereo was becoming the norm, and failing to keep up with the proliferation of more feature-packed hifi systems from Japan.
This model’s called the Tempo and was made in 1962. It plays 33, 45, and even 78RPM records, and has a British designed and built Garrard turntable with an automated record changer for non-stop playback.
When I got this thing 2 years ago all the bits and pieces seemed to light up and move as expected, but the only noise it made was that distinct Dansette buzz and a very tinny rendition of whatever record I put on it, which seemed to indicate a problem somewhere between the needle and the speaker.
So to narrow things down I wired an RCA socket directly into the amp and played some music through it, confirming that that was all OK. So my attention turned to the next suspect: the cartridge itself.
Turns out this wasn’t the correct one for this model anyway, and being an ancient crystal cartridge, the rubber inside had gone solid. I could source another one or even have this one gutted and refurbished, but technology has come a long way in the past 60 years so I decided to upgrade to a modern ceramic version. Plus I really wanted to do a better job than whatever this was with these double sided self adhesive foam pads.
These cheap Chinese cartridges are typically a few quid on ebay - there’s not really much point putting anything better in here as the original amplifier and 4 ohm mono speaker won’t do it justice anyway. I drilled out the holes in the new mounting clip to match the ones in the original bracket and bolted it all together with some nylon nuts and bolts as that’s what I had to hand.
I’m not sure what this original knob or nipple or whatever you want to call it was for, but I think it did something to the cartridge or the needle itself to play back the much harder 78RPM records which were generally made of shellac. Either way the last person to work on this thing just glued it back on so even though it looked kind of right, it was nonfunctional when I got it, and I don’t even own any 78s anyway. I’ll store it away safely for now.
I think the tone arm wiring had maybe already been replaced at some point as it was wired for stereo, but the connectors had been hacked about and for what it costs I may as well replace it with brand new. At this point I’d already cleaned up all of the old grease on the turntable mechanism to keep everything clean while I worked on it and I’ll of course re-lubricate it when it goes back together, but for now it’s just a case of routing the new wiring along the arm and soldering it onto the original terminal block.
The new cartridge has a far lower tracking weight than the original - ie the downward pressure that it puts on the record - and I’ll set that up soon. It also outputs a much quieter signal, meaning that I had to add a preamp to feed the correct input level to that original 1960s valve amplifier.
This Velleman kit came recommended by the fine folk over on the Vintage Radio forums, and perhaps the best part is that it’s only £5. A very helpful user by the name of Herald1360 - and if you caught that reference you’re probably even older and more British than I am - recommended swapping out some of the resistors to make the output an even better match to the amp, and who am I to argue. Assembling the kit is pretty straightforward for anyone who knows their way around a soldering iron, and it also has adjustable gain to allow for fine tuning. Of course, being an amplifier, it requires power, and I’ll have a look at that soon.
Now, I’m a vintage computer guy and there’s nothing we love more than replacing capacitors for the fun of it. While the original amp did indeed work, this chonky boi - actually 3 caps in one - is over 60 years old now, and I think renewing it is probably very justified. Desoldering was a huge pain with the basic soldering iron I had at the time, but between that and my desoldering gun I did eventually get there.
Of course, nobody makes these anymore so it had to be replaced with 3 separate modern caps - high quality Nichicons in this case. Some people hollow out the original and stuff them right in there to retain the looks, but I’m going to stick this one on the shelf as a permanent reminder of the good old days. Thankfully the Vintage Radio forum came to the rescue once more, this time thanks to a user called john600601, and I’ve put a slightly tweaked version of John’s diagram showing the positions of the capacitors on screen in case that’s of any use to anyone. This Dansette 14-3 amplifier was used in a few different models, including the popular Major Deluxe, so you never know.
The original caps were of course in the same can and shared a common ground, so I needed to replicate this by tying the negative legs together. I decided to use some thick wire for this as I wasn’t really sure what kind of current would be involved, but mainly because I thought it would look in keeping with the original wiring.
Then it was just a case of reassembling everything - the mains transformer, amplifier transformer and this PCB all bolt together nice and neatly to a common chassis, which is then held into the wooden casing with some wood screws. After a quick test it was time to start putting everything back into the case, and thankfully I had a wiring diagram which I’m not allowed to show here because the person who made them charges money for them - and I’d also labelled most of the wires and had my original footage and photos to refer back to. It was a rat’s nest when it left the factory and that’s how it went back together - after all, who am I to second guess the original manufacturer?
As far as the new preamp is concerned, it’s apparently possible to build a circuit to take the power for this from the original valve, but I had this 18V power supply that came with something or other that I’d ordered online at some point, and as it had a European plug on it, it wasn’t really much use to me for anything else. So I decided to hack it up, screw it to the inside with some wood screws in keeping with the original design, and mount the preamp on top of it with some standoffs. Yes, it’s janky - but I’m sure it’s what the original designers would have wanted.
It occurred to me afterwards that there might be a chance of it touching either the turntable mechanism or the tone arm terminal wiring and shorting something out - so just to be on the safe side, I stuck my phone in there and recorded this video from the inside just to check. Phew!
So with that all hooked up with some spade connectors to make removing the turntable easier in future, it was time to set the tracking weight.
This pocket tracking scale - which looks suspiciously like something my mate Mark from college used to carry around with him - goes up 5 grams - as confirmed with the included calibration weight - and as you can see - the tone arm as originally set goes off the scale.
Apparently they were closer to 20 grams if you can believe that - no wonder these things have a reputation for eating records. The recommended weight for the new cartridge is a tenth of this at 2 grams. Now I’d read online that the original arm might need modifying to allow for such a light tracking weight, but as it happens it seems I got lucky and the spring had enough adjustment in it to get it spot on.
Finally it was just a case of screwing it all back together so I could finally get on and enjoy some tunes.
So, that was a year ago and we’ve used this thing a fair bit since then - despite the fact that it doesn’t sound all that great - because it just has a lot of character and it’s quite nice to fire it up every now and then.
You may have noticed that I didn’t strip the turntable mechanism and lubricate it - apparently that’s one of the things the previous owner actually managed to get right and it seems to run at roughly the right speed without sticking or rumbling but it is something I’ll be doing sooner rather than later so maybe I’ll post a video about that when the time comes. Or a year afterwards.
Perhaps more pressing is the constant buzzing - which is quite annoying, especially at low volume. The previous owner had wired the turntable and amplifier chassis to ground which is apparently a big no-no, and when I disconnected that and wired just the chassis up to neutral it did make a big difference believe it or not. I think it’s probably just something inherent to the design itself and will never be completely eliminated, so maybe it’s just part of the character and I’ll just have to learn to live with it.
In any case, that’s you up to speed on this little project, big thanks as always to my patrons, channel members and Ko-Fi supporters, a big thanks to you for watching, and I’ll hopefully see you next time.
Relevant Links & Further Viewing:
Smoothing Capacitor Info: https://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/showthread.php?t=44162&page=2
Herald1360 Preamp Resistor Info: https://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/showthread.php?t=124429&page=10
Schematic download link: https://www.thecodemachine.co.uk/Schematics/Search.php?manuf=dansette&model=majordeluxe
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