Saturday, March 26, 2011

Magnificent Magnavox

About ten years ago I bought this Magnavox sale catalog on ebay. One particular model led to a bit of an obsession, as revealed below. But for the moment, have a stroll down memory lane. This catalog is from about 1966. If the prices seem high, they were. Electronics were expensive back then, especially when you consider you could get a Chevrolet Impala for about $3,000. One dollar in 1966 bought about as much as seven dollars today. In Louisville, where I grew up, Shakleton's Music had an elegant showroom with a wide range of Magnavox televisions and stereos on display. Since some of these cabinets were up to six feet long, it required a lot of square feet.

Black and white consoles were still being made in 1966. I remember my parents making the choice between a color set with a lesser cabinet and a black and white set with a nicer one. My mother won out with the nicer cabinet, but then furniture was everything to my mother. I just wanted to see Lost in Space in color.

A new concept at that time was the stereo 'theatre' -- a combination TV and stereo. My parents were adamantly opposed despite the fact we had a small living room. The main objection was that if the TV was on the fritz, you might not be able to play the stereo. TVs went on the fritz all the time back then. Our TV repairman, Mr. Wheatley, was like one of the family. We saw him at least once a year, particularly before transistors. Factoring the sevenfold rate of inflation since 1966, the $1095 'stereo theatre' above would be like spending $7,000 today. Personally, I like the "Far Eastern Contemporary."

You could even get a black and white entertainment center. The off-center model on the bottom right is interesting.

In junior high, a friend of mine got the portable at the top for Christmas. I was extremely covetous of it and saved up my allowance for one myself, but my parents persuaded me to buy a much cheaper -- and far inferior -- Admiral model. My parents bought the small console at the bottom, but in the Colonial style. Last I saw it, it was in my brother's basement, but the turntable was no longer functioning.

Once I saw this picture of the Astro-Sonic contemporary I searched ebay for months until one finally turned up. It cost a mere $40 but it was $70 to ship (from Oregon to Los Angeles) and a few hundred more to restore. Generally speaking, these old console stereos aren't worth a whole lot and are quite a lot of trouble to restore. I never considered gutting it and installing new components, not even new speakers. I was determined to have a legitimate Magnavox, not a hybrid imitation.
Getting the turntable and receiver out to have them restored meant arduous hours spent lying on my back untwisting bolts and screws and disconnecting wires. I had the turntable tuned up and rewired and had the receiver's old transistors replaced with new ones. I hoped it would be worth it and it was. Now, whenever I turn it on, I feel like I'm transported back in time to the 1960s.
The unique Magnavox automatic turntable. The tone arm touches each record to determine its size, regardless of speed. Unlike any other turntable, it could handle, for example, an odd sized 7" LP automatically.


Veronica said...

Hi! I love your article and the Magnavox Catalogue... WOW! We recently purchased a Vintage 1964-65 MAGNAVOX ASTRO-SONIC AM/FM Record Player Stereo MODEL 2ST631 ( shown in one of your images) but we are having a heck of a time figuring out what needle we need. The radio works, the arm moves, and the turntable spins, but with out a needle its hard to tell if it works. Wondering if you could shed some insight!? Thanks

Scott Santoro said...

Here's a helpful link. If that is the original cartridge, it's probably an Electrovoice. They all were the same on all those mid 1960s Magnavoxes. Here is one place that sells them. They look like the 557 on the Magnavox list. 359 Electrovoice is the same. That's assuming you have the original cartridge. I have an Electrovoice needle made by Phanstiehl. There was a website selling Phansteihl needles but it isn't working, so I assume that company is defunct. Also on this site 359-DS77 Pfansteihl should work. That's what I have. I would recommend buying two just so you have them as they're not expensive. But do check the cartridge before buying anything. It may not be original.

Scott Santoro said...

Also, Veronica, there are places that do tune up turntables. It may need it. I had mine fixed up -- rewired, etc. but it's been about 12 years so I no longer have that information. Be sure to label all the wires and where they go when you take it out. Same for the receiver. That may need all new transistors (mine did). They dry out over time. Old replacement speakers can be found on ebay all the time. You may notice static when you turn the volume knob. That's dust and you'll need to crawl under, and remove the receiver, then clean the dial controls (you can't get to the inside without removing it, unfortunately (it's not any fun) and then clean these with compressed air, sold at Radio Shack.